Good Funeral Guide offers hope to funeral shoppers in wake of Dispatches Undercover Undertaker.

Charles Cowling

Channel 4’s Dispatches film Undercover Undertaker (Monday 25 June) has shocked viewers with its undercover revelations at Co-operative Funeralcare, the obvious and most deserving target of such treatment*. 

The production line nature of the ‘hub’ depicted in the programme is the corollary of consolidation and rationalisation in the funeral industry. Its acceptability to consumers has never been tested by market research, but it is a standard feature of consolidated businesses in the industry.  Many Funeralcare customers who now realise their loved one was taken to a hub will be devastated. Bereaved people can in future make sure this does not happen to them. There are plenty of boutique funeral directors who can meet their needs and wishes. 

What the film failed to offer viewers was a balanced survey of the industry as a whole. As a consequence, the good name of all funeral homes stands in jeopardy. This is unfair. Standards of practice in the funeral industry generally mirror those in any other industry. Co-operative Funeralcare offers a typical example of egregious corporate cynicism where the pursuit of profit has betrayed the trust of consumers and the hard work and decency of many of its employees. The majority of funeral homes in the UK are independent businesses ranging from the indifferent to the excellent and which care for their dead on their premises. Wickedness is rare, scandals few. The very best abide by standards which are as startlingly high as Funeralcare’s are low. 

In the UK it is illegal to operate an unlicensed cattery, so it is no surprise that there have been renewed calls for regulation. The codes of conduct and compliance regimes of the two industry bodies, the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD)  and the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF), have, justly, been called into question. Co-operative Funeralcare is a member of the NAFD, a body which supports self-regulation. 

However, if the experience of children in care and the elderly in nursing homes is anything to go by, funeral consumers are mistaken if they suppose that licensing funeral directors and subjecting their funeral homes to an independent inspection regime will be a silver bullet. In the USA the professionalisation of funeral directors has driven up prices, while the inspection regime of the Federal Trade Commission has failed to root out malpractice. 

The best hope for funeral shoppers remains vigorous consumer scrutiny. We only buy an average of two funerals in a lifetime, so it’s no surprise we’re not very good at it. Worse, it’s a distress purchase – one we make when our mind is overcast by grief. But even at such a time it is possible to make an informed choice, and there is every incentive to do so. First, we owe it to the person who has died. Second, the experience of a good funeral can be transformative of grief. Third, everyone in Britain can find, within ten miles of their home, a decent, dedicated caring funeral director who will look after them well.

*Co-operative Funeralcare lays claim to ethical standards that set it apart from its commercial rivals, but it conducts itself like any corporate predator. Founded by the people for the people, Funeralcare is in dispute with the GMB union, which it has de-recognised, setting it in clear breach of its founding principles. Created in order to enable working people to buy what they would not otherwise be able to afford, Co-operative Funeralcare enjoys economies of scale which enable it to sell funerals at lower cost than its independent competitors. Funeralcare does not pass these benefits on to funeral shoppers but, instead, charges, on average, several hundred pounds more than most independent businesses [source: http://bit.ly/nCZGJT], rendering it commercially incoherent.

For all those who watched Undercover Undertaker and despaired, the Good Funeral Guide offers the following simple five-point guide to finding a good funeral director.

5 Things to know before you arrange a Funeral

If you saw the recent Dispatches programme on Channel 4 and are concerned about making the right choices when organising a funeral, we hope this information will empower you.

1. Take your time

Unless you have religious reasons for doing otherwise, take your time. If someone dies at home by all means call a funeral director and ask them to collect the body but know that you can have them transferred to another funeral director for a nominal charge before any paperwork is signed and this also applies if the person has already been collected because they died in a nursing home. If the person died in a hospital there may be no rush – they can stay in the mortuary until you’ve chosen a funeral director you’re happy with. If the hospital does not have a mortuary, a nominated funeral director will look after them until you arrange for a transfer. By all means call family and friends to tell them that death has occurred, but don’t feel that you need to tell them the place and time of the funeral in the same call. Unless the coroner is involved you must register the death within 5 days.

