To SAIF – an open letter from a member

Fran Hall 83 Comments
Fran Hall

An open letter to SAIF, the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors from Cara Mair, Director, ARKA Original Funerals, sent 4th May 2018.

Dear all at SAIF

I write this to you as a longstanding member of SAIF, in the hope that you will not see this letter negatively, but more as a positive tool to allow you to look at how SAIF can move forward. I hope that this letter will begin a dialogue on how the training that you offer can be more inclusive and how, at the heart of this training, should be the empowerment of the community that we serve. Where we find ourselves today in this fast-changing society let us be the disruptors and not the disrupted. To be truly bold and take leadership in this area and create a legacy that other independent funeral directors can build upon.

I have worked in the funeral world since 1998, beginning my days as a chauffeur/bearer at the Co-op in Brighton. After that experience, I trained as a freelance embalmer and worked with many funeral directors across the South East. My first hand experience of working in this secretive funeral world was dismal and I was adamant that I would stay in this profession and make a difference. In November 2003 ARKA Original Funerals opened in Brighton and since then things have changed in the funeral world and there have been many reasons for this. From The Natural Death Centre and The Good Funeral Guide showing how we as a community can be more involved. To forward-looking, inclusive funeral directors such as ARKA, Green Funeral Company etc and of course technology allowing the public to be far more informed re choice and insight into the funeral process. All of these factors have been key to increasingly making a difference ensuring that funeral directors are held more accountable for the way that we work. I also believe that there are many things that would not have changed in the funeral industry if it were not for pioneers like those mentioned above.

With twenty years’ experience, I know of many people and organisations working within this industry who could put a comprehensive training programme together that would benefit us all. There is more and more discussion about how being more involved with the care of the deceased can help people through the grieving process. The communities that we serve should have the right to be supported in caring for their dead and not be ‘protected’ by the ‘professionals’.

I attended the AGM of SAIF in Brighton in March this year. The whole experience was very disappointing. There was also much disgruntlement about how SAIF was representing us all. To focus on pre-paid funeral plan selling as a way to secure your business in the future is an extremely narrow viewpoint. This is such a blinkered vision of how things could proceed. These plans are marketed so aggressively and instead of empowering the public to take control of decisions (as they’re so often marketed as) they are instead further disempowering people and misinforming many. This whole process is contemptible scare mongering and I am sure that you know that you will not keep up with the big boys in this area.

What I find so disheartening was how you totally dismiss the progressive movement that is happening, both with new independents opening up and also individuals supporting funerals in new ways. To move SAIF forward and to mark independent funeral directors distinctly apart from the corporates is to be outstanding in the quality of support we can offer in the way that we work and present ourselves. To work in a refreshing empowering way that the corporates cannot compete with.

The training that you offer, as you are probably aware, is out of date. You focus on what you can sell rather than what you can give. You come from a stance of protecting yourselves rather that empowering others. Your training should include how we communicate to the public by looking at changing the use of the language that is bandied around and more insight into how we can offer permission to people to be involved in looking after their own dead.

There is really nothing that sets you apart from the corporates in the public eye. You dress the same. You put false value in things such as cars. You are secretive. You pay no importance to the collection and ‘care of the deceased’.

I propose to you that your training should be developed to include a natural way of looking after a body and to become more creative in looking at the role of the Funeral Director in the 21st century. Here’s how it could be achieved.

Each organisation should have a representative who would be knowledgeable, capable and willing to support families with a more hands on approach in looking after their dead. This representative could also support the other staff that you have to ensure that the environment is supportive and safe.

Believe me, this will not only help your organisation, but will also give much more work satisfaction to the people that are involved in your company and you will feel prouder of the support that you can offer.

This letter comes from a place of caring and of concern that what you stand for will rapidly disappear if you do not drastically change what you are doing and how you represent others. I ask that you seriously consider the points I have raised and not hide from what needs to happen.

I am up for a conversation, to go through these points and to find some solutions as to how you will still exist in a more empowering way for both the public and your members within this fast-moving landscape.

I very much look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Cara Mair

Director, ARKA Original Funerals


  1. Fran Hall


    Cara, all of the points you have made is exactly all of the reason why I chose not to become a member of SAIF.
    I wanted people like me to respresent my company rather than to feel excluded because I wasn’t like them.

    If SAIF ever listen and decide to change, sign me up.

  2. Fran Hall

    Dear Cara

    As a member of the SAIF Executive, one of the past presidents, and considering myself to be a progressive and modern funeral director I would like to respond. I am a 3rd generation funeral director but I began my business back in 2013 with many of the same intentions as you; to be forward-thinking, to embrace choice and technology and to encourage families to be involved in the funeral process. I consider myself to be a facilitator of the funeral that a family wish to construct; one that will enable them to say goodbye in the way that is right for them. I do not put false value in cars, neither I nor my staff dress the same as the corporates and secretive is not a word that could ever be used to describe the honest, transparent and open way I conduct my business.

    I am also one of the trainers for the IFD college, as well as an inspector for SAIF, and I have inspected over 300 members over the past 8 years, getting to know each one, the different ways they operate and values they hold dear. What that experience has given me is a sense of just how different each and every one of our members are, although there is often more that unites us than divides us. That has inspired a real belief in me that the SAIF Executive must represent all of us, and I hope that we do, although more diversity would always be welcome.

    SAIF themselves do not offer training, but they do have very close links with the IFD College and since I wear two hats in this context I can say that I am very proud of the training that we offer; it is continually evolving and progressing, it is not stagnant. Each of the points you have addressed I can assure you I have covered and discussed with each and every one of my students; from empowering families to participate and make choices that are right for them, to changing the language we use to find alternatives to removals, deceased, viewings and so on. Embalming is considered holistically with all viewpoints covered and both the benefits and negatives considered. Bereavement care and the role of a funeral director in the community are both given far more weighting than pre-paid plans or coffins, and the main messages my students will tell you that I strive to get across from the very beginning are
    1. To treat each person as if they were your own mother/father/son/daughter with care of the deceased of paramount importance
    2. Treat each family as if they were yours
    3. There is no place for sales within the funeral profession

    With regards to the SAIF AGM in Brighton, the feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive. I did not see any disgruntlement at how SAIF represents any of us. At the AGM itself you were not alone in your disappointment at the conversation turning to pre-paid plans, as it so often does in an open forum however those with concerns were directed to address those at the SAIF Charter AGM in September, as again despite close connections Golden Charter is a separate entity to SAIF.

    I encourage this kind of open dialogue because any sense of ‘them and us’ between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘alternatives’ I do not believe actually exists and if we can dispel some of these myths, and also take some new points into consideration, then this dialogue will be for the good of all of us. We as independents are all far stronger together.

    SAIF is an agile forward-thinking organisation that exists to represent its members. That I, a female funeral director in her 30s from a very small, very modern business in rural Wales was elected as National President 2015-2016 and have been elected to the executive twice since then should stand testament to us not being an ‘old boys club’. We have launched SAIF NextGen which looks to invigorate the next generation of business owners and managers to look to the future, both of their own businesses and SAIF as a trade association, and we actively seek new members to step forward and stand for election each year at our AGM. In no way have SAIF dismissed any progressiveness within the funeral profession.

    In the early days of SAIF it is true that most of the Executive were white men from fair sized businesses in the South East, it would be wrong to dispute that fact, and we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to them for their dedication and giving of their time so freely, but that is no longer the case. We are proud that different sized businesses, multi-generational and newer businesses, traditional and modern businesses from across the country are all represented. I would hope that each member can feel that they and their businesses are represented by at least one person like them on the Executive. Absolutely no one should feel excluded from SAIF, the voice of each and every member is valued and considered and the organisation is very much shaped by the members it represents. This includes traditional funeral directors, modern funeral directors and those who sit somewhere in between. All have the interests of the families they serve at heart. I have however been a strong proponent of greater diversity within the Executive and I have stated publicly my quest to see a more diverse board by the time I set down from the Executive in 2021. We are limited only by the willingness of others to put themselves forward. In the same way we can only represent those members that come forward and tell us their concerns, their needs and their ideas. I extend an open invitation to anyone who would like to consider the contribution that they can make to the future of SAIF to get in touch and speak to me.

