The GFG is delighted to have been invited to join representatives of various organisations on a working group to look at the role of funeral celebrants.
We’ve called this working group the Funeral Celebrancy Council and last week the FCC spoke to hundreds of celebrants at the second National Celebrant Convention about the work we’ve been doing so far.
More information about the FCC is below, but for now, we’d like to ask for your help if you are a celebrant who carries out funeral ceremonies.
One of the aims of the FCC is to obtain some realistic statistics. There is very little data about funeral celebrancy, so we are running a survey to try and gather accurate information.
The link can be found here – https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/FuneralCelebrancySurvey2018 and it takes less than 10 minutes to complete.
You don’t need to give your name or identify yourself in any way, but your input will help us build a picture of what is happening out there in funeralworld.
Thanks very much in advance!
About the Funeral Celebrancy Council
The Association of Independent Celebrants
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.
The chaps over at Beyond have detailed their thoughts about some of the responses to the recent Competition and Markets Authority Funerals Market Study. Specifically, the responses from the National Association of Funeral Directors and Dignity PLC.
NB Beyond say in their introduction that they have a ‘few critiques’ concerning these submissions – it looks like once they started, they were on a roll, as the piece runs to over 5,000 words with a number of helpful tables to illustrate their points.
We thought readers of the blog might be interested in a) the responses to the CMA’s invitation for comments, all of which can be seen here, and b) Beyond’s critique of the responses from the NAFD and Dignity PLC, which can be seen in full here.
We have to confess, we haven’t read all the responses yet. The CMA has been uploading them in batches and we’ve only managed to plough through the first tranche, but we’ll be setting aside an afternoon to read the rest as soon as other commitments allow.
Hats off to Beyond for reading, analysing and voicing their observations about the content of the responses from two of the major contributors.
We thought this comment deserved elevating to a post in its own right. So here it is. (Sorry about the illustration of a female in pink shorts as a reader though, we’re pretty sure it’s not an accurate depiction but it’s the best we could find).
‘Although this piece isn’t about “Quality and standards” and “Regulation” it is about the Dignity business.
I’ve long since ‘had it’ with the constant media spiel that Dignity dispenses, Nothing other than a total smokescreen aimed solely for the benefit of City Institutions/Brokers/Pension funds etc etc. who are only interested in profits, reducing overheads plus a healthy balance sheet, who on the whole know absolutely nothing about the Funeral and Cremation Industry. Those actively involved all of course employ ‘Analyst people’ with an interest in economics, figures whatever who regularly run a line over Dignity’s figures, i.e. expensively employed ‘bean-counters’. Those Dignity figures will tell them one thing only, exactly how Dignity are performing. What this doesn’t do of course is to give any idea of what the remainder of the Industry are up to. Said Analysts etc should spend an equal amount of time in looking at this excellent blog since without it, how can any comparisons be drawn……………….?
Consistently Dignity have taken a swipe at the Independent opposition by using the term “fragmented” without ever explaining the use of that term. Put simply, following results last year and earlier this year (together with the Share Price tanking) Dignity realised that they had to do something and as ever that involves a mandate in favour of an expensive Management Consultancy outfit, since that’s the sort of mandate that the Square Mile expects, Corporate Governance you know and again adding to the costs of a Funeral…………………….
Let’s have a look at their Crematoria as it’s not just the pure Funeral side of the business that I suggest is alos suffering, it will not be long (if not already) that they start to feel a real pinch in this area. For many years no new Crematoriums were built but over the past 10 + years, thanks to Westerleigh and Memoria that position has significantly changed. Take the fairly new Cromer Crem as an example, this has a forecast 1000 funerals pa. Previously the nearest Crem or should I say Crem’s were both in Norwich, both owned by Dignity. We all know that the standard Dignity Crem fee is approx £999 so that’s an almost certain annual loss in turnover of £1M from those two locations alone. Memoria also have another operation (Waveney Memorial Park) south east of Norwich which must have added to the ‘Cromer loss’. All in all Dignity must be taking a large hit in Norfolk, considerably in excess of the £1M already mentioned
Their Oxford operation I suggest is literally haemorrhaging. A few years ago Memoria opened a new site near Abingdon, all of those funerals would previously have taken place at Oxford. This operation, the South Oxon Crem (shows as per their diary,) 21 funerals during the coming week, admittedly an exceptional amount and 11 next week. Assuming 800 funerals pa, that’s another £800K that’s not rolling into Dignity’s coffers. Meanwhile down in East Devon, the now mature Southern Co-op funded East Devon Crem has taken a considerable amount of funerals away from what was a very busy Dignity operation in Exeter. That site alone has probably taken 500 funeral pa from Dignity. Basingstoke is another. The recently opened Test Valley Crem near Romsey has almost certainly affected Basingstoke, say 450 pa (and possibly more)
