The Good Funeral Guide Blog

ITV’s upcoming undercover investigation into the funeral industry

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

It’s billed as an investigation into the unregulated world of the funeral industry, with some shocking undercover footage.’ From what we understand, it’s going to be that and more. 

The ITV exposé of deplorable behind-the-scenes practices is set to send shockwaves through the industry, once again exposing the impotence of industry trade associations to protect consumers by policing their members. 

The working title is The British Way of Death and it’s on ITV on 26 September Wednesday at 10.35 pm. 

 

32 comments on “ITV’s upcoming undercover investigation into the funeral industry

  1. Wednesday 26th September 2012 at 5:16 pm

    I think the Funeral Profession would be very difficult to regulate. If the industry was regulated with the same Code of Practice the NAFD enforce, would this have changed the content of this programme? The sheer disrespect for the deceased shown by the staff in this programme is something that no body or government could change without having constant monitoring.

    I do believe regulation would help in ensuring the consumer understands the costs and terms and conditions of the Funeral.

    I own and run a three branch operation in the West Midlands and am a proud member of the NAFD. My morals aren’t governed by the NAFD, they are my own personal morals. How can you measure personal morals? If somebody has no respect for the deceased, how can you measure that?

    Very difficult subject.

  2. JJ

    Wednesday 26th September 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Unfortunately the Corporate funeral Companies have adopted a policy of bringing in managers with no funeral experience. This works for a standard retail business but funerals are very specialised. The Corporates are only interested in management background and not funeral background. This thinking has a knock on affect with the standard of service delivered which is a result of a watered down version of training. Ask any operative, working for a Corporate,about the history of the profession and they would not know why they do what they do and the tradition behind it. You might ask the relevance, well you look at any successful Company or organisation and I guarantee the staff take a pride in their job because of its history. Further the level of training given by the Corporates is poor, to say the least. It basically consists of, put him/her in a suit, show them some paper work, give them a set of vehicle keys and send them on their way. If the Corporates employed a fully versed Compliance Funeral Director with a strong background in the profession who can make the staff see that the deceased is not just a body but a someones, someone and instill values, pride and belief in what they do then the Corporates could turn this spiralling problem around. But Corporates are putting a pulse in a post just because they can’t get anyone for the job (bad move) their problems will only increase. Wake up Corporates, you might be big, you might think keep buying funerals will work…WRONG!!!! you are purely opening the market up for independents to move in and take your market share. Also whilst people are berating the Corporates,,rightly so because the Management need to get their act together..also remember that any Corporate is only made up of people, people who have a responsibility to their own conscience to treat those without a voice (deceased) respectfully. to all those featured in the program, just remember the way you treat people is how you also oneday will be treated. Everyone in the funeral professional should strive to hand down a legacy of TRUST, PRIDE, RESPECT AND TRANSPARENCY.

    • andrew plume

      Wednesday 26th September 2012 at 5:09 pm

      great stuff ‘JJ’ and said with an immense amount of feeling/passion etc

      andrew

  3. JJ

    Wednesday 26th September 2012 at 2:04 pm

    ..

  4. Friday 21st September 2012 at 5:03 pm

    In response to Ken above – yes, I do know Ben and admire him greatly, his book ‘No Worse Enemy’ about his time embedded with troops in Afghanistan is compelling reading. No, neither Charles nor I have a cameo role in this latest documentary and yes, I do have some knowledge of the programme – the Natural Death Centre as an independent advice charity is the logical point of contact for any media looking at the UK funeral industry so we do tend to have our fingers on the pulse.

    • Ken Davis

      Friday 21st September 2012 at 11:37 pm

      Thanks for your honesty Fran. I too have read the book yet wonder what have Mr Anderson’s experiences in Afghanistan to do with the disruption of funeral business in Britain unless it be simply a desire to witness conflict.
      Reading between the lines then, someone or something has encouraged Ben to reprise his role from the 1990s and your charity may have in some way pointed him towards a target or two ?
      At least that explains why your website is still carrying a “have you had a problem with a funeral director “? If so email Ben @ etc . If that is the case, is this ethical ? Surely a charity should take a neutral stance ?

      I am at a loss to understand why you would wish to be involved in the instigation and or production of another programme which will taint all of us involved in funeral service. Forgive me but surely you, Charles and others who share your ideals would be wise to pause awhile and reconsider whether there will be any winners as a result of the fire you apparently seek to ignite.