    If SAIF is not getting across the measures that we take to drive the profession forward then that is an image we need to address. If we appear to be ‘men in black’ stuck with the traditions of the past then that is also an image that we need to address, because the reality from someone sitting around the table is that that could not be further from the truth.

  3. Fran Hall

    Dear Ms. Mair,

    I have been directed to your open letter which you have posted onto this site and feel obliged to respond via the same medium.

    First of all, I am very disappointed that a fellow professional should take to this medium to raise concerns. Surely the better way would have been to address those concerns to the people in question first, so that they might offer you an explanation. Your action smacks a little of attention grabbing for a personal agenda and I don’t believe there is any place for that behaviour in our profession.
    That said, I think you should be clear about where the IFD College fits into the sector.

    Originally, before you even entered the profession, the IFD College was formed by SAIF as an educational wing, it has been for many years an organization in its own right, and with its own Directors. Although closely linked to SAIF, SAIF has no sway over our activities, curriculum or methodology.

    I note that you purport to know many people and organisations within the profession who could put a comprehensive training programme together. I’m surprised that in all this time they haven’t done so if you and they consider the training currently available to be so dismal and out of date. Perhaps they haven’t the appetite for the amount of work that the task entails, because believe me it is enormous.

    In response to your criticism, the IFD college curriculum is ever changing and evolving to meet current legislation and trends. One of the reasons that I have encouraged learners to attend workshops in preference to one to one training is to share different ways of working so that we all embrace new ideas. As for the training being out of date, this could not be further from the truth. We are on the brink of introducing a new unit in the autumn which has been written in response to the recent Bonomy report. If you had been listening at the AGM you would have heard me say that.
    All of our training is in line with National Occupational Standards. In case you are not au fait with these, National Occupational Standards (NOS) are statements of the standards of performance individuals must achieve when carrying out functions in the workplace, together with specifications of the underpinning knowledge and understanding and are the Government’s recommended criteria for vocational training. All of our training is also accredited and monitored for quality by our awarding body, One Awards. In the near future, our profession will be regulated and government sources suggest that a level 2 to 3 NVQ will be required by those operating funeral homes. The IFD college provides training up to and including level 3 NVQ.
    Finally, I am a great believer in not being openly critical of anyone or anything without first being in full possession of all of the relevant facts. I am unaware of you or any of the ARKA staff having registered as a student with the IFD college. Forgive me if I am wrong. It does however beg the question, which part of the 15 units, 70 learning outcomes and 204 individual assessment criteria is it that you have a problem with? Please let me know and please also let me have your view on an alternative. If, however you simply feel that we have not included something, and it clearly isn’t also listed amongst the NOS, then please advise me of the learning outcome and the relevant associated assessment criteria.
    I await your response with interest, hopefully in a more adult and old fashioned letter or email, rather that in this very public arena.
    Christine Parker. F.SAIF.MIFDC MSBP MBIFD
    IFD College chair, & Director of curriculum development

    1. Fran Hall

      Well said. We have all gone through the college and have all gained a huge amount from the excellent training you offer. Does this woman even know what she’s talking about. Doesn’t even know the ifdcollege is separate to SAIF. She should wake up and realise that she’s no different to any of us. We all offer our families to get involved if they want to, but most are happy to leave it to us. Sound like she forces her own views on her clients which is the worst thing any FD can do. Oh and whoever Michael Jarvis is doesn’t seem to think anyone has the right to reply to a criticism. Strange world these people live in.

      1. Fran Hall

        liz Maxted, you say that she should wake up and realise that “she is mo different from the rest of us.” Who is the “us” to whom you refer? Are you meaning all independent funeral directors? Your reply is unpleasant as was the reply from Ms Parker. You both have employed the technique of using a personal attack rather than a reply to the points raised. I don’t know who you are but I am a member of the public and as a potential customer of an independent funeral director I am underwhelmed by the response of a governor of the training body. I have had a read of both websites as ms parker’s reply was so inadequate I wanted to see who she was and if either website had anything of use on there to help the public through the mysteries of choosing an undertaker and making decisions about the day of the funeral and the preparation of their relative for that day. It didn’t.

        Chris Parker said that funeral direction will be regulated. I have not seen any news on this. When is this happening?

      2. Fran Hall

        I certainly respect anyone’s entitlement to respond to criticism. The problems with Christine Parker’s response, as I saw it, were twofold:

        First, the extent of the litany suggested that a nerve had been touched, hence my quote from Shakespeare which neatly describes that situation. Second, the unnecessary tenor of the response – brusque would be my best attempt at a polite depiction.

        As to whoever I am (what a graceless piece of rudeness), I’m not an overly sensitive hot-house plant, but I found Ms Parker’s response uncomfortable reading. I don’t see myself as a member of a pontificating elite, just someone who might be permitted to express an opinion from time to time…

  4. Fran Hall

    Oh my Ms Parker. That was a scary reply. I am a member of the public. I read the GFG from time to time these days and wish I had known about it before the last two funerals which I helped arrange. Am I right that independent funeral directors pay to be members of SAIF, if they so choose, and also that they pay for the training you are responsible for, if they so choose, and take time away from fee earning to take part in your courses? And these costs are indirectly passed on to the public or reduce their profit? Maybe you could be pleasanter to this Funeral Director – she could one day be a customer of yours – and address the points that were raised in the post about training? Your response is really not a good advert for your training. I’ve looked on the SAIF website at the bit for the public about arranging a funeral etc. Maybe you and SAIF could put together something more helpful for Joe Public and it could include something about the training that SAIF members do / can receive?

  5. Fran Hall
    funeral director

    Doesn’t this just highlight everything that is wrong with the funeral profession and the trade associations? Cara offers an opinion, Lucy agrees, Gemma valiantly, honestly and thoughtfully puts the other side of the argument and opens up the discussion, and then Chris Parker shows the true colours with a rude and arrogant response. All the good done by Gemma quashed instantly. Shame on you Chris Parker.

  6. Fran Hall
    Jo - Funeral Director

    Having read Cara’s letter I feel I need to give my opinion. I am 2nd a generation funeral director and have worked and managed my family business for the past 25 years. We are members of SAIF and myself and all staff have made the choice to use the IFD training opportunities.

    Firstly I found the letter a little misleading. To those who may not be in the funeral profession SAIF is the society of allied and independent funeral directors, a trade association for the independent. As proud members of SAIF I see this membership as a bench mark of quality. You can’t just join, there are standards that are expected of you. The IFD college is an independent learning institute supported by SAIF but not run by SAIF. It offers training in those boring parts of a business that we all have to be up to speed with and comply with such as Health and Safety, COSH registers etc. It is a funeral directors choice to participate in the training courses but for me I believe it shows to my families that we are a ever evolving funeral home, open to learning good practices from other independent funeral homes and compliant with legislation that protects our clients.

    SAIF offers my company up to date information regarding things such as the new cremation certificates that were introduced this year, GDPR that comes into force this May and how we need to change our paperwork to make us compliant. It also offers my staff SAIF Support a free support network that is private and confidential that any of my staff can use if they feel they need support following a difficult funeral. (unfortunately in our profession we have to deal with some very upsetting circumstances and sometimes talking amongst ourselves is not enough, sometimes professional help and support is needed) It also offers SAIF Care a free bereavement counselling service for all my families who feel they need extra help following the passing of a loved one, with no 6 months waiting list which is what families have to join if they go through Cruise or their GP. It also gives me the chance to get involved in initiatives such as recycling Pacemakers in the third world through Pace4Life and becoming a Dementia Friend through SAIFs partnership with Dementia Action … to name just a few of the positive points that my company gets from its SAIF membership

    So for me SAIF gives my company so much help and guidance in an ever changing world. On top of that I have over the years made many friends within the independent sector, fellow SAIF members that are at the end of the phone if I need help or if I have a funeral that is out of my area and need a like minded funeral director to help me.

    You see it is for me the beauty of the independent funeral directors working together that helps us combat the larger ‘corporates’ that are driving a lot of smaller business out.

    With regards to regulation, yes Government seeks to licence all funeral directors, this is already in place in Scotland and SAIF has been working quietly behind the scenes for many years with Scottish Government, Westminster, local Governments to put the view of the funeral director into the mix. The licencing will mean a national code of practice, training up to level 2 NVQ as stated by Mrs Parker (IFD offers higher than that) and funeral homes could be closed down if not compliant . So you see tiresome as it may seem the training is important and will put SAIF members ahead of the game, if they so wish to be.