I’ve highlighted five Dignity Crem’s, which have almost certainly in total shown a Revenue downturn pa of at least £3M, probably more. Memoria and Weterleigh Crem’s are all cheaper than Dignity, so it’s not just the Dignity Funeral side that’s having a marked effect on ‘Funeral Poverty’, it’s their Crem’s too. I suggest that said Analysts may care to take this into account as well since the number of new Crem’s being built will almost certainly not decrease. Dignity have a monopoly/near monopoly with their Crem’s located in the Brighton, Chichester, Crawley and Leatherhead areas, all very busy but are at risk to new ‘operations’
I ‘sped read’ through the recent media hype that they’ve issued, gawd how much did that cost……….. There’s something about under-performing Branches and something else about separating the Branches from the Mortuary/Vehicle bases, Funny that, since I thought that that had always been their business model. And on under-performing Branches this is a ‘token offering’ to the Square Mile, those that current “u-p” are exactly the same as those that did, say five years ago, their under-performance has been mollified by consistently large price increases across the board. I know who some of them are and would be really surprised if there are more than 30% of the entire Dignity Branches who are significantly profitable. The plain truth is that what’s happened to Dignity during the past twelve or so months had been a long time coming, a very long time and the Management have surely been fairly arrogant during this time, in that “…..it cannot happen to us….”. Prices have consistently been ramped up to a level which cannot be justified and for whatever reason they just hadn’t accepted the power of the web and the constant on-line flow of information re prices etc from opponents, that’s pure arrogance in itself. Going back to “Corporate Governance”, the current main Board have seven members, there’s only one who has long term experience of the Industry, I suggest that they’re no more connected to the Industry than your average daily commuter
Where is the business going…………….? Can it go any further – closing a few Branches here and there makes no difference, surely they cannot increase the Crem fees again…….? It’s a massive business with much middle management. I could go on I really could……
There’s an additional dimension which never seems to be mentioned regarding the level of a Dignity funeral and the knock on effects that this has towards “funeral poverty”. Put simply, with Dignity feeling that they can keep their prices at X and X for the different aspects of a Funeral and if the ‘market’ continues to accept them, then it’s pure logic that other Corporates (who are also based in or around Dignity Branches) feel that they can also charge those amounts. On this blog, Co-operative Funeralcare have made a number of appearances, the third largest Corporate i.e. Funeral Partners have to date made just the five appearances on here. FP have grown significantly during the five or so years and seem to be in very much an ‘avaricious expansion mode’ with 160 shops (or thereabouts) to be precise. Clearly no ‘mom and pop business’. FP are no different than Dignity or F’care when it comes to on-line pricing, in fact they appear to be the most secretive. Later this week I’ll be posting on here current prices for both Dignity and FP for Funerals in the same location. Two highlights (sic) will be the cost of a local removal and for supplying a hearse. I’ll also throw into the mix, comparable prices from a mature local Independent
Finally I had intended to write something along these lines six or so months ago but as the ‘Dignity Plc issue’ per se has again appeared on here, felt that this was a good a time as any to go into print.’
Before writing, we spent some time looking for the full report online, unsuccessfully.
Last night, Dignity kindly sent us a link to the full report which can now be found here.
Plus assurances, which we have absolutely no reason to doubt, that the research was thorough and independently conducted.
A piece also appeared yesterday in the News and Media section of the Dignity Corporate website with the corresponding press release that had been picked up by the Daily Mail and the Guardian in previous days and informed their articles – see it here.
It seems that the PR department at Dignity works 7 days a week – and also keeps a close eye on the GFG blog at weekends.
We have thanked them for furnishing us with the full report and are glad to see it now in the public domain.
PS Were GFG blog readers aware that apparently ‘Consumers expect the cars FDs use to be Jaguars, Mercedes or Daimlers and to be 2 – 5 years old’? No, us neither.
Well, well, well.
The people in the Dignity press department are having a busy summer. Two national newspapers have published findings from the recent report commissioned by the funeral giant that operates under ‘over 500 distinct local brands with varying levels of local brand equity’ (source Dignity Investor Presentation June 2018).
Here’s a line from the article in the Daily Mail: ‘Around a third of funeral directors belong to chains such as Co-operative and Dignity, which commissioned the report and are not criticised in it.’
Apart from the pretty poor grammar, this is hardly a world shattering revelation – if you pay to commission a report on the industry you are a big player in, you’re unlikely to be seeking to find criticism of your own practice. No, this report is clearly part of the strategy to position Dignity as the leading industry provider of facilities and standards of care for the deceased, and is part of their response to the perceived threat to market share and ongoing ‘volume erosion’. As outlined in the Investor Presentation, ‘the combination of increased price competition and more demanding consumers requires a new approach.’
