The NAFD has a new CEO

 

 

 

We were pleased to receive an e-mail recently advising us that the National Association of Funeral Directors has appointed an interim CEO, some four months since the role became vacant.

It’s been quite a while without a steady hand at the NAFD tiller, and taking on the tasks that would normally be the responsibility of the CEO must have been immensely demanding on the current president, Alison Crake, her vice presidents and the officer team. We’re sure that they are all very pleased to have the esteemed Graham Lymn come on board to step into the empty CEO shoes, albeit temporarily.

As part of his role, Mr. Lymn will be assisting the Officer team with recruitment of a permanent incumbent and providing an extensive handover, enabling the new recruit to quickly understand the unique challenges of the funeral industry.’

We presume that this won’t take up all of Mr. Lymn’s time over the next six to nine months, so, from an interested outside observer’s point of view, we’d like to offer some suggestions of other areas that we think would be really productive for him to focus on, to help make the ‘Voice of the Profession’ relevant in today’s rapidly changing world of funerals.

 

  • The All Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement. Open this up to others, not just the NAFD and their paid secretariat, Brevia. In an age when there are so many challenges facing bereaved people and the funeral profession, it is completely wrong that the only group in Parliament discussing these subjects is controlled and dominated by a single organisation, representing the interests of funeral directors. There needs to be collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure bereaved people are better served.

 

  • The NAFD Code of Practice. Develop a code of practice that truly benefits clients of NAFD members. Areas to cover? A clear stance on price comparison websites, and a definition of a ‘simple funeral’ that all members should be required to offer as a start.

 

  • The NAFD complaints procedure: Give teeth to this for clients who have been poorly served by members. How many companies have had their membership suspended or revoked after serious complaints? If this sanction is not ever applied, then the complaints procedure is pretty pointless.

 

  • Show leadership. Stop sitting on the fence on big issues, whether relating to transparency of ownership, new entrants to the sector (e.g. local authorities and hospices), direct cremation specialists or funeral poverty. Also, members having prices available online – the NAFD stated hope for 70% of NAFD members to have some or all their prices online by 2019 is pitiful, it should be 100%, this year.

 

  • Introduce external expertise on its executive committee to help it develop a conversation with the wider public and understand the world beyond the narrow focus of practicing funeral directors.

 

  • Develop a new vision for the Social Fund Funeral Payment. Repeated statements calling for an increase in the payment may ease the association’s conscience but do nothing to help people struggling to pay for a funeral. A new solution is needed. The NAFD is well-placed to lead on this.

 

  • Look at membership fees. Expecting a self-employed celebrant to pay the same full fees for supplier membership (currently £455 p.a.) as coffin manufacturing companies and large groups of private cemeteries is completely unrealistic. To build a broad supporter base, engaging individuals from all areas involved with provision of funerals, a tiered system of membership fee is long overdue. Alongside this, monitoring the unauthorised use of the NAFD supplier logo by individual members of organisations (who haven’t paid for the membership themselves) would also be welcomed.

 

  • Introduce an assistance fund. A levy on NAFD membership and income from other events such as NFE could pay into an assistance fund for families struggling to meet the cost of paying for a funeral. (This could be administered by a new member of staff, whose salary could be found by ending the payment to Brevia for running the APPG secretariat and opening attendance to other organisations who could contribute towards the funding of the APPG.)

 

  • Create a robust framework that would safeguard the association and its staff and members from falling victim to personal agendas and vested interests. For example, putting a limit on terms for voluntary officers to prevent trenchant points of view dominating the association’s conversations with external parties.

 

 

 

Low Cost Funeral Director of the Year

15-lucy-coulbert-low-cost-provider

Lucy Coulbert of Coulbert Family Funerals

Having geared her business specifically to help families of limited means arrange dignified and respectful funerals, Lucy was the only funeral director in England and Wales to give evidence to the 2016 DWP Bereavement Benefits Enquiry.

Lucy gives a 100% customer-focused service, unconstrained by the traditions of funeral service. In an industry which sets great store by conformity and mystique, Lucy is somewhat of a maverick. She does what she believes to be right and pays no heed to gainsayers.

She is at the forefront of a new, open way of doing things and her practice is a beacon to anyone contemplating establishing their own funeral business. She has been brave and outspoken and richly deserves this recognition.

Lucy has committed herself to supporting people of limited means, helping them create an affordable funeral. Funeral poverty has become a major issue in these times of austerity. Lucy created Coulbert Family Funerals to exclusively help people applying to the DWP for financial help paying for a funeral.

In the furtherance of the cause of combatting funeral poverty, Lucy gave evidence the Bereavement Benefits enquiry conducted by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) this year giving both oral and written evidence about the causes of, and solutions to, funeral poverty with Baroness Altmann and the DWP. She was the only person asked to attend all three meetings in the capacity of a funeral director.

Lucy is highly responsive to what her clients ask for. She publishes all her prices online, thereby achieving a transparency that all funeral directors would do well to emulate.