    You say that your letter is not negative but then fail to make one positive point, As to your remarks about SAIF members ‘dressing the same’ ‘being secretive’ ‘putting false values on things like cars’ and ‘paying no importance to the collection and care of the deceased’ well to repeat a phrase already used and directed at another, Shame on you Cara!
    I take great exception to these comments and would suggest so would most of your fellow SAIF members and can understand some of the angry responses you have received from the profession. Your comments are unfounded and unfair

    I don’t see my vocation as a funeral director as being about ’empowering the people’ I see it as caring for a family that is in their deepest darkest days, I see it as providing each family with the funeral that they want for their loved one. There is no wrong and no right in how a funeral should be. In the past week of the 6 funerals that left my home 2 families asked for their loved one to be taken directly to the crematorium while they celebrated the life in another way (similar to the funerals you advertise on your website) 1 family wanted me to arrange a burial in our local churchyard and a church service, 1 had their services at the crematorium chapel, 1 had a church service followed by a burial at our local woodland burial site and 1 lady asked that we repeated the service that we had provided her family 10 years ago when her father passed away. This was a small service in our chapel, she asked for help while we dressed her mum, she set her hair and did her make up, she then painted her mothers coffin beautifully all the time listening to poems and music on a CD player. Every funeral was different and every funeral was perfect for the family that came in. We sit and talk in a comfortable lounge with a cup of tea, no black suits! and we guide and help and give our families all the options that are open to them … and they decide. After all it is choice that is the key word in a modern funeral.

    I think what Liz is trying to say in her quote that Cara is no different than all of us, is that Cara is not alone in her approach to funerals. There are many SAIF members offering all that Cara offers, she has not pioneered the holistic or spiritual route in funeral care it has been in place for many years by many funeral directors.
    It is upsetting Cara that you have felt the need to give a gravely negative opinion which is in accurate of SAIF, IFD and your fellow SAIF members. I can only imagine that your opinions are based on the years that you worked for the Co-op which is a large corporate company with sales targets to meet; however my 25 years experience of independent funeral directors is that they are out in their communities, working with their local hospices, providing bereavement care and kindness for years after a funeral has taken place, they are hard working people who have a great deal of respect for the deceased and the grieving family and go above and beyond to look after them.

  7. Fran Hall

    Thanks for answering my question about regulation Jo – could you point me to something official about it happening in England soon? I was aware of Scotland but not England.

    I found your reply very informative as a member of the public – I have never been offered the opportunity for family etc to get involved in painting the coffin or helping prepare the body e.g. doing hair etc. Have also never had embalming explained nor been told whether or not it was being done.

    I have looked on the SAIF website and the IFD training website and seen no mention of any of these options. So my feedback would be that both organisations could be

    I didn’t entirely follow everything in the original post but I did not think that Cara was suggesting that SAIF members were just the same as everyone else. I thought she was rather more talking about the people in charge of either SAIF or the IFD. As a member of the public reading the SAIF and IFD websites I can see no difference.

    Links to selling Golden Charter funeral plans – I know nothing about the ins and outs of these but instinctively want to run a mile when I see someone trying to sell some kind of financial scheme of some sort. I noticed that there was a discount for new SAIF members who signed up to Golden Charter in some way. So I presume that part of the income to SAIF in some way comes from Golden Charter.

    As a member of the public, this made me feel like SAIF and SAIF members might not be as totally “independent” as the label says.

    1. Fran Hall
      Jo - Funeral Director

      SAIF is our trade association but doesn’t dictate in how we carry out funerals so I wouldn’t expect to find that kind of information on their website. NAFD is the other trade association and I believe their web site is similar to SAIF however you should be able to find SAIF members and go to their websites. That way you find a funeral director in your area that feels comfortable to you and your family.

      With regards to regulations I believe England/Wales is still in the pipe line ‘Brexit’ has got in the way at the moment !The fact that Scotland has gone through gives strong indications that England/Wales will follow and using Scotland as a template we have a rough idea of what’s to come. We have a monthly magazine from SAIF that gives us all the up to date news on the profession so we can keep up to date.

      Golden Charter is a prepaid funeral company, there are many. It is owned by SAIFCharter , not SAIF they are 2 different entities. SAIF members can sell Golden Charter plans, My company does as does Cara’s but they can also sell other plans, as does Cara’s – or none at all. We choose to sell Golden Charter because there is a need in my community ie I have families asking for pre paid plans either for themselves as part of their ‘end of life planning’ or their loved ones that they may be taking care of. I choose Golden Charter for longevity of the company, size of the trust fund (ie being able to facilitate the plans it sells) and freedom of choice to the client. There is a ‘generic plan’ or a more bespoke way of planning called ‘independent way’ this is the one we work with as it allows anything and everything that a family may wish for. Golden Charter is also regulated by FPA (funeral planning association) something that I feel is important for my families. But that is my business decision, many SAIF members use other companies and have reasons for their decisions. ….
      It is important to remember that every SAIF member is different in some way and may have different practices because we are all independent but we choose to be part of SAIF to unite us under one umbrella of ‘good code of practice’

      Hope that helps.
      Am on annual leave today so off to enjoy the sunshine
      Have a good day

    2. Fran Hall

      Hello, I also read Cara’s letter to be directed primarily at the people who run SAIF and the IFD college (although I’m not sure she understood they are different entities) and that is why I responded (see below), as one of the Executives of SAIF and a past-President to hopefully dispel some of the myths.
      I agree with Jo that the SAIF website is not going to list those options as independent businesses are all different – we are indeed independent and SAIF does not dictate how we run our businesses other than us adhering to the code of practice – which is put in place to ensure standards for the public; that we are transparent on costs for example and all offer a simple or basic funeral, but the details of how we run our businesses is of course left to us, as it should be. As independent businesses we all have a different ethos and feel and that is the beauty of using an independent – you can search for someone that you are comfortable with.
      With regards to embalming, permission must be received for this to be carried out. Funeral directors vary enormously on how often they carry out or recommend embalming; opinions vary enormously and as a tutor for the IFD college I encourage discussion on all of these opinions so that my students can begin to form their own opinions and see all sides of the arguments.

  8. Fran Hall

    Sorry meant to say that the SAIF website and IFD website could provide some clear information for the public on these more creative options and flexibility that a lot of SAIF members now do seem to provide. The websites themselves do not look any different to me and they could have content which marks you out from the large corporates and which shows up in the sort of google searches that some bereaved people will be doing. With its “find a funeral director” search function the SAIF website is clearly intended to be public facing as well as member facing.

    1. Fran Hall

      Thank you, that is valuable feedback that I shall take forward to discuss with the rest of the SAIF executive.
      It is designed to be public facing as well and we do have information on what to do after a death and how to find a funeral director but it is always worth looking at the content to see if it can be improved in any way.
      Because SAIF members are all so unique I think we have kept details on ‘options’ to a minimum as that is something we have thought best suited to individuals websites, but we will consider what you have said as public feedback is the only way we can shape and improve the public facing section of the website

  9. Fran Hall

    Thanks Jo. This was what I read on the SAIF website about Golden Charter – sorry I misquoted below. “Special offer for March – June 2018

    Golden Charter will reimburse a full year’s subscription fee once the funeral company has sold a GC funeral plan.”

    Is there a particular reason why SAIF advertises Golden Charter in this way and why Golden Charter offers to reimburse SAIF membership fees in this way?

    In the “Funeral Advice” bit of the SAIF website it would maybe be possible to provide more information on the various mysterious elements of funerals and the options that might be available at various stages depending on which funeral director someone chooses – that would not be SAIF dictating to its members. It would be helpful for customers when choosing a funeral director (if they have any choice in their area) and also make SAIF stand out as a bit different in their approach.

    Does SAIF have a code of conduct / Charter for the Bereaved kind of thing?

  10. Fran Hall

    Thanks again for replies Jo and Gemma. Golden Charter – I still feel uncomfortable about the special offers and probationary membership deal where there is one year’s membership refund once the funeral director has sold one pre-paid funeral plan.

