The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Problem solved

Friday, 21 September 2012

 

When Co-operative Funeralcare reported itself to the NAFD in the aftermath of Channel 4’s Undercover Undertaker, it is doubtful whether the industry’s major trade body greeted the ploy with glee. A problem shared is a problem doubled. 

Was it really necessary for Funeralcare to hand themselves in? Inasmuch as the film revealed practices which fell far short of consumers’ expectations of an undertaker, no — obviously. It was clear what they should have done: they should have said sorry. To the public. They needed to have a conversation with the public. 

Why then did they hand themselves in? Presumably they had considered the Cleggalike hands-in-the-air option of apologising and rejected it in the hope of something less disagreeable. They pinned their hopes on the wording of the NAFD code of practice to make it better.

The code of practice is the instrument used by the NAFD to fend off those who would apply external regulation to the funeral industry. Its purpose is to require funeral directors to “observe at all times the basic rights of clients as consumers. To render good service at all times and make fair charges in respect of services rendered and for merchandise supplied.” It is the self-policing manual. 

The NAFD’s  Code of Practice Committee and Professional Standards Board ground into action to consider the case. The review remit was established. According to the report in NAFD house magazine Funeral Director Monthly, “It needs to be understood that the NAFD perspective in considering the programme content has a clear objective to relate the issues raised in the programme to the Rules and Guidelines and the Code of Practice of the Association.”

The first snag they encountered was that standalone hubs are not covered by the code because the code is out of date. The code only covers hubs which incorporate a retail funeral operation — ie, a shop: “The NAFD Rules require that Category A) and B) members notify us of all trading outlets, ie main offices and branches, coming under the membership trading name. Accepting that this requirement has been in the Rules in this form for many years means that, with present day modes of operation, premises as portrayed in the programme do not need to be notified to the NAFD.” (Our bold)

Whoops. (Something stronger, perhaps?)

The report in FD Monthly does not describe with what embarrassment, if any, this was acknowledged. However, Funeralcare helpfully came forward with an undertaking: “It was readily agreed by Funeralcare that the NAFD would be provided with  details of all such “Hub” units operated by Funeralcare, and that we now have immediate access to them at any time without giving notice. For the NAFD, it highlights a need to amend our Rules and procedures to meet the present day operating practices within our varied range of memberships, and to establish clear inspection processes in relation to all premises.”

So that’s all right, then. 

The NAFD went on to consider Funeralcare’s exhortation to its arrangers not to make known the availability of the simple funeral. Verdict? Not guilty. “The programme gave the impression, as other commentators have recently, that the NAFD Code requires funeral arrangers to discuss the availability of the Simple Funeral package with all clients as a matter of course. lt is clear from the Code wording that this is not necessarily the case.”

So there.

Actually, it’s not as bad as that. The NAFD admits it’s got a problem: “It would appear that there may be expectations from a public perception standpoint that require us all as members to consider and maybe review our approach to the Simple Funeral and how we offer it to our clients. For the NAFD, we need to give consideration as to how we strengthen our approach to the subject in the educational materials and the training options provided. The monitoring of compliance aspect is another area we can examine.”

While conceding that Undercover Undertaker was damaging, the NAFD wants to focus on positive outcomes. It asserts that “the future clients of Funeralcare will receive an enhanced service” and the NAFD will up its game a bit. 

Another storm cloud blew away subsequently in the course of a meeting with the Office of Fair Trading. “It was reassuring to know that, whilst they were aware of the programme, they did not view it as a cause for concern on their part, being comfortable in the knowledge that the NAFD has an input into resolving issues the programme raised.”

ED’S NOTE: Apologies for the less than timely treatment of this matter. It’s because we’ve been incredibly busy. Next week’s looking like a bit of a beast too, so if you’ve got something you’d like to blog off steam about, do send it in: charles@goodfuneralguide.co.uk

 

 

30 comments on “Problem solved

  1. Tuesday 25th September 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Hello David

    Thank you for taking the time to read the leaflet and make a comment.

    What you point out as being ‘our views’ on embalming are actually facts that unless revealed by us are unlikely to be spoken of by most FDs. “a little injection” it certainly is not.

    Why do you think the subject of the environment should be mentioned? This is a whole additional area. What we describe as invasive and mostly unnecessary would be, I believe, of concern to families, not the dangers to the embalmers from breathing in the damn fumes or even the effect on emissions or soils.

    So thank you again but unless my trustees come back to me on this I think the guidance will stay as it is.

  2. Monday 24th September 2012 at 1:57 pm

    A former employee of mine also works for FPL. He is an experienced, professional caring first class funeral director.