2. Ask a friend to help

The chances are you’ve never organised a funeral before. There’s lots to learn, just at a time when you may feel least able to cope, so enlist the help of a friend. Try to choose someone who is level-headed, organised, not afraid to ask questions of you, and the funeral director, and in whom you can confide about any financial constraints.

3. Know your options

The main choices are between burial and cremation – unless your religion prescribes one or the other. Cremation is almost always cheaper. You could can costs to a minimum by having no ceremony and opting for direct cremation, holding a funeral/memorial and/or ash scattering event a few days, weeks or months later at a place and time that’s right for you and the person who died.

4. Know and stick to your budget

Your budget should determine what sort of funeral you choose, not the other way around. Because we want to ‘do them proud’ it’s very easy to overspend. Remember that, ultimately, a good send-off is determined by what you say and do, not what you spend. Ask your friend to help you stick to your budget and think about how people can play their part in the preparations and ceremony. Remember that many funeral directors will ask for all of the 3rd-party fees up front (this could be up to £1000 for cremation in some parts of the country, even more for burial), with the balance to be paid soon after the funeral, so you will need to have the funds available. It’s perfectly OK to ask friends and family to help with the cost, and much more practical than buying flowers which will usually only be seen briefly. Finally, be sure to claim any benefit you might be entitled to.

5. Shop around

The cost of funerals varies hugely. Call and ask for quotes from all your local funeral directors. Evaluate how your request is dealt with and give each one stars out of five. Don’t worry about qualifications. Rather, go and interview three funeral directors and take your friend with you for support and to keep you on track. Consider asking to go behind the scenes so that you can see where the person who has died will stay. Finally, balance cost against quality of service and go with the nicest funeral director you can afford.

Note: this advice applies to those who wish to employ a funeral director. There is no law saying you have to. If you think you would like to care for your own at home, please click the link here

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Ru Callender
Guest

We don’t really have a reception area. No receptionist. I welcome Ken’s professional view as well, and I don’t begrudge you your hostility Ken, I am an outspoken critic of embalming, I don’t expect you to approve of me. Maybe this would be a good time for me to put up a post to clarify our position on embalming. I doubt it will get me on your Christmas card list. Angie, it was an embalmer who told me that. It was very early days of our business and we wanted to try and reverse the decay of a body but… Read more »

Richard
Guest
Richard

I for one find your professional view welcome, Ken, and hope you continue to contribute for the sake of challenging any consensus on this subject.

Angie
Guest
Angie

Ru Callender said somewhere above that “Embalming needs to be done on an entirely fresh body, it cannot reverse the natural process any more efficiently than good refrigeration. ” – as an embalmer, I have no idea where he got that information from… it is not true. It is easier to embalm if someone hasn’t been dead for 10 days, but with skill and patience it is possible to achieve a lot, even if someone is compromised by time. What embalming does achieve – which refrigeration does not – is the ability to stabilise a deceased person so that they… Read more »

Ken Davis
Guest
Ken Davis

Angie. well said. I have tried to articulate the same in previous contributions to this blog but have really been unable to find the words which you have used. I simply cannot understand why so many contributors to this thread seem to dismiss embalming as an enhancement to the service a funeral provider can offer. they all seem to believe that its just a money spinner for the big firms. Like you, I have been able to reconstruct peoples features where death has been traumatic or restore some stability to a body where the flora and fauna within the abdomen… Read more »

Ru Callender
Guest

You don’t write for The Daily Mail Ken?

Ken Davis
Guest
Ken Davis

No I don’t write for the Daily Mail.

Do you buy The Guardian to read or to put in your reception area ?

Vicky
Guest

i really do not have aniyhtng material to give my dad, but i thought of doing this online greeting as a father’s day “gift” to let the world know how much i love my papa. here goes my message:pa,i know you’re very busy today, as everyday, working hard for the money you have to give me every month to be able to send me to school and provide me my wants and other needs. i’m glad you really do that for me, because not all dads care enough for their kids as much as you care for me.for 12 years,… Read more »

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[…] other than they are. Did you read the comments on this blog written by EX CO OP EMPLOYEE? Read them here and here. What do you […]