    1. Fran Hall

      Unlike most Funeral Plan companies Golden Charter were set up by funeral directors. Unlike most funeral plan companies Golden Charter do not have shareholders that they need to make a profit for – it is precisely this reason many independent funeral directors, myself, Jo and Cara included, choose to offer their plans – because money is invested into the plans meaning more money for the funeral for families – I am not speaking as an expert on funeral plans, just as a funeral director who has chosen to offer these plans.
      As part of Golden charter ensuring quality they will only allow funeral directors who are members of a trade association to see their plans (because there is a code of practice and recourse if something was to go wrong) It is therefore I believe Golden charter’s incentive to funeral directors to get them to become SAIF members (for which they would need to pass through SAIF’s application and inspection criteria) because they can then sell GC plans. That is just my interpretation – it is for GC to explain their rationale behind offering this to funeral directors.
      As for funeral plans themselves, almost all funeral directors offer these as the public ask for the service and I would certainly recommend that anyone considering planning their funeral visit a funeral director as they are the experts able to provide advice on the options available in your area. (Rather than going direct to a funeral plan company or a sales person)

  11. Fran Hall

    As a member of the Guild and a recommended funeral director of the Good Funeral Guide I am somewhat disheartened at the Blatant disregard for those of us who belong to SAIF and have undertaken training with the IFD college.
    We must remember that traditional funeral practice is still very much in the hearts of most families who require the level of guidance and dignity given by the funeral director.
    We empower families to make decisions that we then carry out on their behalf but equally will offer our “helping hands” service if they wish to take a more hands on approach to their goodbyes.
    Progressive funeral directing isn’t all about do it yourself and cardboard coffins, it’s about transparency honesty and integrity all of which SAIF code of practice dictates it’s members value and practice.
    I do feel the endorsement of this letter by the guild is a little hasty and should have shown more respect and balance to those of its members who value the good practices outlined by SAIF membership.
    I love my Guild membership and the diversity of its members but I do feel that this letter is very misguided and unnecessary.

    1. Fran Hall

      Just for clarity Simon, this blog belongs to The Good Funeral Guide, not the Guild.

      Publication of this blog post therefore carries no endorsement by the Guild, although of course, Guild members are invited to comment – as is anyone else reading it.

      The Good Funeral Guide, as clearly stated in the ‘About Us’ section of this website, is wholly independent of the funeral industry and is dedicated to supporting, empowering and representing the interests of dying and bereaved people living in the UK.

      We don’t represent the funeral industry, we stand outside it and observe, and, where we feel it helpful, offer comment, make criticism and share our platform so different viewpoints can be seen.

      We publish whatever we like on this blog, and we felt Cara’s open letter to the trade association she belongs to was definitely of interest to the public and the industry alike.

      The debate that has ensued since posting indicates that we were right to think this.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts.

      1. Fran Hall

        Thank you for your clarity and stance of the Guild and Guide Fran, I was of the understanding that the Guild was devised to fund the work of the continuing existence of the Good Funeral Guide and a website is shared? I did not appreciate the absolute difference.
        I am pleased you embrace free speech to be posted here, although I feel the main aggression comes from supporters of this letter.
        The Good Funeral Guide is fast becoming the voice of those who demand radical change at the expense and criticism of decent and fair practicing funeral professionals who are carrying out an amazing service to the bereaved.
        I feel change is good and a positive path to the future but ignoring the needs of more conventional farewells and the good practice of those who abide by the SAIF code of practice and guidlines is both ignorant and against the inclusive nature of working together.

        1. Fran Hall

          Not sure I understand this post either. Why can’t people discuss the things that Cara suggested that could be included in SAIF / IFD college training? SAIF offers some free training to members according to the SAIF website. Who suggested ignoring the good practice of those who abide by the SAIF code of practice? I’m a member of the public and I’ve looked for it and can’t find it. Do you have a link please?

          1. Fran Hall

            Sorry I can’t see your name anywhere, it feels rude not to address you by name 🙂
            Did you read my original reply? It’s the second one so at the very bottom now… I am one of the executives and a past president of SAIF and also one of the IFD college tutors. My reply in essence said that we DO all of these things already. I think that is why some people are aggrieved by the letter and the suggestion that we do not; please see my original reply as I don’t want people to think I’m repeating myself, and I dearly hoped that Cara would have responded to my reply herself because she asked for a discussion and I was happy to respond, but there has been silence from her since, although perhaps she’s busy, hopefully she’ll pop back on soon.
            My stance, and I think Simon agrees, is that the college implement each of the items Cara suggest we do already – Simon perhaps you, as one of my students could answer that directly – do you feel that I covered each of the points Cara raised during your training courses? Please feel free to be honest, I am only human but I do believe I include all of these discussions with each of my students….

            I think that as one of the tutors and Simon as one of the students, between us we are ideally placed to state what is and isn’t covered by the college courses.

          2. Fran Hall

            Gemma, you have indeed but most eloquently my point! SAIF offer everything in the letter, may be Cara has not undergone or looked into the IFD training herself and didn’t realise this!
            It is my error that I did not make myself clear in my posting and as to why I was indeed so aggrieved by this letter.
            It does not represent me as a funeral director both of many years and one who believes himself and his company to be forward thinking.

          3. Fran Hall

            Your last sentence is exactly what I tried to put across in my first reply Simon – I consider myself and company to be forward thinking; I consider my fellow executives to be the same and he SAIF Cara has described, and certainly the college training, is not one that I recognise.

            Thank you for your response. It’s good to know I’m doing what I say 🙂

          1. Fran Hall

            Of course not! I was asking what Tim Morris meant. I don’t understand his post. If you do, please could you explain it. You refer to a code of practice. Where is it please?

          2. Fran Hall

            Context. ‘Belonging’ to an organisation gives the impression of blind obedience and inability to force change. A ‘member’ of a democratic organisation could potentially do these things. Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t SAIF born from free thinking Independents that wanted a different direction?

          3. Fran Hall

            Thanks for explaining. Unfortunately, that comment will probably spark off some time-wasting debate over the use of the word “member” versus “belonging to” but I now understand the point you are making and see that the debate on here is farcical in that context.

            I am a member of the public and I don’t know all the many different organisations that funeral directors, local authorities and other funeral trade bodies can pay to join if they wish to. Some of these organisations are, effectively, part-funded by the taxpayer if they have local authority members. And they are all funded by the public who pay for funerals to funeral directors who pay part of their income to join these organisations and then put a sticker up in their window saying which one(s) they are a member of.

            But I can detect from the Good Funeral Guide blog that these organisations do not get on well with one another, and that some of the people in charge at some of these organisations do not particularly respect their customers ( the officious sounding lady from the IFD on this thread stands out in my mind for one – that really was a blinder of an answer to a potential user of her training services right down to the headmistressy type comment suggesting that Cara was not listening properly). I also detect that the paid-up members like to have a good old argument among themselves over nothing too – so there’s clearly no love lost between some of the paid up members of some of these organisations.

            Perhaps it’s time that everyone paid more attention to their customer-facing role – the trade organisations to both the public and their paid up members, and the funeral directors to the public.

            The Good Funeral Guide blog gives you a good platform for this. Why not use it better? More public traffic to this site because it contains useful information and debates would be a good thing surely? More public traffic to the trade organisation sites would be good too?

            SAIF – get on here and respond properly to Cara. Gemma started this off well on your behalf. You offer free training as part of your membership. It could cover some of the stuff she suggests. That doesn’t mean you are dictating to your members. Yes, the IFD college is separate from you but there are very close links and you could still influence paid course content. Next time I walk down my nearest high streets I’m going to be looking out for the SAIF stickers in the FD windows and hoping that from my perspective as a customer it is a good thing that those FD’s are paying part of their hard earned income to you.

          4. Fran Hall

            Problem here is that there are organisation with and organisation without a commercial interest. The latter, like the GFG, tend to speak out. From the former it seems that a minority of members that seek change speak out.

          5. Fran Hall

            Well, to me that’s the puzzle. There’s an opportunity lost with this free blog to exchange ideas and info with the public, the profession etc. There’s some on this thread clearly can’t cope with the idea of discussing anyting – change or not. It’s an opportunity for free and great advertising really and they muck it up. In this thread there are some funeral directors, current or retired, who have come across really well to me who I’d consider using. And there’s some others where I’d run a mile. If this GFG blog was used to exchange more info in a helpful way between the public and the profession then it might go a long way to dispelling the public myths about everything bad that is done at undertakers and crematoria. And maybe more members of the public would sign up the Guild and there’d be more funding. Trip Advisor has done wonders for the tourism and hospitality trade. Why not GFG for funeral directing? Why is everyone afraid to discuss stuff? It’s hardly rocket science and it’s not like everything that goes on behind the closed doors of a funeral parlour is terrible is it? It’s very hard to read between the lines. Why aren’t more things discussed on here which affect both the public and the profession e.g. the Law Commission project on a Modern Framework for Disposal of the Dead? Wasn’t there some consultation that? Won’t it be important if it happens? So what’s the silence on that about? It was in the national press after its publication in December.