(That and the calamitous fall in Dignity’s share price precipitated by last year’s investment report by Beyond perhaps?)
And from the article in The Guardian ‘None of the 75 funeral companies visited by anonymous researchers for the report allowed access to their mortuaries.’
Well, why would they? How were these 75 funeral companies approached, and by whom? Would you want the funeral director looking after a relative to let a journalist have access to the mortuary where your relative was being cared for?
For the record, we ask all companies applying for Good Funeral Guide accreditation whether they would be willing to let clients or potential clients see the facilities where dead people are cared for. All would, with varying stipulations to ensure the privacy of the people in their care. And we go and visit them ourselves to make sure that we’d be willing to have one of our relatives looked after by each company we recommend.
Anyway, that’s by the by. Back to the Dignity PR.
Unfortunately, the ‘Time to talk about quality and standards’ report cited in the press doesn’t appear to be in the public domain, so there’s no way of knowing details of how the findings reported in the press were arrived at. Suffice it to say, the intended result seems to have been achieved, with Dignity positioning itself as the voice of the righteous, campaigning against shocking standards of cowboy funeral directors and calling for strong regulation of the industry.
In a statement earlier this year, Dignity CEO Mike McCollum said “We will also continue to demonstrate industry leadership by seeking the regulated market that will be good for clients and society and which plays to our strengths as a compliant and well managed business.”
The regulated market that plays to Dignity’s strengths is not quite the shape of regulation that we’d like to see being implemented.
Regulation in the right form is something to be welcomed, but regulation that would impose stringent barriers to entry into the funeral market (as intimated by Dignity as being the preferred option) is something to be resisted at all costs if, as a society we want to have the freedom to choose bespoke, creative and emotionally intelligent people to help us look after our dead.
Dignity have been undergoing an operating review with the help of LEK Consulting, which has resulted in a 3 year transformation plan involving separating front of house (client facing staff) and back of house (funeral directors, funeral service operators) to enable ‘specialisation and efficiency gains’. The former are involved with ‘client meetings and funeral arrangement, in branch pre need sales and viewings of the deceased’, while the latter are responsible for the collection and ongoing care of the deceased and the delivery of the funeral on the day.’
‘Optimisation of network footprint’ is another aim – involving rationalising locations with low performance or highly overlapping catchments and changing the operating model from 120+ networks with 5 branches per network to 70 networks with 10+ branches per network, and centralising operations where appropriate, e.g. mortuaries and fleet.
Investors have been assured that the Group has concluded that a future outlook of stable, comparable market share should be achievable through a combination of service, price and promotion, the latter illustrated by a key phrase from the Investor Presentation regarding future branding – the intent is for ‘marketing to promote Dignity’s commitment to high standards of care, quality service delivery and competitive entry prices’.
So far, so slick.
Congratulations LEK Consulting. And undoubtedly a nice welcome for the newly appointed but as yet unannounced Transformation Director who has ‘significant experience driving organisational change at major UK retailers’ and who will sit on the Dignity Executive board and report directly to CEO Mike McCollum.
The key message of Dignity being the saviour of standards in the funeral industry has been planted.
Time will tell whether bereaved families will be persuaded by the highly polished Dignity PR campaign, or whether instead people will seek out personalised service from local, independent, flexible and intelligent small businesses. The type of businesses where they can meet the people who will collect and care for their relative, have personal contact day or night with the owner, and know that their dead person won’t be shipped off to a centralised mortuary miles away.
We await the findings of the Competition and Markets Authority market study into the funeral sector with interest. As, we are sure, do the powers that be at Dignity PLC.
Our good friends at Life. Death. Whatever. have written a brilliant piece today about the current shock / horror media coverage of the advertising campaign for a funeral price comparison website that was rejected by Transport for London because of the potentially offensive nature of the adverts.
Read it here.
We echo everything said in the piece, and by Louise in her interview this morning on the BBC World Service ‘World Update’ programme – listen here (starts at 48.25)
Guest post by Louise Winter
Over time, we have received a number of well informed comments on a post written back in February 2017 on Ecolation, the supposedly innovative alternative to cremation.
It became apparent that we, along with many others, had been taken in by a sales pitch for something that wasn’t at all what it seemed.
The slick PR and the glossy website didn’t materialise into anything.
Fortunately, unlike others, the GFG didn’t have any money to invest in the promises that seemed so plausible when we visited the Dublin HQ, so it’s just embarrassment at having been fooled that we’re nursing now, not an empty bank account.
So we would like to say a public thank you and pay tribute to ‘Mary’, who has been indefatigable in her pursuit of the facts and the source of all the additional information which resulted in her latest comment on the blog post yesterday, including an excerpt from an article in The Sunday Times on July 8th, detailing the sorry end of this pipe dream.
We have reprinted Mary’s comment below to save you looking it up.