    All industries make mistakes – all have rotten apples. We await the programme and its aftermath with great interest.

    My heartfelt thoughts are with the recently bereaved clients of the business featured. However – as I did with funeralcare – I do have some sympathy for FPL.

  3. Dave Lucas

    Monday 24th September 2012 at 1:38 pm

    I am not sure of the absolute relevance of the full identity of any individual posting on here as I am not aware of any rules on the matter.

    Dave Lucas is not my real name …… Shock horror but to review my full true identity would cut off my source of inside information and views many of which I share here with you all.

    If you don’t want me posting then I am happy to stop, but then it really would be a one sided show would it not……..

    I will leave it to Charles to decide…….

    • Monday 24th September 2012 at 2:06 pm

      Dave, do go on posting. We don’t want things to become one-sided and, as you know, we have an impeccable record of free speech over here.

      I only need to know someone’s identity where unverified allegations are made so that I can check facts and avoid publishing libels. I have saved your deleted comments so that I can restore them if you are in a position to give me chapter and verse.

      If you prefer to keep your personal views separate from your professional practice, that’s perfectly okay. A number of people do that.

      As you may imagine, it can sometimes feel like anything but a level playing field when I am directly, personally accountable for what I say because I don’t hide my identity, while people with adopted monikers lob all sorts at me. But I’m used to it now, my skin is thick and I fear only libel lawyers.

      Tell us what you think. As you can see, people are interested. We learn from each other.

  4. Monday 24th September 2012 at 12:19 pm

    […] Bryan Powell (commenting under his real name, as he always does) points out here, the story of Funeral Partners is not all bad.  Well, it was unlikely to be as simple as that, was […]

  5. andrew plume

    Monday 24th September 2012 at 8:47 am

    I am 100% onside for openness as to ones background in posting on here

    As Charles and a few others are aware, I have never been employed by the funeral organisation. I have however in my role of administering estates (of the decased) been very close to the industry for a few decades, consequently I’ve arranged many funerals. I continue to take a seriously interested stance in the industry and have enjoyed reviewing two of the recommended firms featured on this site

    It would be beneficial if Dave Lucas could come forward and disclose his attachments, similarly for Simon Irons to do so as well

    regards

    andrew

    • Monday 24th September 2012 at 11:30 am

      Good morning Andrew,
      May I guide you to a link on the Natural Death Centre’s website.

      http://www.naturaldeath.org.uk/uploads/Forms/Questions%20to%20ask%20a%20funeral%20director.pdf

      We have posted this ‘list of questions you may like to ask a funeral director’ in the hope that more members of the public will become empowered. The direct link to it is on our home page below our press release response to the forthcoming ITV programme on Wednesday.

      If anyone would like to let us know of any additions that would improve this guidance, please get in touch.

      Looks like a busy week ahead.
      Regards
      Rosie

      • Dave Lucas

        Monday 24th September 2012 at 2:15 pm

        Rose the only commetn I would amke is the question you ask around embalming aslo included a statement of your views.

        Do you recommend embalming? Why? (The process of embalming is often coyly referred to as ‘temporary preservation’ or ‘hygienic treatment’, and is a toxic, invasive procedure that is generally unnecessary and never a legal requirement unless the person who has died is to be transported internationally. Some funeral directors will encourage families to agree to it by implying that it would be too distressing to see an un-embalmed body – this is rarely the case.)

        Perhaps
        Do you recommend embalming? Why? (The process of embalming is often coyly referred to as ‘temporary preservation’ or ‘hygienic treatment’) .can you explain the process to me and the effect it has on the environment.
        Do I have to have embalming if I want to see the body, why

  6. Monday 24th September 2012 at 8:36 am

    Having spent some time working for Funeral Partners and directly with Phillip Greenfield I have the utmost respect for his business acumen and desire to do the job properly.

    You only have to look at the business he took over in Ross-on-Wye and Hereford to see how much they invested in turning it around and putting right the huge number of “issues” left by the previous owner.

    Unfortunately when a company grows at such a rate it becomes difficult to get to know every member of staff and identify the bad apples. I’m sure they will be gone soon enough, it’s just a shame that it’s after the damage has been done.

    Having spent time visiting potential vendors and seeing the shocking state of some of them I’d rather use an FSP branch than many an independent I’ve seen.