Davey Peters
Guest
Davey Peters

Hi Charles, I can and do understand your point that the dead mean different things to different people. All people no matter what the situation, have differing views on what is acceptable. However, this being said, surely no matter what the views of the bereaved are, funeral directors, as with carer’s, nurses and doctors. Should act within an appropriate manner and provide adequate care facilities for people within their care, including proper storage facilites and fridges. If a care home was to have no heating then it would be deemed unfit for people to inhabit by the state ,no matter… Read more »

Davey Peters
Guest
Davey Peters

Charles, I’m afraid I can’t agree with your statement saying you wear your opinions lightly, I certainly do not and nor do I believe you do. I personally believe that money should not be a factor in how the deceased are looked after, surely each person should be given the same amount of dignity and respect as the next? Your statement regarding how hospital mortuary’s and private mortuarys are funded is a bit of a strange way to look at things. Surely the fact that a funeral director is paid directly by the consumer, thus taking direct profit, should mean… Read more »

Davey Peters
Guest
Davey Peters

Do smaller funeral directors like Go As You Please not operate a Hub System??

andrew plume
Guest
andrew plume

Hello Tony B

yes I recall that documentary series and excellent it was too – Roger Gillman has since sold out to Funeral Partners Ltd – the much respected West & Coe also featured

yours

andrew

TonyB
Guest
TonyB

“Someone should commission a programme which shows the business in a good light.” In past times there have been multi-week FOTW documentaries on John Nodes, Gillman and Albin and in each case on could not be other than impressed by the way in which the business was run.

Ru Callender
Guest

Please see above posts for context of these videos. -sigh- Seems I must trawl through every post connected to this issue to point this out.

Simon Irons
Guest
Simon Irons

Searching YouTube to watch the programme again, I came across this video of independent funeral director recommended by this blog

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HLYu6K99aA&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Now that is shocking !

Vale
Guest
Vale

Let’s come back to the customer in all this. The GFG was written for them and they are the people that this blog wants to engage. Think of them now, coming into the ‘shop’ – often confused and anxious. Death doesn’t happen often in our lives and it is surrounded by baffling bureaucracy and procedures. Often they will be exhausted too, surfacing after having attended an illness or cared for an invalid for days, weeks, months or more. And they are filled with grief and an anxiety to do what is right. What they hope for when they step though… Read more »

andrew plume
Guest
andrew plume

Ken Davis said… “Well said Bryan Someone should commission a programme which shows the business in a good light….” and there lies the problem, good news stories rarely equal viewing figures – look at the media, aside from the broadsheets, the tabloids are really only interested in knocking and on a (semi) permanent scale – as a nation we do not do praise for people/business in bucket loads…… but we do criticise in bucket loads and as Bryan rightly said, the BBC prog on Edinburgh Council’s Morturay Service was a very good piece of tv, with no side and just… Read more »

Ken Davis
Guest
Ken Davis

Charles, I apologise, i meant to answer your question about charges. I charge £75 to embalm, whatever the circumstances of the death or the condition of the deceased. I use my own transport, equipment and cosumables such as fluids etc.I take as much time as is required, the average being an hour or so. I am happy with the money I make and do not struggle to live. I have no idea what embalmers are paid where they work exclusively for one employer but when I worked for Plantsbrook a long time ago,the pay was ok, and the upside was… Read more »

Ken Davis
Guest
Ken Davis

Well said Bryan

Someone should commission a programme which shows the business in a good light. What about the one recently about the guy with his two young daughters in the business, in Cardiff ?? Not sure that was a hit.
I would imagine that the Tv production companies would not be interested in good news, after all, bad news, however obtained, attracts interest.
Incidentally, Mr Albin operates a “Hub” in Bermondsey which services his “Shops” as he calls them. Do you think he has racking to stack TV sets ?