          6. Fran Hall

            I agree with you about opening discussion. I’m not sure GFG is the place it would happen (it could, but there are many that could contribute effectively and valuably who would not come here to do so)

          7. Fran Hall

            Hi Tim, yes it was and I’m proud to know many of them. SAIF Is a democratic organisation and any one of our members is able to, indeed encouraged, to stand for the executive or become involved in other roles. I have offered help and guidance to anyone who wishes to discuss this with me directly. Another reason for the disappointment that some have felt with this letter, I think, is that SAIF provides open forums at our meetings, to contact those (myself included) that represent the members and the ability to stand and effect change yourself if you feel it’s needed – we are not the stagnant organisation that the letter implies.

          8. Fran Hall

            Perhaps SAIF and other organisations should push for inclusion in the All Parliamentary Group on Funerals. A wider discussion than at present would surely open some eyes.

          9. Fran Hall

            What’s that group? And the group that Fran said that the Good Funeral Guide is on – the BACG or BCAG – it seems to have different names with and without cremation in it in different places. Is SAIF on that?

          10. Fran Hall

            BCAG – Burial and Cremation Advisory Group convened by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is attended by a diverse range of organisations including both funeral directing organisations, charities, faith groups, burial and cremation organisations, heritage groups, Commonwealth War Grave Commission, the Good Funeral Guide, in fact a large list. Info can be found on the MoJ website.
            Note that the name has changed to include cremation.

            The All Parliamentary group is attended by MP’s from all parties and the NAFD, although I stand to be corrected.

          11. Fran Hall

            Thank you. I think the bcag name might be wrong on a gov website then. Is bcag business secret or can the public be party to what they discuss and feed in somehow? And similarly with the all-party parliamentary and bereavement group?

          12. Fran Hall

            Sadly it appears to be pretty secret, and even more sadly, no, apparently the public cannot be party to what they discuss and feed in somehow – see my reply to Tim’s comment above.

          13. Fran Hall

            BCAG minutes used to appear on the MoJ website until it was absorbed into the site. A request was made to publish minutes at the last meeting. For interest the group was formed following the 2000 Select Committee Inquiry into cemeteries to look for solutions to the burial space crisis. The crisis has worsened in the last 18 years with no government action so far. Incidentally, the Minister responsible at the time on reading the report stated that the case had been made that the reuse of old abandoned graves graves. Since that time limited reuse is lawful for local authorities in London only and Scotland is currently making regulations under its new Act to permit reuse of all old burial grounds. Scotland leads the way again.
            (Apologies for side-tracking Fran).

          14. Fran Hall

            Trust me Tim, we have tried to get a foot in the door at the APPG on Funerals. Three times to be exact.

            This was the latest request for the GFG to be allowed to be included, in April 2016:

            Dear Mr Pawsey

            Further to last week’s publication of the Work and Pensions Committee Report on Support for the Bereaved, I write to enquire whether the APPG for Funerals and Bereavement invites bodies other than the National Association of Funeral Directors to have regular input into your discussions of funeral and bereavement issues?

            As the UK’s leading consumer advice resource for bereaved people, The Good Funeral Guide CIC would be very interested in acting as a voice of the bereaved as a contributor to your forum. I believe we could provide a valuable source of unbiased information about the issues bereaved people face when arranging funerals.

            I look forward to hearing from you as to whether we might be able to offer added value to your deliberations.

            With best regards


            And this was the reply we received:

            Dear Ms Hall

            Thank you for your recent email regarding the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement.

            The Group regularly invites organisations to attend meetings and present to its members.

            The Group will discuss your email at the next meeting and I will be in touch shortly afterwards.

            Kind regards,

            Mark Pawsey MP

            Needless to say we have heard nothing since.

            It appears that the NAFD are the only non parliamentarians involved in this lobby group – and seems they don’t particularly want the status quo to change.

            In our open letter to the interim CEO of the NAFD published on this blog last month, ( we specifically suggested the APPG on Funerals should be opened up to a wide range of interested parties.

            Needless to say, we have heard nothing since on this either.

          15. Fran Hall

            I think all APPG’s are maybe a bit mysterious? I looked it up ater TIm mentioned it – found a few things of interest which i need to look at again as the Sunday sun has frazzled my brain. And the BCAG? Are the minutes etc of that available to the public? Are there any bodies on it which represent the public?

          16. Fran Hall

            This is what I found – Will Smith at Brevia Consulting is a public enquiry point for the Funeral and Bereavement APPG. The NAFD pays Brevia Consulting to be the secretariat for the group and there was a benefit in kind of Christmas Dinner in 2017 for the NAFD. This is on page 507-508 of the register of APPGs which you can find online.

          17. Fran Hall

            Fran, is it worth trying the advertised “public enquiry point” of Will Smith at Brevia Consulting? For the uninitiated member of the public, what is it that the NAFD will be wanting to tell the group of MPs about or that the group of MPs will be wanting to hear about but only from NAFD? Are these different funeral director associations very different in their aims?

          18. Fran Hall

            For information the details of the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Funeral & Bereavement are available here
            The organisations represented are:-
            Citizens Advice Scotland, Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland (CBCS), Golden Charter, Hospice UK, National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) , Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care (founder of the Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief alliance) , Scottish Pensioners’ Forum, Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS)

          19. Fran Hall

            With grateful thanks to James Blackburn for the information about the organisations represented on the Scottish Cross Party Parliamentary Group on Funeral and Bereavement, here’s the e-mail sent to Mr Smith this afternoon. If and when I get a reply, I’ll write a new blog post and post both my message and the response.

            And in answer to your questions about the APPG, perhaps someone from the NAFD might join in and help us understand, as I honestly don’t know.

            Dear Mr Smith

            I am writing to enquire why the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement is not open to organisations other than the National Association of Funeral Directors? The stated purpose of the group is ‘To provide a forum for the discussion of funeral and bereavement issues.’

            Over the years, both my predecessor Charles Cowling and I have written a number of times, first to Lorely Burt MP and latterly to Mark Pawsey MP to ask whether we and other organisations representing bereaved people might be able to join the group to offer our perspectives to the cross party members of the APPG, something which, with respect, I would suggest would provide a more balanced input than the sole perspective of a trade association for funeral directors.

            The last reply received, from Mr Pawsey, simply stated ‘The Group regularly invites organisations to attend meetings and present to its members. The Group will discuss your email at the next meeting and I will be in touch shortly afterwards.’

            This was sent over two years ago and we have heard nothing since.

            In comparison, the organisations represented on the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Funeral & Bereavement are the following: Citizens Advice Scotland, Cruse Bereavement Care Scotland (CBCS), Golden Charter, Hospice UK, National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) , Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care (founder of the Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief alliance) , Scottish Pensioners’ Forum, Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS)

            I look forward to hearing why it is that the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement does not consider input from parallel English and Welsh organisations to be of relevance and why they choose only to offer a forum for the discussion of funeral and bereavement issues to a funeral directors’ trade association, excluding all other parties.

            With best wishes

            CEO The Good Funeral Guide

  12. Fran Hall

    What is the Guild?

    I can’t find the SAIF code of practice.

    Pre-paid funeral plans are a bit puzzling – surely Golden Charter and / or the Funeral Director make some money from fixing it up but I can’t see this easily on the Golden Charter website.

    Simon Hilliar-Moore – don’t think the open letter was criticising SAIF members – or even SAIF. Looked like an opportunity for some discussion. And why not? Learning organisations welcome that rather than sending back bland or negative responses or attacks as a form of defence.

    It would be good if Cara came back and joined the discussion.

    I’m still not clear about regulation; the IFD college rep said it was definitely happening for funeral directors. I can’t see anything anywhere to suggest this is definitely the case.

    If it is, where’s the public debate on what it should cover?

