Funeral trade association calls for regulation

Fran Hall 11 Comments
Fran Hall

The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors has today issued a press release stating its position on the subject of regulation.

SAIF members received an e-mail yesterday advising them that ‘after careful consideration we have decided that regulation across England and Wales is a good thing and welcome it’. 

The ‘careful consideration’ appears to have been carried out by the SAIF executive committee.  SAIF members were not consulted before the statement was announced and the consultation is apparently to follow.

Now, while it’s quite possible that all of the more than 870 members of SAIF and additional 100 associate members will all unanimously agree that regulation of some kind is required in the funeral industry, if we were a member of an association that was representing our business (we’re not by the way) we’d rather like to have been asked first about our opinion on such an important subject. 

At the GFG we have long taken a stance that regulation of the funeral industry needs to be carefully considered and crafted, and definitely not determined by the trade associations involved. Trade associations are exactly what the name implies.

Any decision on regulation should be led by the interests of the bereaved person, a consumer focus that trade associations are, by definition the exact opposite to. Trade associations represent the interests of their members. Full stop.

Regulation of the funeral industry needs to be informed by wide input, including the funeral world, ideally by seeking the views of every person or company involved with providing assistance of some kind with funerals. However, currently, nobody knows exactly how many funeral director companies are currently operating, whereabouts they are or who is running them. There is no central register of any kind.

At the same time, the UK government is currently paralysed in every area other than those directly involved with the imminent withdrawal from the EU. Attempting to introduce regulation of the funeral industry in the current climate would, we gently suggest, likely mean that government would hand over the critical work of framing the regulation to the funeral industry trade associations hovering helpfully in the wings with their suggestions.

Incidentally, for ‘regulation’, replace with ‘whole tranches of licensing, required training, standards of premises, membership of associations’ and so forth, all providing new layers of bureaucracy, all coming at a cost (to be passed on to whom?), all adding to the end result of – what?

More passionate, creative, intelligent people starting up small companies to serve bereaved families in the best possible way? We doubt it.

Read the press release from SAIF below.

Independent funeral directors call for regulation of profession in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

England, Wales and Northern Ireland should follow in Scotland’s footsteps and introduce regulation of the funeral profession.

This is the position of the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) – the voice of independent, family-owned funeral directors across the UK.

It makes SAIF the first significant funeral trade association in the UK to back statutory regulation of funeral directors.

The association has also urged its members with websites to display their prices online as soon as possible to help bereaved consumers better understand possible costs involved with a funeral.

It could also mean families get a better deal, with research consistently showing that independent funeral directors’ prices are consistently lower than large groups, like Co-op Funeralcare, Dignity and Funeral Partners.

SAIF’s position on regulation is in response to the positive and proportionate way in which regulation is being introduced in Scotland, and comes in the wake of a small number of worrying cases in which funeral directors have fallen short of standards to which trade association members subscribe.

Terry Tennens, Chief Executive of SAIF, said it was high time all bereaved people across the UK were guaranteed a minimum set of standards from the professionals taking care of them at life’s most difficult time.

“Currently, anyone can set up a funeral directing business and there is no requirement for them to work to a minimum set of standards. Trade associations require their members to abide by a code of practice, but membership is voluntary and we are seeing too many cases of firms who don’t belong to an association operating in an unacceptable way,” Terry said.

He added: “All other care industries are regulated, so there is no reason why funeral directors to whom people turn in great distress should not be subjected to similar rules. The vast majority of SAIF members share concerns about standards and support regulation of the funeral profession.” 

In respect of online pricing, Terry said SAIF’s leadership was set to discuss a commonly agreed set of funeral elements that would appear on a price list, to better help consumers make like-for-like comparisons. A price list should also include options for a simple or basic funeral and a traditional funeral, along with additional items such as flowers and orders of service. This could eventually form part of the association’s code of practice.

Despite concerns about poor practice, bereaved people should be reassured that the overwhelming majority of independent funeral directors operate to high standards. However, one firm operating below par is one too many.

