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80 percent of people want to see funeral directors regulated

A report published by funeral provider Dignity has revealed that nine in 10 people are unaware that funeral directors are not regulated, while a further 80 percent were in favour of regulation in the sector.

The report ‘Time to talk about quality and standards’, which included interviews with industry experts and a mystery shop of 75 funeral directors, showed that people were shocked to discover there are no minimum standards enforcing how funeral directors should operate or care for the deceased.

The nine month project included a variety of research exercises including a survey of more than 2,000 people who had organised a funeral, finding:

  • 92 percent did not know that funeral directors were not regulated
  • 80 percent supported regulation to ensure minimum standards
  • 73 percent said care of the deceased was “very important”
  • 43 percent prioritised keeping costs low

Experts working in the industry described some of the standards they had come across; these included inadequate storage, lack of refrigeration and general disregard for the person that had died. Dignity described this as “concerning”.

One participating retired doctor said: “I’ve seen cadavers stacked inside a big fridge at times and two bodies in one space if it is busy in the smaller cramped places. It would be awful if customers knew their loved ones were being stored in this way.”

A professional embalmer added: “I do go to funeral directors that don’t [have a mortuary]. The worst was a shed. I’ve embalmed on my hands and knees before because there was no room on the tables. But you do what you have to do to for the families who’ve lost a loved one.”

Mourners expect funeral directors to adhere to industry standards or be regulated by the government. Many wrongly assume there are common standards for facilities (53 percent) and training (55 percent) across the sector to ensure their loved one who has passed away is properly cared for.

Another expert witness from the funeral sector who participated in the research described how he had seen some funeral directors unable to store the deceased properly, with no refrigeration at premises that were in very poor condition.

When the researchers conducted a mystery shop of funeral directors, not one of the premises visited allowed them to view the mortuary facilities.

The findings from the research will be shared with the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA), Inspector of Funerals in Scotland and the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD).

Simon Cox, head of insight, Dignity said: “Our research has uncovered the gap between perception and reality of the standards across the UK’s funeral industry. While the majority assume there are demanding standards or tight controls in place, the worrying reality is very different.

“Without regulation or a system of independent inspections, it’s almost impossible for people to understand the difference in quality between funeral directors. This is particularly important given our research shows 79 percent of mourners only consider one funeral director, and do not shop around.”

Abi Pattenden, president of the NAFD added: “The NAFD welcomes anything which helps the funeral profession to provide the best possible care for bereaved families. This report by Dignity makes a useful contribution to the wider debate about how we make certain that all funeral directors can be properly assessed for their operational standards, not just those firms which currently abide by a Code of Practice and are regularly inspected, which all NAFD members are.

“As Dignity’s research has found, only four percent of bereaved families say they were not satisfied with the services of their funeral director – a consistent finding with YouGov’s (June 2018) survey of people with recent experience of organising a funeral. This is encouraging and a testament to the 22,000 people employed by the UK funeral profession who work hard to care for bereaved families and their loved ones. Nevertheless, even just one unhappy family is one too many and that is why the NAFD’s independent complaints and arbitration service provides an important safety net for those who do wish to make a complaint.”

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