      Not wishing to labour a point I have made previously, no company, firm or trader, has the monopoly on compassion. Allow the end user, the bereaved, the mourners decide who they employ to assist in disposing of their dead. After all, we do live in a free country. I have thirteen months left until I draw my pension and the Chicken curry cooking in the kitchen smells divine !

      I fear that others who have written earlier may be correct in their caution over the regulation of funeral service. Many of my “Indy” customers may not come up to scratch in terms of the back of house bits.

      Sorry to ramble,

      Ken

      • Saturday 22nd September 2012 at 10:41 am

        Ken, do you take the same view of cowboy builders? The impulse to get a fair deal for funeral shoppers is not the exclusive preoccupation of what you characterise as the green lobby. Here at the GFG we are non-denominational, and the NDC’s concerns about poor practice in the industry fall perfectly properly within its wider consumer advocacy remit.

        The GFG is not anti groups per se. We would back any enterprise that rolled out a good and trustworthy brand, which is why we have been glad to act as consultants for major retailer on how it might do exactly that.

        While it is perfectly correct to say that we welcome any cleansing fire, and are happy to work with those who seek to ignite it, I think you need also to consider this: the GFG with the NDC have, in the last month, achieved far, far better publicity for the industry than the industry has managed to achieve for itself. The Joy of Death Convention and the Good Funeral Awards attracted glowing press attention here and abroad and ushered into the limelight all manner of brilliant people. In November, Sky will broadcast a 1-hour documentary celebrating the best of the industry. This makes us the best friends the industry has ever had.

        Trust the end user, you say. I agree. Let them watch the programme and decide for themselves. They are entitled to the facts. If funeral shoppers become more discriminating and harder to please, standards will rise both among the groups and the indies.

        The good guys of the industry and the consumer advocates have an identical goal.

        It’s good to hear from you, Ken. Thank you for writing. It is useful to debate these matters openly and freely and with civility.

    • Friday 4th January 2013 at 7:37 pm

      Actually, there is another raoesn besides funeral expenses if you develop a health condition at a later age and have had a policy since you were a kid you don’t have to worry about finding someone who will insure you when you are older.

  5. Friday 21st September 2012 at 2:03 pm

    I am hoping that this programme does not show deceased people on it because I find it of great disrespect to the person that has passed away. I think that the Media are forgetting that these are people’s loved ones. They are not bodies etc they are people and I shall wait to see what they show , but from what I have heard its not going to be all that good.

  6. Friday 21st September 2012 at 8:57 am

    Perhaps what we need is a really good doc series about our culture’s attitudes towards the end of life, the fact of mortality. Not just nuts and bolts, (i.e FDs and crematoria) but discussions and interviews about different sorts of people dealing with the knowledge that only humans amongst animals have (as far as we know) that “my life will end.”

    That might water the roots of our engagement with undertakers and celebrants; a sort of televisual Death Cafe. It would not be about “breaking the taboo” as the tired slogan has it; that’s much easier – paint your coffin, have lots of rock and roll, and pretend death doesn’t hurt, so we can refer to it more easily. It would be about adding momentum to the huge job of changing our culture’s attitudes towards human mortality, which I think is under way, but is actually an urgent matter. More on this at another time in another place, maybe.

    • Friday 21st September 2012 at 10:24 am

      I wonder if something good may work backwards from this sort of programme – get people talking and thinking about what it’s all about and how it ought to be.

    • Friday 21st September 2012 at 1:29 pm

      I am with you totally Gloria, I have been campaigning for a change in attitudes, having also written books on it following my mother’s death last year. Our denial of our mortality causes the greatest pain, fear and dysfunction! The superficial acts and rituals we undertake may satisfy the mind and ego but they will not alter the fact of death, that the ego cannot accept.

  7. Thursday 20th September 2012 at 3:29 pm

    I hope this ‘expose’ will raise the most important point of all, which is our need to change to a healthier perspective on death and dying and that we must start talking rather than running away from the fact that at some point we and those we love will die. Managing probate can be more stressful than loss itself! In talking before the event, people will realise they have a range of choices, at a time when they are able to make decisions that are not clouded by grief, which in itself will bring the disreputable providers to accountability. Sadly we still live in a world where money has great power and gullibility will be taken advantage of, but this can be stopped when our death denying culture (as Carole rightly puts it) is addressed. The media could do a great deal of positive work by raising public awareness to the options rather than just the ‘blame’ pain.

