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The first snag they encountered was that standalone hubs are not covered by the code because the code is out of date.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.”
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: email@example.com