    1. Fran Hall

      The Guild was designed as a collective of like-minded people who are working to change funerals for the better – see the website here: It’s open to anyone who wants to join it.

      The small regular subscriptions paid by people who choose to join the Guild help fund the continuing existence of the Good Funeral Guide which is a not for profit social enterprise company (and almost sank without trace a few years back due to lack of funding).

      In response to your other points, the missing code of practice is indeed a mystery – maybe a SAIF member could copy and paste it here?

      Pre- paid funeral plans – see our previous 45 blog posts on the subject using the select category option. We’re not great fans of the typical plans on the market.

      Yes, hopefully Cara will join the discussion – and regulation, what regulation?

      Natalie McKail, Scotland’s first Inspector of Funerals is not yet halfway through her two year term of appointment and her recommendations to Scottish government about how Scottish funeral directors should be regulated and whether licensing should be introduced have yet to be published.

      Any assertion that regulation is definitely happening for the funeral industry in England and Wales, let alone ‘in the near future’ is therefore, I would suggest, somewhat premature – and the statement that ‘government sources suggest that a level 2 to 3 NVQ will be required by those operating funeral homes’ is not something that I have been made aware of at all. I sit on the Burial and Cremation Advisory Group that meets twice yearly at the Ministry of Justice, where such matters would be discussed, and would certainly have brought such information to the public attention had it ever been mentioned.

      I’ll be delighted to table a question about this at the next meeting of the BCAG in July and report back.

      1. Fran Hall

        Asking a question at BCAG sounds like a good plan. Hazarding a guess, the response from the MoJ will be that this is something to be considered as part of the possible project on “A modern framework for disposal of the dead” included in the Law Commission’s 13th programme of law reform.

        I do hope someone posts that code of practice. It is maybe just somewhere a bit buried on the SAIF website.

        Had not realised that the GFG was funded in this way nor that it nearly sank. What a shame. I hope it can continue. I feel that nursing homes, schools and funerals all fall into the same category – no equivalent of Trip Advisor! GFG fills a much needed gap in this respect. Schools and, to a much lesser degree ,nursing homes do get discussed on social media at local level but I’ve never seen someone enquire about a particular funeral director or ask for recommendations. Taboo, maybe.

      2. Fran Hall
        Funeral director scotland

        I believe that the funeral directors in Scotland, NAfD and SAIF have been discussing levels of trading with the Scottish government. Seems that what happens in Scotland usually comes to rest of the UK soon after.

          1. Fran Hall

            Those organisations are UK wide – doesn’t necessarily mean that regulation of funeral direction is definitely coming to England soon does it? What does regulation of funeral direction mean anyway – it’s a bunch of different tasks some of which might benefit from some scrutiny and others which it would be as silly regulating as trying to regulate wedding planners.

    1. Fran Hall

      Great – thank you. Particularly appreciated as I can’t find that link myself either by Googling “SAIF code of practice” nor putting Code of Practice in the search box on the SAIF website. It looks straightforward – once it’s been found that is! Can’t see that anyone on here is saying they don’t agree with that code are they? Simon Helliar-Moore says, “Progressive funeral directing isn’t all about do it yourself and cardboard coffins, it’s about transparency honesty and integrity all of which SAIF code of practice dictates it’s members value and practice.” Progressive means modern, forward looking, innovative etc doesn’t it? Surely both traditional and modern styles of funeral directing can and should be done with honesty, transparency and integrity?

        1. Fran Hall

          Yes – thank you again. I saw something about associate members at some point in a list of search returns too yesterday. I have just done that search on google and it appears third but it is not the full code of practice for which you provided the link yesterday. It is a short version for associate rather than full members. Thanks again for finding the other one.

  13. Fran Hall

    Hi Gemma, thank you for replying again. Yes, I did see what you said in your original response about what you cover in the modules that you teach yourself for the IFD college. And I learned something myself about possibilities which I was not aware of as a customer twice over (both with FDs from the big conglomerates).

    The way I read your response was that this was what you covered when you taught rather than it was something which was built in to the IFD modules and the free training days which are mentioned for members of SAIF on the SAIF website.

    Then the lady from the IFD college said that if anyone wanted to suggest extra bits for the IFD courses they needed to prepare all the bits and bobs to go along with the suggestion – you know the OFSTED lesson plan type stuff. Sorry can’t remember the terminology.

    Hope Cara does come back . She can pick up on the points she does not think have been addressed yet maybe. It’s good that you have your own fora in which members can raise issues they feel need addressing by SAIF. Presumably, for some reason she felt that those avenues did not work for her in some way. If all her points were genuinely invalid in the eyes of SAIF, she is still a customer of SAIF so a polite explanation from SAIF (and you started this off) plus another polite one from IFD college (the shocker of an answer on here) would have been good and also enlightening for the public or other SAIF members who have not experienced this bit of training.

    1. Fran Hall

      That is what I tried to do.
      Whilst I cannot guarantee what other tutors say to their students I am an assessor as well as a tutor and I assess many of the other tutors students (so they do the course but I then get their work and with through it with them) and so I can be pretty sure that the other tutors are covering ge Work. My own revision and updates of the PowerPoints we use on 8 of the units are also the ones being used by all of the tutors. We also have 6 monthly updates and training days for us as college staff so that we ensure consistency- so I am fairly confident of the coverage of all the tutors. We can always learn and improve though; I shall certainly bring forward a discussion at our next meeting on some of these topics so that we can share thoughts and good practice. We are also very much guided by our students – I always tell my students that they can learn as much from each other as hey can from me and I value the discussion and participation of each one so that everyone gets the breadth of knowledge and experience from different companies and regions.

      This is one of my points – And I may be wrong, but I am not aware of Cara coming to any SAIF meetings and contributing to discussions; I know she said she was at the AGM, it’s a shame I didn’t know she was there as I would have said hello, but I’m not aware that she spoke at the AGM – it’s no good feeling disgruntled with something when you do not attend or contribute and I don’t know if she’s even been to any regional meetings or education day or even contacted any exec members who are there to represent her.

  14. Fran Hall

    Response from Cara re open letter to SAIF

    Firstly I just wanted to thank everyone for the volume and depth of debate and interest in the issues that I raised in my open letter regarding SAIF and my call for a much more open and inclusive approach to our customers and their dead. From what Gemma has said, this seems to be the case sometimes, but it’s unfortunate that we are not able to quantify this. I will take on what Gemma has said of course.

    However, the main point of my concern seems to have been overlooked. Surely if the training APPROVED by SAIF also offered the chance for funeral staff to explore ways of safely supporting clients in being involved in caring for their own dead this would only enhance the service that they offer and set them miles apart from the corporates.

    Would you not consider incorporating this into the existing training you approve? The IFD college are no doubt aware of some of the accredited courses run by Green Fuse. Would it not be wonderful to have a more holistic approach as part of the standard training APPROVED by SAIF? The current training is very much on the side of Funeral Directors rather than being a standard bearer and beacon of good practice for the public to be more informed of how we as Funeral Directors work, and more importantly what can be offered to our clients.

    Of course legalities and policies are important, but that is not what I was focusing on. The focus should be on how we can empower people with gentle permission and skills to be more involved in the care of the dead if they so wish.

    I received a letter from Paul Allcock, SAIF Public Relations Chairman in response to my initial letter and to quote him “Every client has a right to choose whichever funeral director they feel offers the most appropriate service for them. Therefore, perhaps we should ask the question of ourselves, are we influencing too much how a death and a funeral should be handled? I agree wholeheartedly with you that empowering individuals to fulfil their personal wishes should always be encouraged.”

    I completely agree with the above statement as I feel that at the moment not enough practical involvement is offered to the public and so people often do not realise the choices they have around the ritual of care. As I said in my initial letter, let’s place more importance to the collection and ‘care of the deceased’ and provide the option of training to include a more natural way of looking after a body. To be truly bold and take leadership in this area and create a legacy that other independent funeral directors can build upon.

    With regard to the debate about funeral plans, it’s clear that many people are concerned about the selling of plans and the emotive language that is used. Promotional leaflets sent out with funeral invoices stating “The most thoughtful Decision you could make”. This really is targeting the vulnerable. Will this be the mis-selling scandal of the future perhaps? We decided to offer Golden Charter Plans as they were the only company that could guarantee that they invested the funds ethically. However, we do not promote the plan, but rather encourage people to look at different ways of saving their money without suffering an admin fee that this plan, and others charge. Again, the public are sometimes not aware that they can record their funeral wishes without the need of tying themselves into a plan.