  8. Mr XX

    Thursday 20th September 2012 at 9:15 am

    They have responded – in their monthly magazine. They said it was regrettable that this sensational programme was ever made. They say everything shown was standard practice and reflected a truth the public should not be forced to see. The programme reflected badly on all funeral directors. The minor issues in the branch (failing to sell a simple funeral when asked) were being addressed by re-training.

    So that’s all right then. Business as usual.

  9. Mr XX

    Wednesday 19th September 2012 at 10:56 pm

    The largest trade association appears totally unwilling to criticise the big two – perhaps because they provide a large percentage of their annual revenue? How can you regulate the very people who help pay your salary?
    The NAFD response to the Funeralcare expose seemed to be ‘but everyone in the industry does it that way.’

    Light is best shone in dark places. I believe the public should to be better informed before choosing a funeral director. Anything that makes people more questioning of the organisation they are about to entrust with the funeral, has to be a good thing doesn’t it?

    • Wednesday 19th September 2012 at 11:19 pm

      I have yet to hear any response whatever from the NAFD on that matter, which is somewhat regrettable, given their position as self imposed arbiter of the “profession’s” standards.

      Why the deafening silence?

      Or have I missed the big bazooka yet again?

  10. Simon Irons

    Wednesday 19th September 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Of course, I am not suggestion for one movement that bad practice within the profession should not be addressed and certainly it should not be be allowed to to go unchallenged.

    I just do not believe that undercover filming is the way to expose it and address it. I tend to agree that the trade associations should do more.

    Many many good funeral directors either individuals or firms will be tarred with the very same bruch that will expose, I am guessing the activity in one or two funeral homes both corporate and independent. In fact if my info is to be believed many independents may want to cover of that particular claim from eir shop front once they see the allegations.

    Stall we all know that what is reported to go on within one banch or a corporate must be going on in all of them and so it stands to reason that whatever is claimed to be going on within a certain family owned independent company must also be going on in all family owned independent’s !

    And remember 95% of corporately owned businesses were once independent and will the main have retained the “independent” staff………. What you will see be the behaviour of maybe a dozen individuals and they do not reflect the service and standards I have always worked to in both corporate and family businesses both large and small.

    Regulation will become the favourite topic in Westminster and that will see the end of many many small well run established businesses as it is bound to favour the larger businesses.

    That is why I do not think any good will come out of the programme.

    • Ken Davis

      Friday 21st September 2012 at 11:54 pm

      Simon,
      I have read your contributions to this thing with interest and you do seem to make sense.

      As I have just said to Fran, I cant understand why she and others seem to want a fight ! Cant’ the Green and Environmental smaller guys just co exist alongside the Co-op/Dignity/without digging one another in the ribs ? It really is a bit petulant. I would really like to know how many contributors to this blog , who regularly criticise the Co-op , Dignity and other big firms, have ever worked for them ?

      My time with all of the larger companies was great, damn site easier than being self employed !

  11. Carole

    Wednesday 19th September 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Funerals are a strange one though aren’t they, when it comes to consumer consciousness? Because of our death denying culture it is so often not something that people really think about until they have no choice, and at that point they are not thinking clearly and possibly don’t even recognize that they are a consumer at all?
    Perhaps as well as “expose” type documentaries it would be helpful to have more clever film making that will attract attention around the wonderful diverse choices available when someone dies.

  12. Carole

    Wednesday 19th September 2012 at 8:53 am

    My experience of the bereaved is that such is their altered state of awareness in the immediate aftermath of the death of someone they love, they often walk into the first funeral director they can find and start planning the funeral. They assume this person will take consummate care of the deceased and also assume they will be treated fairly when it comes to pricing.
    Although I worry for the desolation that could be felt by grieving people seeing the truth of what can actually happen behind the scenes, I also welcome good documentary making that will hopefully make people more aware of the truth and ultimately more discerning.

    • Wednesday 19th September 2012 at 9:30 am

      I agree with you Carole — sadly. We live in a caveat emptor economy. As the referee tells boxers before they fight, ‘protect yourself at all times’. This being so, there would seem to be no other way. Simply, consumers must be aware of their responsibility to themselves and to the person who has died. It’s the way it is.