Lucy said: “I help people arrange the funeral they want in the way they want, and I do so in the most ethical way I can. I listen to what people want and don’t try to push them into having things they don’t want or need.”

 

Runner Up in this Category: Funerals on a Budget

Pauper-bashing?

FREE FUNERALS HERE!

I bet you’ve never seen a banner outside your local registrar’s office with those words on it.

Because the free (aka public health) funeral is, if not a well-kept secret, not something councils bang on about. Its minimalist aesthetic might make it irresistibly attractive to the middle classes.

Seriously, the public health funeral enables us to absolve ourselves of the task of disposing of the body of kinsperson for whom, for whatever reason, we feel no responsibility, whether or not they did or didn’t, could or couldn’t, put aside enough money to pay for their funeral.

The public health funeral also enables those of us of limited means to say: I haven’t got the dough and I don’t want to get into debt over this; you do it. In these days of ‘funeral poverty’ the public health funeral offers a lifeline for an increasing number of people. Here at the GFG we always invite people of limited means to consider it — so much better than falling prey to a loan shark. The overall number of people who opt for it remains strikingly low, however. It doesn’t yet present a fiscal threat to austerity-stricken councils… but it could if more people knew about it. So it has to be in the interest of a local authority to dissuade people from availing themselves of a public health funeral. More anon. Stick with it.

The legal responsibility on a local authority to dispose of its dead is contained in the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 PIII S21. It states:

It shall be the duty of a local authority to cause to be buried or cremated the body of any person who has died or been found dead in their area, in any case where it appears to the authority that no suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body have been or are being made otherwise than by the authority.

You notice that the Act only uses the word ‘duty’ in respect of the local authority. What about the duty incumbent on the next-of-kin? Is there such a thing?

Well, yes and no.

There is a common law ‘duty to bury’. Because it’s common law it’s not written down and its origins lie somewhere in the mists of time. In 1840 Chief Justice Denman passed this this judgement:

“We have no doubt … that the common law casts on someone the duty of carrying to the grave, decently covered, the dead body of any person dying in such a state of indigence as to leave no funds for that purpose.”

Oh right, m’lud, and who might that someone be?

“It would seem that the individual under whose roof a poor person dies is bound to carry the body decently covered to the place of burial.” 

It’s the householder’s responsibility, that’s whose. And it is as a householder within the meaning of the law, believe it or not, that a hospital accepts responsibility for disposing of paupers who expire on its premises. Does this mean that if you invite a broken-down gentleman of the road into your house and he expires in your kitchen as the kettle boils, you will be expected to fund his funeral? Seems unlikely, doesn’t it?

Not if you’re Brent council, it doesn’t. Brent council (Labour) has no wish to fund more public health funerals than it has to.  In its Framework in respect of the responsibility owed by the local authority to provide financial assistance and / or arrangement of Funerals (2013) it points to “the duty at common law to arrange for a proper disposal of a dead body.” This duty, it says, “falls primarily upon the executors of the deceased.”

Interesting idea. We’ll come back to that.

There’s no doubting the right of a council to reclaim funeral expenses from the estate of the deceased, if there’s anything in it. But from a living person?

Brent thinks so. It thinks it can go after people other than the executor, too. In the event of its having to arrange a public health funeral:

“the Council should notify the next of kin or anyone appointed to act on behalf of the deceased (e.g. Power of Attorney, deputy or financial representative) of the debt and refer this immediately to legal services so that consideration can be given to initiating civil debt recovery proceedings either against the estate or an executor personally if appropriate.”

The council does not intend to pursue householders, you notice, though it correctly assigns responsibility to a hospital to arrange disposal: “where the death occurs in a hospital, the hospital authority is liable, as the person on whose premises the body is situated, to arrange for the burial or cremation of the deceased patient.”

So what about those acting with Power of Attorney or as deputies? Memo to Brent: they are absolved of all responsibility as soon as the person they represent dies (doh). Makes sense, doesn’t it? No, Brent, there’s no coming after them. Nor the financial representative because that is not a meaningful term.

What about executors? Bit of a moving target, I fear. Nominated executors, sadly, cannot be held to their duty and forced to assume the legal status of executor. On the contrary, executors may resign at any time — eg, when the letter from Brent council flops through the letterbox.

Next-of-kin? I have searched high and low for any instance where any nok was ever brought to trial for refusing to accept their ‘duty to bury’. I have searched in vain. I think we can accept that as duties go it is redundant. After all, it’s not so long ago that the estate of Robert Lenkiewecz was allowed by a court of law to retain ownership of the unburied corpse of Diogenes.

Nope, the ‘duty to bury’ is obsolete and has no teeth. Prove me wrong, Brent.

In conclusion, therefore, it seems to me that the Brent has no right to pursue a claim against an executor personally, nor next of kin, nor anyone appointed to act on behalf of the deceased (e.g. Power of Attorney, deputy or financial representative) nor any other living, breathing person, not even you.