    I don’t think it hurts to shine a light on contentious issues. I’m glad that the debate that ensued was accessible and that industry professionals were open and clear about their views. As Julie Walters once said “Debate is so much better than denial. Not necessarily to force a message on anyone, but at least invite the audience to question things.”

    Let this conversation continue and meetings happen to really move this forward and perhaps invite the public to contribute so that we can all understand further and engage with the diverse requirements that they may want from a Funeral Director. This seems an open and accessible platform to do this from.

    1. Fran Hall
      Robert Helliar-Moore

      I struggle withe the statement ‘people often do not realise the choices they have around the ritual of care’ – is this really true or are they choosing not to be involved? If someone really wanted to know more or be involved, perhaps they would seek someone for whom this would be a possibility? Perhaps we are making too many assumptions about what people want – lets check with proper research before making such ‘bold’ statements.
      In addition ‘To be truly bold and take leadership in this area and create a legacy that other independent funeral directors can build upon.’ – why is this necessarily bold? Your use of language insinuates that this area is the most important of all. Yes, it is important but not above anything else.

  15. Fran Hall

    Hi Gemma, yes – but don’t forget that when you’re inside an organisation that you work for one has a completely different view into it from someone completely outside, like me, a member of the public or part way in, like your members. Good Funeral Guide has taught me something – some funeral directors are part of huge national chains although they look like the same local business that has been there for donkeys’ years and still use the old name, and others are much smaller concerns (not sure how small one has to be to be considered “independent”.

    I’ve now examined my closest too and realised that the one I thought was “independent” is part of one of the huge ones, and the other one, which I thought was a big chain (as there’s another one with the same name in the next closest town) is “independent”. The independent one is a SAIF member – not clear from the outside of the shop, but spottable on your website. It does not offer the bereavement counselling service that some offer. So, thanks to GFG and also to Cara (I didn’t know what SAIF was until this post by Cara) I can now spot an “independent” and know what SAIF is.

    So, which one will I choose next time – if there’s a next time? Probably neither, because the one from the gigantic chain wasn’t great to deal with before the event (but the event was fine) and probably not the independent because I’ve been to one of their funerals because they made a mistake at one I went to – misplaced the music CD before the crematorium service so the next of kin was upset not to get the carefully chosen music – really the only personalised bit of the ceremony.

    I’ll probably look for something that is recommended by GFG (if they operate at the distance required) and most likely that will also be a SAIF member. But, unless they do answer the phone quickly, give me some clear details over the phone and will work at a distance (we are not particularly close to any reasonable sized towns) I’ll be back down to tossing up between the local(ish) two again.

    Now, we can split hairs about whether Cara did or should have gone to other SAIF events, whether or not she already emailed exec members of SAIF with her thoughts etc etc. We can hope that she will come back on here and say some more. But, maybe it’s more enlightening to look at the general gist of her points and see whether for me, a member of the public, looking in, her points resonate in some way.

    Well, yes. I hadn’t been able to tell the difference between the “independent” and non-independent in my experiences. I read your website and it doesn’t have anything on it that spells out to me what will be different. The Code of Practice still cannot be found on your website – yes, Robert Helliar- Moore supplied me the link to the full document below but I have no clue how he found that on your website – from the public view at any rate. The Code of Practice looks fine – pretty bog standard looking if you ask me. I’ve flicked through some SAIF magazines, a review of your AGM and a free education day (£40?) and I’m not finding anything that for me, the end consumer of your services, looks different.

    I also read a bit about Funeral Plans – not my cup of tea really as any scheme like that where some organisation takes a cut and mysteriously sits on your money is to be treated with some healthy scepticism – and found quite a bit about Golden Charter and SAIFCharter the holding company and didn’t think it stood out above any other. Found some very strong links between SAIF membership and offering Golden Charter (along the lines of FDs who wish to join SAIF get SAIF benefits faster if they join up to selling Golden Charter at the same time) which I found mildly irritating.

    My conclusion? Whether Cara is right or wrong in what she said and the method by which she said it, to me, a member of the public, SAIF doesn’t stand out for me. I’m just a sample of one, I know, but I’m probably in the minority even having heard of SAIF. So, maybe some more work to be done if you do want to stand out as different.

    1. Fran Hall

      Some interesting thoughts and I do take something from what you say. We are primarily however a trade association for independent funeral directors. We were formed to promote and protect the independent funeral director. So I’m not sure we are looking to be ‘different’, we have many benefits for our members and we are there to represent each one, each with their own value and ethos, because as funeral directors it is right that our businesses are individual and different, because the public are individual and different.
      I may be inside the organisation as you say, but I am first and foremost a member myself. I became involved in SAIF because I was a member who believed in what SAIF does and gives to me as a member.
      I also, as an inspector, and a trainer, come into contact with more independent funeral directors than anyone else I can think of (that isn’t a rep for a supplier) – probably over 400 businesses in total over the last few years, and I get their feedback, and their thoughts, and information on their businesses and the way they operate – so yes I may be ‘inside’ the organisation but I think I get a pretty broad view, and the image that has been proffered by some is the image of a conglomerate business and not the many independent businesses I know.

  16. Fran Hall

    I am coming into this debate quite late and it is difficult to pin it down to one issue but the one that interests me most is whether the current training provided by the industry is reflecting the massive changes taking place in the public’s expectations of funerals. Yes, a lot has been done on the surface – we now have many different types of coffins, a majority of funerals taken by celebrants, some different venues, any kind of music and all these point to additional choice for families to make funerals more personal and meaningful. However, for example the small take up of natural burial grounds, the fact that a vast majority of funerals still take place at the crematorium with all the restrictions that brings, I think point to a lack of flexibility to come out of the well trodden and easy regime to go to the crematorium for a 30 minute service – no mud, efficient use of cars and staff, safe.
    The problem is two fold. One is structural – most funeral companies are not set up for flexibility. When you have £200k of hearse and limousine in the garage you want people to use them and subtly encourage them to do so. If you can get much the same money for 45 minutes work on the day of the funeral rather than two hours for something more complicated, many will encourage that. If you can buy a narrow range of coffins in bulk for £50 each and sell them for £400 it makes business sense. If you don’t own cars but hire in the appropriate ones for each funeral, if you don’t make money on coffins but sell them on at cost (and make your money for the work you do), then you don’t mind what cars people choose, or if they want to buy a coffin on Ebay or a cut price coffin company.
    The second problem is a natural caution funeral directors have – they don’t want things to go wrong or for people to be upset, so there is a tendency not to want the family to be involved in arranging the funeral, bearing, looking after the body and other activities they have a perfect right to be involved in – funeral directors feel safer taking control of everything and sticking to the known.
    Our funeral directing business, Heart & Soul Funerals, is set up in such a way that we can see ourselves as “guides to the bereaved based on creativity and improvisation”. Our job is to start with a blank sheet of paper and help the family explore what the right funeral is and to help them realise that vision. We have some statistics which might surprise many funeral directors:
    • Less than 35% of funeral ceremonies taking place at the crematorium or church
    • Less than 30% choosing a traditional hearse.
    • 80% of families (and friends) bearing the coffin.
    • 25% natural burials.
    When we began in 2000 there was no training we could do as new people to the funeral sector. This situation continued until we began our Green Fuse funeral director training in 2008 and still we provide I think the only substantial training available to new people entering the sector, covering most aspects of the work. Not only do we teach the tasks of being a funeral arranger and director, but also key skills like active listening, understanding bereavement and psychological aspects of the work, having the attitude of a guide rather than a director, structuring your business in a flexible way. In the last few years around 35 people who have taken this training have set up their own businesses, mainly based on the values and methods we espouse. It has been notable that, out of the 300 or so people we have taught, less than 10% have come from existing companies looking to modernise and get new ideas and methods to serve the post modern generation, who are going to be our predominant clients over the next 30 years. I think it is shocking, scandalous even, that only around 180 people a year take the NAFD Diploma from nearly 4000 funeral homes in the UK. The Foundation Degree at Bath University, a fantastic course which I took, lasted only three cohorts because of a lack of students. It is such a demanding and multi skilled job, working with people at a vulnerable time. There is a new wave of funeral companies emerging run by people new to the sector and all hail to them.
    I wish this sector would take education and training more seriously because the public deserves it and will demand it. You can’t imagine social workers being let loose on the public with so little training. Funeral prices are being driven down because the public isn’t seeing the value and is able now to make more comparisons. More and better education and training would show that we value what we do and we value our staff, too many of whom are working for low wages in silos where they only are involved in one part of the process – so many funeral arrangers never go to the funerals. It’s such important work – good funerals make a real impact on the mental health of bereaved people and therefore the nation. There is only one chance to get it right, to create something memorable and to cherish. I agree with Cara, there is room for improvement and it’s no good being defensive about it.

