Thoughts from an unaffiliated funeral director (v)

Fran Hall

We continue to publish the very important observations from funeral directors in response to the invitation from the Funeral Service Consumer Standards Review to make contact, and have great pleasure in adding the contribution from Jo Williamson, of Albany Funerals.

 

Dear Mr Shand Smith,

It has come to my attention that on 22nd August you issued a call to non-trade association affiliated funeral directors to share their views with the Funeral Service Consumer Standards Review you are currently conducting.

Sadly, as you have only allowed a very short timescale for busy funeral directors to respond (8 days – was this an afterthought?), I have missed the deadline but I would still like to take this opportunity to put forward my views.

We are independent funeral directors based in Kent, in our 10th year of trading.  For the first 7 years we were members of SAIF but were left feeling largely unsupported and unchecked, and therefore made the decision to remain non-affiliated for a few years.  However, we have recently begun the process of joining the NAFD, mainly due to fierce local competition and we felt that we might be viewed as lacking ‘legitimacy’ if we were not members of an association, and there is no other real alternative. 

I cannot agree, however,  that I feel represented by these organisations ‘seated at the table’, as in my experience they do not always seem to be led by the interests of the bereaved person, or the person who has died, but more so in protecting their members, whose practices are sometimes questionable at the very least. 

Although I welcome any initiative to improve standards, I do feel confused that this is being run simultaneously with the Government CMA review, which is a completely independent review as opposed to an ‘industry initiative’ which yours claims to be, and I would also be curious as to how this will be implemented in conjunction with the findings and recommendations of the CMA report?

I have also looked at the Scottish Government Code of Practice Consultation in detail and was alarmed to see that the proposed regulations do not offer any real solution to prevent the exploitation of the vulnerability of bereaved people and the lack of transparency of the funeral industry, which are the two main areas of concern highlighted by the CMA. 

Moreover, some of the regulations proposed fall incredibly short, for example, although the Scottish Government ‘believes that the use of refrigeration is a critical element of caring for a deceased person in a dignified, appropriate and respectful manner’, they concur with SAIF’s recommendations that a mere ratio of 1:50 is acceptable (1 refrigerated space per 50 funerals)! 

This does not fill me with confidence going forward, particularly as your working groups are heavily represented by these trade associations and large corporations, that obviously benefit from such loose and misleading regulations.  It is very clear to me that any regulation of the industry should be entirely independent and not decided by stakeholders.  For a start an independent ombudsman should be reinstated so that when things do go wrong, consumers have somewhere to turn to.

My recommendation would be the following: to focus on the protecting the bereaved and their families/friends and not the funeral director

Instead of regulations, I believe it would be more productive and successful to produce an ethical code of conduct.  In 7 years, SAIF did not once inspect my mortuary or any of our funeral processes or procedures.  The inspection would consist of a cosy chat in the office and the advice to ensure that a ‘no smoking’ sign is displayed somewhere visible. 

Because of this lack of scrutiny, it has become easy for funeral directors to act to suit their own interests.  These are a few examples of things that happen ROUTINELY in many businesses, that we see and hear about on a DAILY basis:

  • families given funeral dates 4/5 weeks after death to suit the diaries of the funeral directors
  • routine embalming (often without permission) to avoid having to use refrigeration
  • moving bodies about without permission from families to off-site storage units or for viewing purposes
  • inadequate or no refrigeration at premises
  • embalming taking place with inadequate facilities (bodies on the floor)
  • overselling of funeral products
  • huge mark ups on products
  • funeral directors giving funeral quotes based on the type of car the consumer has
  • tacit agreements with care homes/hospices to provide services for free in return for referrals
  • limited time set for funeral arrangements (sometimes 40 mins)
  • rewards/penalties for funeral plan or memorial selling
  • clothes intended to dress the person who has died placed in the coffin still in the bag presented by the family
  • THE LIST COULD GO ON…..

I can only hope that as you are independent as chair of this committee, that my letter might lead you explore some of these concerns and take them seriously.

Thank you for your time,

Kind regards,

 

Jo Williamson

 

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