‘From the Sunday Times, July 8 2018, “Put on ice” :
“… Last month, the High Court Judge Deirdre Murphy ordered that Ecolegacy should be wound up and a liquidator should investigate payments made to Ennis and Brian McKimm, the company’s erstwhile chief operating officer who was formerly bankrupt in Northern Ireland.
Ecolegacy was “brought to its knees … by the mismanagement and intransigence of Tony Ennis” and the potential misappropriation of company funds, said the judge. The ecolation unit in the company’s west Dublin warehouse cost 2.2m euro but is not fit for purpose and is worth about 300,000 euros as spare parts.”
I wonder how they spent 2.2m euro on an “ecolation” unit and how, with no possible product to carry out the process in the manner described in the sci-fi video, the whole thing could ever have ended other than with ecoLegacy on its knees.
And they never even had planning permission to do it on so much as a pork chop.
Deirdre Murphy should be impressed that Anthony Ennis did not follow entirely in the footsteps of Susanne Wiigh-Masak’s footsteps – the high priestess of Promession. She supported the notion of people putting Promession in their wills and several were held in deep freezers for many years after their death while the relatives hoped that the promised imminent arrival of a promator in Sweden would permit them to give their deceased loved ones their wished for disposal method. She campaigned tirelessly for them to remain in freezers rather than be forcibly buried when the Swedish state withdrew the exemption because the promator was not materialising. But, like Mr Ennis, she never came up with the goods.
It seems from this article that Mr Ennis instead focused his energies on wealthy live Americans keen to invest in his “thriving” venture.
Here’s the link to the detailed article.’
It’s been twenty five years since the inspirational Ken West MBE opened the very first natural burial ground at Carlisle cemetery, and here at GFG Towers we felt that this landmark anniversary needed to be acknowledged. Members of the Good Funeral Guild felt so too, and, under gentle pressure from Stephen Laing we have co-opted fellow Guild members Emma Curtis and Sarah Weller to help us organise a celebratory day to commemorate Ken’s achievement at the beautiful, iconic Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey on Sunday September 9th, between 10.00 and 17.00.
Since 1993 when the very first natural burial took place, over 300 sites around the UK have been opened, and countless thousands of people have chosen this gently, environmentally responsible alternative to cremation or traditional burial. Despite this, natural burial lags behind in the statistics, being the choice of only around 1% of the population, which we think is a real shame. We’d love to help raise awareness of natural burial generally, so this celebratory day is a starting point for us. Watch this space for further developments.
In the meantime, the event on Sunday 9th September will be open to everyone to attend, with an opportunity to explore the fabulous historic Brookwood Cemetery as a bonus. The London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company was established in 1852 to provide ‘a great metropolitan cemetery situated in the suburbs, large enough to contain all of London’s dead for ever’, in response to great public concern about the state of London’s cemeteries. Two years later, Brookwood Cemetery was opened and the London Necropolis Railway ran between Waterloo station and two private stations in the cemetery, carrying coffins and mourners directly into the cemetery grounds. Since then, over 240,000 people have been buried here, and the cemetery is a hidden wonder of beautiful landscaping, quietly fading memorials and mausolea, immaculate military cemeteries and gems such as the only Zoroastrian cemetery in Europe and the St. Edward Brotherhood, a small Orthodox Christian monastery.
Set in the heart of Brookwood Cemetery is the natural burial area, Gillian’s Meadow, and it is here that we will be gathering to commemorate the establishment of natural burial as a viable alternative to the existing funeral choices. The Open Day will run from 10.00 until 17.00, and along with the ceremonial tree planting, there will be activities throughout the day to encourage guests to explore incorporating nature and ritual in their end of life decisions.
Death cafe picnics will run alongside rustic crafts, mandala and garland making, story telling,message writing and a ‘Time to Altar Grief’ installation, there will be a book tent where you can browse through all kinds of books on death and funerals, a chance to meet and chat with people working in the funeral industry who can answer any questions you might have, an opportunity to see a grave prepared for a natural burial, and Sound in the Woodland. We will also be offering Forest Bathing walks, allowing the opportunity to learn about the healing benefits of being among trees and nature, in the perfect setting. Bring a picnic and a rug and come and spend the day immersed in the beauty of Brookwood.
It will be a wonderful day, commemorating a hugely important movement inspired a quarter of a century ago by the brave innovation of Ken West and Carlisle City Council. We’ll be inviting all of the UK natural burial site owners and operators to come along and join us in acknowledgement of Ken’s influence, as well as local dignitaries and friends of Brookwood Cemetery. Members of the Good Funeral Guild will be coming along too, and the day will be open to the public to come and be part of.
Oh, and there will be cake. Lots of cake. With a very special centrepiece cake created by Conjurer’s Kitchen.
Details about Going Green at Brookwood can be found on Facebook here.