Rick Hughes
Guest
Rick Hughes

The big boys are all ducking for cover over this, nows the time to be seen to take control of your industry and you will benefit greatly. These ratbags have been hiding behind the stigma of death that the public dont want to know about and its been going on far too long. Families are not going to use your company for your skill in embalming, they are coming to you for a solution to a problem. Use your proffesinal skill to detirmin what needs to be done.Treat the remains as if they were one of your family! You all… Read more »

Simon Irons
Guest
Simon Irons

Anne BA On the programme? On the subject of contracts, many hospitals all over the country contract out their mortuary provision, one is St Charles hospital West London, they have used j nodes for over 20 years, all deceased that die at the hospital are taken by Nodes to their mortuary across the road but the family can choose which FD they go to……. Nodes are Independent not part of one of the groups. Their Mortuary is an industrial style building and is not part of a funeral home as such……. How do I know, I used to work their… Read more »

Kristie West
Guest

I only just caught up and watched the Dispatches show. Absolutely appalling. Is it a reflection of the whole company? I confess to now knowing enough about Co-ops antics to be a judge of that. Though I can’t say I’ve heard a lot of good about them…. But what was shown in this show certainly reflects very poorly. I love the info you give Charles about funeral planning. I think ‘Take your time’ is about the best advice I’ve ever read and probably where most people go (or are led) astray from making some different choices – not knowing they… Read more »

David B.
Guest

Charles, I have a trade embalmer and she is fantastic. Yet charges me £55 a case, when she is away for any reason I really appreciate the work she does. I find that a lot of this comes down to area, I love the Willow-Calico stuff, but in reality most of my clients go for the standard traditional oak veneer and once I explain the process of embalming we get a 50-50 split of clients either choosing it or not no pressure one way or the other. I also agree with Rupert that it is not for us to decide… Read more »

Bryan
Guest

I’m not a great fan of the Co-op and what particularly irks me is the hiding behind local trading names but at least they have fridges – I’ve been to many an independent that hasn’t. I know of one locally that has a cold room but no trays or racking so bodies are kept on the floor. Shame the Co-op or Dignity or one of our so called trade associations can’t commission a programme about the positives. There have been some really great programmes recently on the work of the Coroner and the mortuary at Edinburgh. Barry Albin showed it… Read more »

Ru Callender
Guest

Louis Armstrong once said about music that there were only two types, good and bad. The same thing can be applied to undertakers. Not all of us independents are slavishly devoted to the idea of four legs good two legs bad SImon. As we know many independents keep a pet embalmer because it is cheaper than investing in several modern refrigeration units. It’s as wrong as misleading the public into thinking that ‘hygienic treatment’ is almost a legal requirement, certainly implying that it is a medical necessity. Euphemistic sleight of hand that lets the bereaved fill in the gaps themselves:… Read more »

Simon Irons
Guest
Simon Irons

On the subject of embalming was there not a blog on this subject earlier this year where CC posted a clip from an INDEPENDENTS website which compelled clients to have embalming…..?

Afford dignity
Guest
Afford dignity

In my defence A.N employee I am only basing what I have to say on personal experience ,I am not saying all co-op employees are dirt bags I was referring to the people in charge I’m sure all the staff in your section of the co-op are all wonderful people 🙂

Sarah Foster
Guest

Although I was unable to watch the clip about the news program you are discussing, I appreciate the tips you give on funeral arranging. As you have undoubtedly mentioned, it is such an emotional time and very hard for people to be thinking clearly to make funeral arrangement decisions. It is such a big “purchase” that one does not want to be taken advantage of and so I thank you for the tip recommending enlisting the aid of a close friend who you feel completely comfortable with. Even if there are multiple people helping with the arranging (for example, siblings… Read more »

claire callender
Guest

Just to clarify something Ru said above: we never advise a family not to spend time with a body, we describe in detail how the body looks and let them make up their own mind. Who are we to tell someone they cannot see someone they love who has died?

Teresa Evans
Guest

Anne Beckett-Allen… I would be interested to know the name of the hospital that you talk about. Unless a coroner has taken an interest in a death it would be illegal for a hospital to make demands about where a body is sent.

Teresa Evans
Guest

Belinda… You said “But no-one’s going to fund Charles and/or the NDC making a programme about good funerals”. I suggest that we shouldn’t need film making companies or indeed Charles and the NDC to be educating us all about our legal rights. What film companies ought to do is investigate why ministers, civil and public servants do not educate us about what to do following a death, and expose how they each point us to undertakers and charities for guidance, which in some instances also have a commercial agenda for not providing sound advice. A death becomes public information and… Read more »

Jane Harris
Guest

take a look at the film we made http://www.beyondgoodbye.co.uk in memory of our son Joshua………….this is the first funeral we have organised and we did it in 11 days in a state of complete shock and with no knowledge at all about funerals……..

