Thoughts from an unaffiliated funeral director (ii)

Fran Hall

Here’s another submission that squeaked in before the deadline set by the self-appointed Funeral Service Consumer Standards Review group to hear the views from funeral directors who choose not to belong to a trade association – from the fabulous Jennifer Uzzell, occasional contributor to the blog and one of the directors of Saint & Forster Funeral Directors Ltd in Darlington:

“Dear Mr Shand-Smith

In response to your request for views from funeral directors who are not affiliated to the trade organisations and who would like to add their views to your consultation, please see below. 

I am one of the directors of Saint and Forster Funeral Directors Ltd. in Darlington in the North East of England. 

The company was set up by my partner Keith Munt and myself 8 years ago

We are not members of a trade organisation as it is our belief that these organisations exist in order to promote the interests of their client businesses and that, where a difference exists, they will promote the interests of their clients above those of the bereaved. They are, therefore, not in a position to represent the interests of the bereaved, or to administrate any form of regulation that may be introduced. 

I note with concern that the FSCSR appears to be presenting itself as the body that represents the funeral service in general and will, in fullness of time, be responsible for regulation. As far as I can see, the FSCSR has no remit or authority to do this, and it seems to a number of us that you are positioning yourself to defend the actions of the larger corporations, even when their performance is very poor; and to regulate against the interests of small independent and unaffiliated companies even where they are ethical. Our failure to join any of the associations is ethically motivated and is in no way because we have anything to hide, or because we do not feel we would meet the criteria.

I also question what your motivation was in allowing such a small window of opportunity for unaffiliated FDs to reply to your request for their views. Either you are deliberately trying to limit the number of responses you receive, or we are very much an afterthought. Neither possibility is particularly encouraging. 

Much that has been presented recently, in terms of the need for regulation, has been about the need to protect the public from ‘cowboy’ ‘unqualified’ practitioners who are setting up businesses across the country. I do not doubt that a small number of such businesses exist. However, as the evidence presented by my colleague Louise Winter (with whom I am in entire agreement, and whose letter to you I attach below in its entirety) suggests, the majority of instances of malpractice or poor quality service seem to be traceable to larger corporations rather than to smaller independent companies. 

You ask specifically for my views on regulation, which I give below. 

I welcome regulation of the funeral service, with the following provisos:

  • Any regulation must be overseen by a body that can be shown to be truly independent. This should not be the trade organisations, the FSCSR, or any other body with a vested interest. 
  • Complaints should be handled by an independent ombudsman as they once were
  • Any system of regulation should not be limited to process (how bodies are stored, transported etc and how FDs are trained; important as these things are) but should also include an ethical element aimed at preventing the exploitation, financial or otherwise, of the bereaved. 
  • FDs should not be required to have a qualification, particularly if it is devised, administered and awarded by the NAFD. This is, again, a vested interest and also, to my knowledge, contains training that would be at odds with my idea of good practice. There is a disturbing movement in the world in general at the moment towards the perception that academic qualification with increasingly low standards are a guarantee of quality. 
  • With regards to the above, I would like to see FDs or businesses licensed according to what they can demonstrate that they can do in a system similar to the old NVQs, rather than requiring them to acquire an additional qualification. Again, this license must be administered by a truly independent body with no vested interests. 

Many companies, such as mine, have been set up by people with entirely adequate facilities. training and experience, but with a new vision of the quality, standards and emotional intelligence that the public should be entitled to expect from us. Any regulation must enable those companies to continue and to thrive and to provide a choice to the public. 

To conclude, I state again that I am entirely in agreement with Louise Winter of Poetic Endings, whose letter I attach in full here.  

Kind Regards, 

 

Jennifer Uzzell

 

Office Manager

Saint and Forster Funeral Directors Ltd

 

Letter to Lewis Shand Smith – 29th August 2019

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Louise Winter
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Thank you so much for your thoughtful and intelligent response to the FSCSR.