  13. Wednesday 19th September 2012 at 8:41 am

    Simon, if deplorable practice is not to be exposed what is to be done about it? The funeral service trade bodies undertake to police the industry but fail to do so effectively. This failure permits conditions where poor practice can establish itself, creating ripe opportunities for investigative journalists to do what investigative journalists do in what they would claim is the public interest. If their work results in wrongs being righted, where is your objection? The public interest is served, yes? We can only applaud, surely? By what better means could this be achieved?

    You say that this programme is likely not to be a good thing (we’ve not seen it yet, we can only speculate). Agreed, there is likely to be fallout. Yes, there is likely to be reputational damage to the whole industry. And, as Jonathan says, there will be fresh calls for regulation which can only infringe the rights of the bereaved and, by making life impossible for vocation-driven startup enterprises, favour exactly the sort of businesses which, if Fran is right, are likely to be paraded before the angry mob next Wednesday.

    It needn’t be like this. The good guys must look to themselves and each other. They must get together to differentiate themselves from the cynical opportunists. There is no government appetite for regulation. A strong sense of jeopardy is likely to be salutary; fear is the mother of safety and is likely to quell the vicious infighting and petty squabbling that characterise funeral industry politics. This is an idle luxury it can no longer afford.

    I think that much good may result from this programme. It is likely to present an excellent opportunity to put things right. As the unattributed quote has it, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

  14. Tuesday 18th September 2012 at 9:32 pm

    I find myself agreeing with Fran. If something needs fixing……

  15. Tuesday 18th September 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Simon, Jonathan – I don’t believe that your assumptions are correct – far from being a call for regulation or a blight on the whole profession, Ben’s documentary is I believe a damning indictment of the lack of compliance with the NAFD Code of Conduct by two certain large businesses and an expose of the inefficient management therein that has allowed lax practices to flourish. Surely such a revelation is something that should be welcomed by anyone who wants to see an informed and wary public who asks intelligent questions of the person they trust with the care of their dead relative?

    • Ken Davis

      Thursday 20th September 2012 at 11:01 pm

      Fran, you write as though you have some knowledge of this programme. Do you know Ben?, do you and Charles have cameo roles ? The ITV listing just says that that there are some shocking scenes, it does not mention NAFD or any compliance stuff
      Has Ben told you that only two companies are featured ? Which ones ? What else do you know ? come on, you’ve let it slip !

      Tell us do !

      • Thursday 20th September 2012 at 11:10 pm

        I’ve not seen anything, Ken. My own view, which I have communicated to the production company, is that balance is important; if you’re going to frighten the pants off people without also showing them that, within ten miles of them, there is golden-hearted FD, you’re not doing consumers a service. By all means name and shame the guilty – it’s no more than they deserve. But it’s only fair also to name and acclaim the excellent, then draw the moral: be careful.

  16. Simon irons

    Tuesday 18th September 2012 at 5:14 pm

    No one should be thinking this is a good thing, the whole profession will suffer damage to its reputation, independents may want to be associated with exposed in their name on this programme. Those fuelling the fire of these programmes are not helping.

    • Jonathan

      Tuesday 18th September 2012 at 6:18 pm

      My thinking exactly, Simon. It sounds as if all it will accomplish is a call for the healing art of funeral management to be reduced to a regulated industry, with a prescribed procedure and with all the advantages that will confer on the wealthier group traders whose interest is consumeristic at heart.

      Let’s just hope that BBC 2’s idea of a funeral documentary, ‘Dead Good Job’ episode three, leaves a sweeter aroma when it ends; an hour and a half in the same evening before this Frankenstein’s monster pukes its bile into your living room.

      You can’t sweep darkness out of the door. If you want light, open the curtain on the sun.

  17. Tuesday 18th September 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Producer – Ben Anderson
    Is this the same Ben Anderson of the Dignity expose 15 years ago ?

    • Tuesday 18th September 2012 at 4:00 pm

      Yes Tracey it is. From what I understand this documentary will make the previous Co-op exposé look like a promotional video.

  18. Tuesday 18th September 2012 at 1:51 pm

    I wait with interest to see what this undercover investigation shows.

  19. andrew plume

    Tuesday 18th September 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Hello Charles

    yes, ‘the role of ‘the trade associations’ is solely to protect their members, ala ‘Funeralcare’ as the main offender, the consumers, well……………………….

    regards

    andrew

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