Ru Callender
Guest

Hi Ken. I’m a do good, willow kind of guy. I’ve been a practicing undertaker for 12 years, and I have been showing families their unembalmed dead all of that time. Many have had previous family members embalmed, and their relief at seeing them in a natural state is palpable. I have also seen what happens to decomposing bodies. They decompose. I naively thought when I first started this that when a body came into our care that was “on the turn” then I could get an embalmer in to sort things out. Not so. Embalming needs to be done… Read more »

Richard Russell
Guest
Richard Russell

Well said KEN DAVIES!! …Hands up all of you who may have witnessed what happens to us organic creatures when we start to decompose ? how many of you, (Aside from the genuine funeral practitioners ), have had to deal with odour, fluid leakage, putrefication and more ? Or is that something you prefer not to think about ? Absolutelty spot on!

Rick Hughes
Guest
Rick Hughes

After working in the UK Funeral industry in the 90s I,m sad that things have not changed. The rule of the universe states If you take you loose. If you give you get.To all you funeral care professionals its about time the uks funeral industry had a big shake up. Those with nothing to hide should prosper those that have will be exposed and hopefully put out of business

Ken Davis
Guest
Ken Davis

How I smile at some postings made by people who can have no idea about the history of funeral service. Do some of you really believe that Funeralcare or the Co-op invented the “Hub” concept ? I suggest you research your subject. You may find that, during the 19th century, Independent firms created the concept of operating small “Order offices” in High street locations so that they would be convenient to the Public whom they wished to serve. As these businesses expanded, the cost of occupying more properties dictated that most back of house resources were centralised and bingo, the… Read more »

Anne Beckett-Allen
Guest

Charles, thanks for sticking up for us small independents. As you say, programmes like this unfairly reflect on us all. Simon and I thought you came across really well on the programme, especially with regard to blanket embalming. (HT!!) A couple of small points, but not all hospitals do have mortuaries, especially here in Norfolk, it is not uncommon for the deceased to be required to be removed from the ward within a couple of hours – and often Funeralcare have contracts for this, so the deceased gets taken to them whether the family want it or not. Also, with… Read more »

Richard Rawlinson
Guest
Richard Rawlinson

A highlight is at 14 mins and 50 secs!

Richard Rawlinson
Guest
Richard Rawlinson
FD
Guest
FD

Several things come to mind reading through these comments. Firstly everyone commenting has their own angle so there are NO unbiased views here. The link to the Funeral Advisor search for an FD is approximately 15 years out of date looking at the companies that come up. No I am not joking! And that is supposed to help you make an informed decision. Yes you can arrange your own funeral or you can pay for a companies experience/knowledge/facilities. There are many very good companies in all size catergories and unfortunately there are some not so good. Go on local reputation.… Read more »

Belinda Forbes
Guest

Teresa – you wrote ‘Why should any charity or individual need to be educating the public about their legal rights?’
But I wasn’t talking about someone doing a TV programme to educate people about their legal rights. Surely the whole point about everyone who contributes to this blog is that we’re passionate about good funerals.

A.N.Employee
Guest
A.N.Employee

Ha ha I guess I’m never going to win with you am I? I knew as soon as I posted it would get thrown back in my face and labelled as “boasting” more or less. I do not feel the need to “tell everyone about it” just your self and whoever may stumble on it when reading this blog I guess. There’s no banner waving and no wish of recognition and it’s most definitely not the actions of “dirtbags” according to afforddignity. And no, free funerals do not make for good business so I’d guess you’d call it a service… Read more »

Margaret Nelson
Guest

Teresa and ‘afforddignity’, I wonder how much you know about the Co-op? It started as a co-operative in Rochdale in 1844, set up to share the benefits of retailing on a democratic basis. I’m a member and have been for years, so I get a share of the profits. I imagine that members everywhere will feel, like me, that the movement has been unfairly tarnished with a very broad brush. Its ethical approach to banking and retailing was unique for a long time before other major retailers started to jump on the fair trade bandwagon, among other things. One of… Read more »

Teresa Evans
Guest

Dear A.N. Employee…what you say is somewhat contradictory. On one hand you are saying that the company carries out free funerals for infants, and then claim that free funerals do not make for good business.