    • andrew plume

      Tuesday 25th September 2012 at 9:13 am

      Bryan

      this is the local set-up which I assume you are referring to:-

      http://www.abbotsfieldfunerals.co.uk/

      interesting what you have said, mainly because I seem to recall from the website of the previous owners that they thought pretty highly of themselves……….

      it would be good to see ‘one main website for FSP’, transparency of ownership and all that, as at the moment they have individual sites for each (former) business etc

      regards

      andrew

      • Tuesday 25th September 2012 at 2:19 pm

        Indeed, it was Abbotsfield I was talking about.

        There is always room for improvement and a corporate website would be good.

        As I understand it the previous owner now has plenty of time to think!!

  7. Dave Lucas

    Sunday 23rd September 2012 at 10:47 pm

    The faulty keyboard is actually me typing with fat fingers on a small keyboard, whilst just a little cross – apologies

    No I am not a director of FSP or currently employed by any of the large firms, I have a shareholding in various family businesses.

    But it makes me mad when everyone blames the large companies for this type of thing. It is not the company it’s the people and the people are normally retained from the family businesses acquired, so what does that tell you.

    I know and everyone who works in the profession knows, that standards vary dramatically from firm to firm, large or small, but in the main standards, and by that I mean facilities, are generally more consistently higher in the likes of Dignity, the Coops and the larger independents. This is not to say that a high standards of facilities do not exist in many small firms because they do, but to be frank so are very poorest standards.

    But the behaviours of individuals, which is really what these programmes are about, can not be blamed on the firms, does anone seriously believe that the directors of FP ltd encourage, condone or train staff to behave like this. course not.

    This part of Dave’s comment removed by the moderator as possibly libellous. Dave, please contact me with verification and I shall restore what you said.

    So until people from the whole profession start taking responsibility for there own actions instead of blaming others these problems will exist, as they do in all walks of life.

    Ran over !

    • Monday 24th September 2012 at 12:28 am

      Thanks Dave, I now see where you’re coming from.

      I also read the bit that has now been sidelined.

      The obvious problem in any business, is that you can never
      expect an employee to be as aware and involved as the proprietor. I’m sure that you agree so far.

      That is probably why (and I’m honestly not standing on any soap-box here) that truely independent firms have so much more to lose if they get it wrong on any one day of the year.

      If you are making your judgement just upon a “hairdown” situation within the confines of a “trade” party, then perhaps you are making an unjust call.

      Ask any doctor how many parties they have found themselves rather more drunk than they would like to admit…..

      Notwithstanding, you make the reasonable point that we expect everyone involved in the funeral trade to express and conduct themselves in a way that is acceptable to all.

      I cannot disagree.

      Your upset at the most recent turn of events is mirrored by, I hope, the majority of those involved within the funeral service fraternity.

  8. Sunday 23rd September 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Dave,

    With respect, your last comment makes you sound like a Funeral Partners director yourself, only with an exceptionally faulty keyboard.

    I have recommended numerous clients to Gillman’s over the years, and am now very worried by the accusation you make that the firm has for some considerable time, in your words, been a “shower of shite”.

    I can assure you that I am able to recognise a “shower of shite” when I see it, and wonder, with the greatest respect, which pristine establishment you work for?

    I anticipate that I may need a firm to recommend in the London area.

    Regards

  9. Dave Lucas

    Sunday 23rd September 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Comment removed by the moderator.

    Sorry Dave, what you said was potentially libellous and as the publisher of this blog I would have been liable.

    If you wish to discuss this, and I hope you will, please contact me giving verification that the name you use is the name you are known by + phone number. I have your IP address already.

    It is not my wish to strangle free speech, and all views are welcome here. What you said was very revealing, as was the way you expressed yourself, and I wish I could have retained what you said.

    My e-address: charles@goodfuneralguide.co.uk. My phone number: 01527 595 358.

    Accountability is all.

  10. andrew plume

    Sunday 23rd September 2012 at 5:15 pm

    and see it here:-

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2207224/Staff-seen-chanting-Chelsea-scum-sealing-mans-coffin-making-racist-remarks-cruel-jokes.html

    a very shoddy performance from FSP and from what I know, miles away from the standards and care when Roger Gillman owned the business

    andrew

    • James

      Sunday 23rd September 2012 at 11:16 pm

      This is the FPS response to the documentary and Daily Mail article:-

      Everyone here at Gillman Funeral Service is shocked and disappointed by recent serious allegations of inappropriate behaviour and comments.

      The alleged behaviour of a small number of our 28 staff goes against everything we believe in and everything this company stands for. We are here to provide a caring service to families at a time when they are at their most vulnerable and this is a responsibility we take very seriously.

      When I heard about these allegations, I immediately launched both an internal investigation and an external enquiry into our procedures, standards and training. We take any breaches of our procedures or working practices extremely seriously so I suspended six members of staff, pending the outcome of the investigations.