Regulation of the funeral profession should be proportionate and informed by all stakeholders, with the views of independent funeral directors carrying as much weight in any process as those of the large corporates and cooperatives. 

SAIF’s call for UK-wide regulation of the funeral profession comes ahead of the findings of a Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) study of the funeral market.

A proportionate regulatory regime could address some of the transparency issues being examined by the CMA and ensure clients of all funeral directors are getting a good deal.

SAIF is to consult its members and the wider funeral profession on areas of focus for any possible regulatory regime which are likely to include:

  • Price transparency – this would include a commonly agreed set of criteria for standard elements of a funeral and clarity around any special offers. SAIF is extremely concerned about Co-op Funeralcare’s recent price match announcement and feels families are being misled by a time-limited offer, which will only be honoured if deemed “feasible”. These types of hard-sell tactics could lead to additional distress for bereaved people if Co-op Funeralcare decline to match what a family felt was a genuine price.
  • Care facilities – all funeral directors should possess or have access to well-appointed care facilities, including a mortuary with spotless refrigeration units and a clinical-standard area for embalming and care of the deceased.
  • Transparency of ownership – the large chains and co-operatives have a habit of buying independent businesses and continuing to trade under the name of the previous owner. Bereaved people need to be given much clearer information by the large firms as to who is delivering the funeral in such circumstances.
  • Financial stability – the distress caused to families if a funeral director goes into liquidation is immense. Any regulatory system should protect bereaved people from the closure of a funeral business, ensuring alternative provision is made in a timely manner and families are not left to fend for themselves, as seen recently in Rochester, Kent.
  • Record keeping – one of the keys to a well-run funeral is a water-tight record keeping system, which prevents any possible mistakes around identity of the deceased and ensures the safe return of any property belonging to families.
  • Regulation that works across jurisdictions – with many funeral directors often finding themselves operating across borders, allowances should be made for any differences in regulatory regimes.

Following a consultation exercise, SAIF is to write to the Westminster Government, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies, stating its position on regulation of the funeral profession across all jurisdictions. 


  1. Fran Hall

    It’s infuriating, and I agree with every word you have written. Once again I will write to my trade association asking how they can do this without regard for members views. Breathtaking high handed action from SAIF.

  2. Fran Hall

    This will surely be unwelcome news for all those who are trying to ease the curse of funeral poverty.

    As Alexander Pope wrote: “For fools rush in…”

  3. Fran Hall

    This unseemly scrap, between vested interests, over how to manufacture and manipulate ‘Regulation’ to advance their competitive edge leaves the grieving needs of those they serve at risk. For example, how would this demand affect a family looking after their person’s body at home?

    “… Care facilities – all funeral directors should possess or have access to well-appointed care facilities, including a mortuary with spotless refrigeration units and a clinical-standard area for embalming and care of the deceased.”

  4. Fran Hall

    As a “normal” member of the public, I’ve always found this talk of regulation of funeral directors very confusing as it’s not really clear to me what a “funeral director” is or which bits of the things that funeral directors do that regulation would be necessary or desirable for. I’d have to dissect the role into all its component parts and work through what does and does not need “regulating” and in what way. But to think that making training and membership of some association or other mandatory would rule out the rogues is naive.

    As an executor and / or bereaved person fixing up a funeral, which I have more than one experience of, what I would prefer to have is a clear written agreed fully costed quote about what is going to be provided / not provided on the run up to the day and on the day. If any aspect of the service was not good on the run up to the day I would hope that the funeral director would put it right as soon as possible and that if that did not happen, and I contacted the professional association of which they were a member, such as SAIF, that they would either make sure the funeral director did a good job or offered me a transfer to a different funeral director at no extra cost.

    On the day, if something didn’t go right, I would expect apology, explanation, partial refund etc etc. And to be able to contact the professional association afterwards and for them to do something about a substandard funeral director they have on their books.

    The Scottish funeral direction regulation lesson – I do not know how it is going to know if it is proving to be a good thing or a bad thing. It surely can’t be copy-catted until they have had it up and running for a while and its impacts independently evaluated.