Many people in business offer hospitality gifts to hospitals and charities at Christmas and Easter. Some do so to generate more business and others simply do so out the goodness of their hearts. In my experience the people that give generously from the heart, do not feel the need to tell everyone about it.

EX CO OP EMPLOYEE
Guest
EX CO OP EMPLOYEE

Easter eggs collected from schools and donated from small local businesses and public donations went mainly to nursing homes! The large co op shops would never make a contribution. Staff members had to be bullied into giving up their free time on a saturday or sunday to do community work to get a free editorial picture in the paper etc. I was once involved in a charity car wash for the co op one saturday morning whereby we only washed a maximum of six cars!! The following week in the local paper we had raised many hundreds of pounds for… Read more »

A Celeb
Guest
A Celeb

Ex Coop Employee: he’s a lovely, hard-working man and he didn’t lose his job. And the lid would have fitted on if the undercover reporter hadn’t stopped the lifting mechanism from working properly. Allegedly.

A.N.Employee
Guest
A.N.Employee

Dear Teresa, the company I mention already has the contract for welfare funerals also the contract for infants which they do free of charge providing a limousine,casket and two members of staff for as long as the family needs them. They also take Easter eggs to the local hospital every year and the staff use their own money to buy presents for under privileged children at Christmas so they have something to open as well as organised fun runs in memory of deceased. They provide cars to ferry pensioners to and from remembrance day celebrations free of charge every year.… Read more »

Teresa Evans
Guest

A.N. Employee…I imagine that there will not be any free advertising and profits generated by word and mouth for the company that you are talking about for a while…if only a short while!

You mention here that the same company does a lot of charity work, it might use any spare time it finds it might have as a result of the programme aired last night to providing free services and goods to people that cant afford to pay for a funeral?

A.N.Employee
Guest
A.N.Employee

Absolute rubbish afforddignity. I know of a branch of funeralcare (privately named that display the co-operative logo everywhere) that are 90 funerals ahead of this time last year.
And that’s due to a team of concientious and dedicated employees with excellent customer relations thriving on repeat funerals and word of mouth.
This just wouldn’t be possible if they were “dirt bags” as you so disgustingly labeled them.
Think twice before you throw around outrageous accusations that you don’t have a hope in hell of proving.
Yet another unfounded and uneducated post from yourself.

afforddignity
Guest
afforddignity

I have to disagree with GTS as well I afraid. Saying “There are certain things that the public don’t need to know” and “Funeral Directors should be and generally are experts in telling the bereaved what they want to hear” is very wrong in my opinion. The lack of transparency is part of the reason why these dirt bags are in this horrible mess. The reason the general public is so horrified is that they had no idea what actually happens behind the scenes and if they did certainly wouldn’t have entrusted their loved ones to funeral care.

Ru Callender
Guest

Are we the only people to shun the phrase “loved one”? That kind of euphemistic double speak is where the rot begins. They didn’t “pass away”, they died.

Teresa Evans
Guest

I have to disagree with you GTS. Both parties to any contract should have a mutual understanding of what the contract includes. If it is not known that a loved ones body is in cold storage and is expected to be on the premises, then the person paying the bill should be informed.

Too many undertakers and bereavement managers make assumptions that people newly bereaved do not want to know about something. No one should make claim to know more about the individuals needs than they do themselves.

A.N.Employee
Guest
A.N.Employee

Hoots mon,whatever do you mean laddie?

GTS
Guest
GTS

Last nights program was quite unfair to the Co-op. I believe they should have also interviewed Dignity and a Large Independent Firm.What people forget is that Funeral Directors are there to relieve the stress of arranging a Funeral. There are certain things that the public don’t need and don’t want to know. Funeral Directors should be and generally are experts in telling the bereaved what they want to hear. If the Co-op explained to families that their loved one would be kept in a cold store with other deceased people, they may find it distressing. All the bereaved need to… Read more »