“I know I was taking a risk using this service, but I really didn’t expect the coffin to arrive at the church strapped to the roof of a 1996 Ford Mondeo estate – it completely ruined my father’s funeral,” says Gerald Forke, describing his unfortunate experiences with the new Uber-like funeral hearse hire app Stiff Shifters. “I thought that the drivers on their books would at least own actual hearses, not just some rusty old banger. The guy driving the Mondeo did at least apologise for having my father’s coffin on the roof rack – he claimed that he usually put them in the back, but the rear seats had jammed and wouldn’t fold down any more.” The indignity didn’t end with the delivery of the coffin: its position on the car’s roof made it difficult to manhandle off and into the church. “It didn’t help, either that the driver was on his own, with no bearers. It took eight of us just to get it off the roof,” Forke recalls. “The worst bit was when it slipped and fell to the ground – I was worried the lid would come off and my father’s body fall out. Luckily, my Uncle Fred broke its fall, breaking his hip.”
Forke’s ordeal isn’t an isolated incident, with numerous complaints having been made about Stiff Shifters – which currently only operates in London – since it first became active earlier this year. “Some of the stories we’ve heard have been absolutely horrendous,” Jim Rakes of East Cheam Trading Standards told The Sleaze. “The common theme is the use of inappropriate vehicles to transport the deceased.” These inappropriate vehicles have included flat bed trucks, motorcycle sidecar combinations and an ice cream van. “There was one case where the supposed hearse was a Smart car,” claims Rakers. “The coffin was one of those cardboard ones – the whole funeral was being done on a budget – which the driver folded up and put in the boot. The deceased was then put in the passenger seat to be driven to the church. Obviously, their family was deeply traumatised.” Another incident involved a Hillman Imp Van, which was so short that a full three feet of the coffin was hanging out of the tailgate. “They had to put one of those red long load warning triangles on the end of it,” says Rakers. “Naturally the family were very upset – when they were assured that a classic vehicle was to be supplied, they were expecting something like a Daimler hearse, not some shoddy seventies economy car.” Other stories heard by Rakers include coffins being carried upright in saloons, with the end sticking out of the sun roof and another brought to a crematorium on a trailer towed behind a tractor.
“It’s clear that this company is simply trying to exploit cash-strapped grieving families by offering these booked-on-the-day ‘hearses’,” opines Rakers. “They are appealing to the idea that it is possible to cut out the middleman and thereby save money by avoiding the professional services of undertakers. It is clear that none of the people it employs are funeral drivers, let alone funeral directors. So far we haven’t heard of a single instance of an actual hearse being provided via their app. My guess is that most of the drivers are actually Uber drivers, desperately trying to diversify now that it looks like Uber could be banned from London.” The founder of the Stiff Shifters app, however, begs to differ from Rakers assessment of his business. “We’re simply facilitating a demand the existing funeral market doesn’t cater for,” explains twenty nine year old tech entrepreneur Barney Leif-Blower. “We all know that the cost of dying has been artificially inflated by the cosy cartel of undertakers who control the funeral trade. Our aim has been to disrupt this market and open it up in order to empower smaller operators who, because of their lack of overheads, are able to offer consumers a much more cost effective service. Why should people have to book everything for a funeral so far in advance? We can guarantee to have a hearse with you within twenty minutes for a fraction of the cost an undertaker would charge you!”
Leif-Blower also denies that he and Stiff Shifters can be held responsible for the various funeral mishaps allegedly suffered by customers. “We’re merely providing a framework within which consumers and suppliers can be brought together,” he says. “The guys providing the transport are actually self-employed and they’ve all assured us that they have access to vehicles suitable for the transportation of coffins. We can’t be held responsible if such vehicles don’t meet customer expectations. After all, what do they expect for prices we charge? Our only criteria is that the vehicle be capable of carrying the deceased.”
Rakers remains unconvinced, promising that his department is preparing legal action against Stiff Shifters under the Trades Description Act, “The fact is that Leif-Blower has form for this sort of thing,” says the Trading Standards Officer. “Some of us well remember his Groper app, which promised to bring the ‘sexually adventurous’ together with compatible sex offenders – it guaranteed that only genuine registered sex offenders were on its books, but most of them turned out to be fantasists and amateurs. There were a lot of disappointed punters out there expecting a liaison with a hardcore flasher or groper, who found themselves sorely disappointed when it turned out that they’d actually hooked up with a timid panty sniffer.” Once again, Leif-Blower rejects criticisms of his product – which promised that it could hook customers up with a sex offender within thirty minutes. “Again, we were merely trying to cater for a market ignored by mainstream dating apps,” he says. “There are a lot of people out there whose sexual fantasies involve being a victim – we were just trying to help them out by bringing them together with genuine sex offenders – all of whom had paid their debt to society, incidentally. They all gave their word that they were properly registered. The fact they were registered not only established their authenticity, but also provided a degree of safety. Is it out fault that there were so many bull shitters out there?”