      I promise you, that once all the evidence has been gathered and the TV footage has been seen, we will take the right actions to deal with this situation and ensure that these things cannot happen again.

      Gillman Funeral Service and the whole of Funeral Partners group are proud to offer the highest standards of care and service. We treat everyone with the same respect and courtesy as if they are a member of our own family. Every single day we receive dozens of very heartfelt expressions of gratitude and thanks from families who have experienced the work that our fantastic people do. That is what I am proud of and I am determined to ensure that we all maintain this standard.

      We are investigating what has happened and in the meantime I offer my sincere apology for any distress to families caused by these totally unacceptable incidents.

      We truly value diversity and we do not tolerate racist language or behaviour anywhere in our business. There are no exceptions.

      Gillman Funeral Service has a long and proud history of working with the local community and we work with everyone sensitively and appropriately regardless of race, ethnic background or creed.

      Our caring staff are available to answer any questions or concerns which you may have and they will reassure you about our high standards and our dedication to providing service and care.

      We thank you for your understanding as we work to resolve these difficult issues.

      Phillip Greenfield

  11. Sunday 23rd September 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Well, that really does put the cat amongst the pigeons, if true.

    Gilmans have been a truly respected name in the trade for many years. Roger Gilman allowed the TV cameras into his operation some 18 or so years ago to film a fly-on-the-wall programme on undertaking (called, oddly enough, “Undertakers” if I remember correctly). Excellent professional footage of a delicate topic.

    I’m sure that Roger will be absolutely horrified at this demise since he “retired”.

    On a different note, I’m now rather relieved that my firm was refused membership of the NAFD recently. The standard of my premises passed with flying colours, but we couldn’t honestly “tick” every single “code of practice” box on every single occasion, due to our being essentially an “internet orientated” operation. The code oddly didn’t allow for a premises that was essentially just a mortuary and chapel of rest. As highlighted in another post, the code blindly assumes a “shop” type “retail” premises for it’s members.

    It does suggest that NAFD membership should be gauged perhaps more on the quality and professionalism of members. Perhaps I’ll re-apply when I regain my confidence in them!

  12. Sunday 23rd September 2012 at 12:04 pm

    And now we know. Funeral Partners Ltd – Gilman’s ‘family orientated independent funeral directors’ feature in today’s Mail. Horror for their clients. Huge embarrassment for them and the NAFD.

  13. Saturday 22nd September 2012 at 11:12 pm

    £51 million is one hell of an achievement.

    Paradoxically though, the best, and most genuine funeral directors that I have ever known, and have worked their fingers “to the bone”/ all hours, have all died almost penniless.

    I know which guys get my vote!

  14. Saturday 22nd September 2012 at 10:07 pm

    I try to stay positive Charles – the festival certainly lifted my spirits. To see so many like minded people gathered together was a shot in the arm, a real tonic.
    But even if we are growing – we’re a pin prick in the corporate balloon.

    This does feel like a David v Goliath battle – the giant in this case being very well established and resourced. Dignity are doing well, Funeralcare’s operational profit of £51 million takes some thinking about. Those responsible for these astounding figures wont give them up too easily just because there is a better way for the bereaved.

  15. Saturday 22nd September 2012 at 6:00 pm

    I don’t think you should be so gloomy, David – though I confess to episodes of gloom myself. I think things are going to get better. On the one hand, exposes of malpractice are going to sting funeral shoppers into vigilance. On the other, the work of brilliant celebrants and funeral directors is serving to raise expectations of funerals as people begin to understand that a funeral is not an invidious necessity to be put behind them as fast as possible but, on the contrary, an event to be embraced and engaged with because it is capable of offering a great deal of emotional and, where applicable, spiritual value.

    I am besieged by production companies trying to work up a good angle for a programme about death to pitch to the major TV channels. Interest is greater than I have ever known it. Very few are interested in the dark side. The vast majority want to make something informative and meaningful – to look on the bright side.

  16. Saturday 22nd September 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Perhaps this weeks undercover expose will add more pressure? I doubt it – the NAFD have made their position clear. Any examination of the industry or individual members is unhelpful to all..

    A TV researcher recently called me to ask about simple funerals. As part of a long conversation, I suggested she ring around some funeral directors. Ask about the cost of a very basic, simple funeral – without a limousine and test their response. I wonder how she got on?

    If we don’t at least try and persuade members of the public that they should exercise more care when choosing their funeral director – then who will? The media? Personally I’m beginning to wonder if the good guys are just too few in number and hopelessly under resourced of course?