    1. Fran Hall

      I agree with what you say and find the green fuse website cara mentioned very informative. For me, it fills in some gaps (but not all) and would help me when sorting out another funeral.

      1. Fran Hall

        Anyone can set up as a funeral director with no qualifications. In the whole of the funeral sector the only qualification required by law is that for the operation of cremation equipment.

        1. Fran Hall

          Regulation? I am quite prepared to accept that arguments can be advanced in favour of it either by way of registration, licensing, or some such. Appropriate drafting could be a nightmare, though. As I don’t want to appear in court soon, I’ll leave it to the reader to imagine how it might be difficult for the draftsmen to obtain truly unbiased advice. An added problem is that the weight of argument against is pretty strong. One thing better than learning from one’s mistakes is learning from other people’s, and those who see registration as some sort of panacea should look carefully at the evidence from the USA where it has created a costly sub-industry the funding for which comes, inevitably as it must, from the end user, the general public. There is also a very real cost to the funeral trade in most states in respect of the time which individuals must spend – annually- in refresher courses and the like. Some of the requirements vary from state to state and I am quite sure that many would shock practitioners in the U.K. How about you must have embalmed at least 50 bodies before you can receive a licence? (That’s Massachusetts and Connecticut, by the way, but it would only be 20 in Maryland.)

          Do not doubt that this is big business in the USA; there are at least ten accredited colleges catering for would-be and refresher practitioners in Texas, for example. If you haven’t read it, do look up Caitlin Doughty’s ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ with its chapter on her experiences at a college of mortuary science in Orange County, California.

          I have met second and third generation funeral directors in the UK who have said that compulsory registration would not bother or inconvenience them in any way. They might be surprised. The public, too, might be shocked by consequential price rises.

          1. Fran Hall

            I would like to understand this more. Regulation of all the different bits to do with preparing a body for burial or cremation, and the burial or cremation itself wouldn’t necessarily have to involve requirements for particular training would it? And presumably there are some regulations which already affect embalming e.g. what can / can’t be done with the surgical waste it generates?

            I presume the lack of regulation as to what can / can’t be done to dead body before burial or cremation means that all kinds of things could be done to a corpse if the customer wanted it and the funeral director agreed to do it. Isn’t this potentially unpalatable?

        2. Fran Hall

          Why do people want to see everything ‘regulated’ as if that’s going to be some sort of universal panacea? And what about people who want to do it all themselves? Having been a self taught undertaker for nearly 20 years now I can tell you this. Dead bodies aren’t complicated, living ones are. Any regulation is not going to stop bad funeral directors from mishandling the bereaved, and that’s where the real damage is done.

    2. Fran Hall

      Hi Simon, I concur with many of your points particularly the importance of training within the profession. I too thought it was a great shame that the Foundation degree at Bath University was so short lived. With regards to the NAFD diploma, well there are of course the courses offered by both the BIFD and the IFD, as well as Green Fuse, and the conglomerates of course have their own courses as well so there are more than 180 people undertaking training a year but I agree that training needs to be taken more seriously.
      I also agree that there is always room for improvement and I hope my replies have indicated that. I hope I have not come across as defensive but I will defend the college and also the leaders of SAIF when I feel that statements are being made that are simply untrue or have no substance.
      To give some statistics such as yours, because throughout this thread there seems to be a feeling that SAIF and those that lead it are in some way ‘behind the times’ I personally have 60% of services taking place at a church or crematorium. That is a number that is reducing, ultimately however it is up to the family to decide and in our area (you are very fortunate being in Totnes that many more are willing to consider ‘alternatives’ (dislike that word) and in fact probably do not even consider it alternative any more) – in Wales people are a little more traditional.
      60% chose a traditional hearse
      97% of families bear the coffin themselves
      20% natural burial (but this comprises 70% of our total burials)
      60% celebrant led
      20% family led (this means that just as many are family led as by a religious leader)
      So my figures are not the same as yours, and why would they be, all areas are different, but any idea that most independents and certainly those that are at the forefront of SAIF are not offering choice to families is simply not the case.

  17. Fran Hall
    Robert Helliar-Moore

    So there is a way to write a balanced, fair, sensitive and well researched about this subject – without making people feel they are wrong – whatever their opinion on the subject. The history is long and winding and it is nothing new – trends change it seems and what was in 30 years ago is out now and what was out is in. It’s interesting how ideas get portrayed as novel or ‘progressive; when they are merely something that isn’t something society currently ‘accepts’ at the current time or is out of favor.

    This article shows clearly how the shift in where and when certain activites are carried out, now leave more of an expectation on a different profession, many of whom might not yet be up with the times of how this might of changed.

    Perhaps the key lies in being more inclusive and sharing practice with a wider range of professions to provide families with a more seamless approach to the care of a loved one – rather than placing the expectation at the doorstep of one.

    Again, as the article points out – for many the ‘laying out’ of a loved one isn’t for them…..and perhaps the expectation in the past has always been uncomfortable for most but refusing was frowned upon as uncaring.

    Quoting from the article ‘Just like a healthcare professional with a living patient, a caring funeral director performs the tasks that may be more distressing for loved ones, but they can be happy to accommodate the wishes of families who want to play a part in the care of their loved one’. So, perhaps it’s not quite so ‘progressive’ after all and that without proper research no one can guess at the number of funeral directors who ask families if they would like to help or how many families really want to be a part of this.

    Perhaps we should also be thinking of and offering possible solutions to the problems we face, rather than laying the blame at the feet at those we feel are responsible in a never ending rant. Doing so may provide a more collegiate, supportive, collaborative environment that fosters a spirit of community……just saying.

    Perhaps we could all do with reflecting a little…….a taking a leaf our of FuneralZone’s book on looking at a subject better informed and with more of an open mind? Perhaps blogs posted here should take more of this type of approach?

  18. Fran Hall

    An excellent letter and not in any way insulting or negative towards SAIF – just a simple plea to be a little bit more FORWARD THINKING -which is surely no bad thing!! From some of the comments on here you can see how little some of you are embracing change. This change – I might add is being driven by everyday people that WANT different Funerals to their parents!!! Thank god for some of you guys here.
    Thank you!!!!

  19. Fran Hall

    Public I find that article that Simon just posted a good one. Also, as a member of the public, I’ve learned a lot from this long and winding discussion on this particular blog post. But I still feel that Cara’s letter is being misread by some as criticism of other SAIF members. I didn’t think that was what she was saying. So I hope you can read it in a different light and see that you are all striving for the same goals. I’m probably never going to be bring myself to be involved in any of the aspects of preparing a body for cremation or burial. But I will never say never – I can imagine some situations where I might. Now I know that I can ask. I did not know that before. And that is despite being involved in the organising of funerals for two very close relatives. Please can you all carry on discussing things. It’s good to read. Cheers me up to see there are so many who care so much about this part of someone’s journey.

  20. Fran Hall

    Fran, did you hear back from the public enquiry point for the MPs bereavement and funerals group, Will Smith at Brevia Consulting?

    1. Fran Hall

      I did – after writing to him, I received the following reply on May 16th:

      Dear Fran,

      Thank you for your email dated 14 May. I have liaised with the Group Chair’s office and he will contact you directly.

      Kind regards,


      Will Smith

      I’m still waiting to hear from the Group Chair’s office three weeks on…

      The discussion on this blog did however encourage a really helpful person with experience of running APPGs to make contact with me, and I have received some very good advice from them as to how they think we could proceed given the seeming unwillingness of the NAFD to open the doors of this particular APPG to other organisations.

      1. Fran Hall

        Oh the other response sounds really positive. Fingers crossed that either through that APPG or another one that things move forwards in a more inclusive way and cover an agenda which ultimately is of the greatest benefit to the largest number of people.

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