    There’s one good thing about the Scottish burial and cremation act if I have understood it. It makes provision for the possible regulation of freeze-drying and alkaline hydrolysis. It is off-putting for a business to launch something which might subsequently be regulated to a degree that would make it unprofitable (perhaps this is the case for resomation) or impossible …… trying to regulate Promession would be very revealing as the exact nature of the process has not yet been revealed even to the Swedish lady behind the concept. I presume this is why Resomation is now bought out by an English company whereas it was a Glasgow incorporated company for quite some while.

    In England, I think we are currently in a situation where someone could charge for popping a body in a freezer for many years awaiting Promession (just as happened in Sweden some while back) or even charging an estate for the first ever promession and just handing over cremation ashes to the unsuspecting relative – or worse still, a person with a stronger stomach than me and hoping to make a bit of extra cash might choose to have a go freeze-drying and breaking up of the corpse for an eco-friendly family taken in by the hype. So perhaps a bit of regulation about what must not be done with a body might not go amiss. I don’t know.

  5. Fran Hall

    Whatever happened to the Stirling agreement?
    Reputable and reliable funeral directors should have no fear of regulation as it would surely drive out the rogues. Perhaps SAIF considers the majority of its members to be reputable and reliable.
    The report of the Inspector of Funeral Director, Scotland is interesting reading.

  6. Fran Hall

    Dear Fran.

    I’m not one to complain but I’m assuming you’ve commented without looking in any detail at the current situation in Scotland.
    The Burial and Cremation Act 2016 sets out lots of diverse statutory ideas, very few of which are actually set, so far.
    The first thing that was made very clear is that no government can force trade association membership. Therefore the inspection regime must be completely independent and autonomous.
    Secondly as there has never been any regulation prior, the whole thing is being taken slowly with an open mind and with lots of consultation.
    As the Scottish Saif (another autonomous body representing over 120 Independent family operated funeral providers in Scotland, the ones you erroneously think will be strangled by regulation) lead on government liaison, I can categorically say that the new code of practice and forthcoming regulations are focussed completely on the bereaved and the care for the deceased. I would assume that no one will have any issue with that?

    As for National Saif calling for regulation spreading throughout the U.K., including mandatory refrigeration. The public already assumed this was the case. Scottish are just more proactive as we already have it. On-line prices and transparent descriptors aren’t far behind.

    The vast majority of the trade association executives give of their time and experience free gratis, for the betterment of all and take the members views as paramount, but our profession is mired in inertia to change. Therefore it’s sad you would disparage any attempt at improvement. I’m also assuming you and all the new style, on-line gurus do it for love and not monetary or personal gain?

    The cost of regulation won’t be cheap but it’ll be worth every penny to ensure the bereaved and deceased are guaranteed to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, with a clear audit trail. All any funeral provider wants is a level playing field with clear and proportionate rules to follow.
    Natalie McKail, the autonomous and independent inspector of Funeral Directors in Scotland will deliver her thoughts on licensing and regulation to Ministers this December, therefore nothing is decided.

    1. Fran Hall

      Well said Jim. Especially – “to ensure the bereaved and deceased are guaranteed to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, with a clear audit trail”.

  7. Fran Hall

    Yep, that is my understanding that Scottish regulation is still being worked out and very much at the early phase of thorough thinking it out? So it’s not the moment to jump on board in England too is it? Much cheaper to see how it goes in Scotland and learn from the evaluation? And if there’s some really bad things going on in England right now, use all the other legal avenues which already exist to squeeze them out in the meantime? What are the worst things going in in England at the moment?

    ps I’m a member of the public so please reply in a way I will understand – no prior knowledge, jargon etc assumed.

  8. Fran Hall

    Becoming a business owner looking to have an association with someone who shares my Partner and my core values, rather than just being a mere funeral employee has truly opened my eyes – a lot of this has been thanks to the valuable resources found on this site and speaking with some of your members.

    Thank you

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