  17. Saturday 22nd September 2012 at 2:10 pm

    That is indeed, the million dollar question Jonathan. I suppose it’s back to the hype and spin…

  18. Saturday 22nd September 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Rosie,

    I think you have it with the word “impersonal”.

    I am fortunate enough (perhaps) to remember when my bank manager knew the name of every one of his branch customers. My first wife was a nurse of the “old school”. She and her colleagues had to remember all the ward patients names, conditions and treatments – if only for the consultants ward round.

    Maybe it was computers that made everybody that tad more distant; maybe it wasn’t. For sure though, things have certainly changed.

    Service providers rely more on PR hipe and advertisements to convince us that we are getting good service and value for money. At one time it was the service itself that convinced you. If I carry on, I’ll start sounding like my father….

    Funeral service is probably one of the few areas where all is not yet lost. Yes, there will always be the good, the bad and the indifferent. Perhaps, though, those people with the ability to change the direction of the good ship “Corporate Funeral GB” will recognise that following in the wake of the good ship “World Bank” is not such a good idea, and will ultimately end in tears.

    The Supermarket hub style of undertaking may be with us for good, whether we like it or not. The choice, however, is in the hands of an informed customer.

    • Jonathan

      Saturday 22nd September 2012 at 12:47 pm

      And so it comes back for the millionth time, Nick, to the question: ‘How do you get the prospective customer to inform him/herself about something of which she wishes to remain ignorant?

  19. Mr XX

    Saturday 22nd September 2012 at 11:49 am

    The NAFD are complicit. They knew that hubs existed and chose to ignore them.

    The entire NAFD and funeralcare ‘response’ is totally inadequate and tells you all you need to know about both awful organisations. How this vital information is conveyed to a wider audience is the real problem.

  20. Friday 21st September 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Does this mean they will not solicit, not harass the recently bereaved for their own financial gain, putting targets / quotas aside once they have your loved one in their possession by any means?
    Enhanced service my arse! A funeral is a one-time event, no re-runs here, you have to make it the best final lasting memories for those who grieve and respectful of those we trust you with in their final journey
    Feel free Mr Potts to copy and paste my comments and send to the FAS

  21. Friday 21st September 2012 at 4:52 pm

    I couldn’t agree with Rosie more. Our dead are our families, our friends, real living people whose lives have ended, but whose bodies when alive were cherished, caressed, cuddled and cared for. If those bodies become a commodity, an item in process between collection and disposal, referred to typically by surname only by their custodians, then where is our humanity?

    If only all staff tending to those who have died could conjure up a picture of them living, vibrant, laughing, crying, real individuals with a lifetime of connections, a storehouse of memories, if the indifference such as Rosie describes above (borne I believe of a defence mechanism against all our final destiny) could be removed from the daily dealings with the bodies of the dead then we would all as a society benefit immensely from such a sea change in attitude.

    The industrialisation of caring for the dead is something that is with us for now, possibly for the foreseeable future – yet within the big business within the UK funeral industry there is so much scope for improvement. Perhaps any re-examination of the NAFD Code of Practice could include a stab at encouraging humanity within the industry?

  22. Friday 21st September 2012 at 4:35 pm

    You know what none of this addresses? The impersonal, the deceptive, and the anonymous.
    The dozens of bodies passing through the big hubs on a daily basis are just anonymous corpses to the staff.

    When I collected a beautiful, vibrant lady from one of the UK’s largest hubs, I had learnt about her from the family, I had seen her picture and knew of her high life as a glamorous socialite in 1960’s London. As she was wheeled over to me I was greeted with the words
    “Oh you are welcome to this one, we don’t like ugly birds round here”.
    How different this is to the respect shown by our Muslim and Hindu colleagues, featured in ‘Dead good Job’, towards the dead in their care.

    Whatever they say, I believe an attitude problem is systemic and undercover filming doesn’t just ‘happen’ to hit upon one off, isolated cases.

    For me, the problems with the hub system is firstly this processing by the back-room staff and secondly that the families are not informed that their relative is being stored elsewhere. Sure hubs are efficient if you accept that bodies travelling back and forth for viewings is efficient.

    I think that all staff from the arranger through to the back room boys should know something about their clients. Maybe then they would think twice before acting so carelessly. Impractical within big businesses? Probably; that is why I am a fan of small independents.

    • Simon Irons

      Friday 21st September 2012 at 6:25 pm

      Rosie

      I hope you reported the lack of respect shown to the lady you collected (the ugly bird comment) if not then you were complicit in the disrespect and missed an opportunity to make a difference.

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