Independent funeral directors call for regulation of profession in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

September 26, 2018   //   No Comments

England, Wales and Northern Ireland should follow in Scotland’s footsteps and introduce regulation of the funeral profession. This is the position of the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) – the voice of independent, family-owned funeral directors across the UK. It makes SAIF the first significant funeral trade association in the UK to back statutory regulation of funeral directors.

The association has also urged its members with websites to display their prices online as soon as possible to help bereaved consumers better understand possible costs involved with a funeral.  It could also mean families get a better deal, with research consistently showing that independent funeral directors’ prices are consistently lower than large groups, like Co-op Funeralcare, Dignity and Funeral Partners.

SAIF’s position on regulation is in response to the positive and proportionate way in which regulation is being introduced in Scotland, and comes in the wake of a small number of worrying cases in which funeral directors have fallen short of standards to which trade association members subscribe.

Terry Tennens, Chief Executive of SAIF, said it was high time all bereaved people across the UK were guaranteed a minimum set of standards from the professionals taking care of them at life’s most difficult time.  “Currently, anyone can set up a funeral directing business and there is no requirement for them to work to a minimum set of standards. Trade associations require their members to abide by a code of practice, but membership is voluntary and we are seeing too many cases of firms who don’t belong to an association operating in an unacceptable way,” Terry said.

He added: “All other care industries are regulated, so there is no reason why funeral directors to whom people turn in great distress should not be subjected to similar rules. The vast majority of SAIF members share concerns about standards and support regulation of the funeral profession.”

In respect of online pricing, Terry said SAIF’s leadership was set to discuss a commonly agreed set of funeral elements that would appear on a price list, to better help consumers make like-for-like comparisons. A price list should also include options for a simple or basic funeral and a traditional funeral, along with additional items such as flowers and orders of service. This could eventually form part of the association’s code of practice.

Despite concerns about poor practice, bereaved people should be reassured that the overwhelming majority of independent funeral directors operate to high standards. However, one firm operating below par is one too many.  Regulation of the funeral profession should be proportionate and informed by all stakeholders, with the views of independent funeral directors carrying as much weight in any process as those of the large corporates and cooperatives.

SAIF’s call for UK-wide regulation of the funeral profession comes ahead of the findings of a Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) study of the funeral market.  A proportionate regulatory regime could address some of the transparency issues being examined by the CMA and ensure clients of all funeral directors are getting a good deal. SAIF is to consult its members and the wider funeral profession on areas of focus for any possible regulatory regime which are likely to include:

  • Price transparency – this would include a commonly agreed set of criteria for standard elements of a funeral and clarity around any special offers.
  • Care facilities – all funeral directors should possess or have access to well-appointed care facilities, including a mortuary with spotless refrigeration units and a clinical-standard area for embalming and care of the deceased.
  • Transparency of ownership – the large chains and co-operatives have a habit of buying independent businesses and continuing to trade under the name of the previous owner. Bereaved people need to be given much clearer information by the large firms as to who is delivering the funeral in such circumstances.
  • Financial stability – the distress caused to families if a funeral director goes into liquidation is immense. Any regulatory system should protect bereaved people from the closure of a funeral business, ensuring alternative provision is made in a timely manner and families are not left to fend for themselves, as seen recently in Rochester, Kent.
  • Record keeping – one of the keys to a well-run funeral is a water-tight record keeping system, which prevents any possible mistakes around identity of the deceased and ensures the safe return of any property belonging to families.
  • Regulation that works across jurisdictions – with many funeral directors often finding themselves operating across borders, allowances should be made for any differences in regulatory regimes.

Following a consultation exercise, SAIF is to write to the Westminster Government, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies, stating its position on regulation of the funeral profession across all jurisdictions.