I put this to Brent council. I wrote: “An interpretation of the Framework is that it could intimidate anyone who, for whatever reason, declines to undertake the disposal of a dead person.” That was on 9 Oct. I got an automated reply: “Your request has been received and a  member of our team will respond to you within 5 working days.” On 14 Oct I was flattered by a human response: “Your enquiry has been forwarded to the Registration and Nationality Service. They will aim to respond to you directly within 10 working days.”

On 25 Nov I wrote to remind them. They replied: “We confirm that your message has reached our service today and you should receive a response within five working days.”

Did I heck as like. I’ll keep trying, though.

Funeral poverty: whose fault?

There’s an awful lot of talk just now about the inadequacies and iniquities of the Social Fund Funeral Payment. There’s also a lot of lobbying and campaigning going on to try and fix it.

And a new term is born: funeral poverty.

That the Funeral Payment is presently inadequate and its administration iniquitous is a matter on which all agree. The debate about where we go from here is being held in the context of a social security system which has always been there for people at a time of bereavement.

Until 1988 everyone who had paid their National Insurance stamp got a death grant. Then John Major’s Conservative government brought in the Social Fund Funeral Payment set at a level high enough to ensure that the poor and the disadvantaged could go out and buy themselves a decent funeral.

In 2008, by which time the value of the payment had been devalued by inflation, the Labour government announced, not an increase in, but a redefinition of the payment. Henceforth, the capped sum of £700 was to be seen as a ‘substantial contribution’ only; it was not intended to be sufficient to pay for the entire funeral.

That £700 is now wholly inadequate. Worse still, applications take too long to process and have no certainty of approval. The bereaved now suffer precisely the shame and degradation that the original payment sought to prevent — not to mention the attentions of loan sharks.  You’d think that an organisation like Co-operative Funeralcare (founded by working people for working people) would be doing all it can to mitigate the distress of those in difficulty, but it coldly carries on extracting top dollar — far more than most independents.

The present government wants to reduce dependency on the state. Well, if there’s a dependency culture around funerals, it is of the state’s making.

Which isn’t to say that fecklessness does not play its part in bringing about the predicament that so many bereaved people find themselves in. If people started saving earlier for their funeral, most, probably, would be able to salt away enough to pay for it. But they don’t. They don’t even think to do that. Many don’t save anything at all. And no one’s terrified any more by the ignominy of a pauper’s funeral into stashing away a sum for the simple reason that a pauper’s funeral is not ignominious. 

Though it matters not how much debt a person dies with, their next of kin cannot be held responsible for any of it. And yet failure to make provision for funeral expenses transmits to next of kin a responsibility which has the full force of a debt for which they are responsible. Any person who dies in old age without having made provision for their funeral is wholly spared the consequences. It’s their nearest and dearest who suffer. 

We cannot expect people to save for the funerals of those members of their family who have been unable or have failed to do so.

So: we should not subject them to the humiliations they presently undergo. 

If a simple sense of duty is not enough to impel people to provide for their own disposal, perhaps an element of compulsion is required, together with a radical approach. 

The state has already diversified into moneylending. It lends money to young people to enable them to go to higher education. Why not extend this to funerals? Try this for size:

When a child is born, it is automatically lent, say, £3000 in the form of an untouchable loan which grows at the rate of funeral costs. When that child starts work, repayments are collected via HMRC calculated according to the person’s level of income. Should their income fall below a particular level, repayments are halted. The debt is cancelled when it is discharged or when the borrower reaches a particular age — retirement, perhaps. The sum goes on growing.  When they die, the matured sum is immediately made available to their executor/administrator. 

If anyone should die before their loan is paid off, their executor/administrator would receive the matured sum in full. Everyone would get a decent funeral. Children’s funerals would, of course, be paid for in full by the state. 

The cost to the state would be far less than it is today.

We’d have no longer have any need of funeral plans.

People would live with an enhanced sense of their mortality and the awareness that death can happen at any time. 

Spot the flaw. 

Catch 22 for the disadvantaged

A sad story here, and a sorry end we are likely to see more of. It was a Conservative government that introduced the Social Fund Funeral Payment at a level that ensured that the underprivileged and disadvantaged were not humiliated and marginalised when they had insufficient to pay for a funeral. How times have changed. Public attitudes are becoming increasingly hostile to benefit claimants, so we’ll probably see a lot more of this (extracted from the Oxford Times):

Out of work Michael Walton, 40, lost his brother David, 59, on August 31. But he has not been able to afford to pay the £480 deposit to book a £2,250 funeral with Reeves and Pain funeral directors of Abingdon Road, Oxford.

He has been seeking help from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Social Fund, but will not receive any money until a funeral date is arranged. The funeral directors will not arrange a funeral until a deposit is paid.

A brother and sister from Cowley, aged 51 and 49, with learning difficulties, have found themselves in a similar situation having lost their mother on August 10.

They have been unable to afford the £1,020 deposit needed to arrange the funeral and so far have been unable to obtain funds from the DWP.

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith, a former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said: “The problem is that the social fund won’t pay until the funeral arrangements are under way and the funeral directors won’t arrange funerals until they have received money. For people on low incomes it is a real Catch 22 situation.

In London’s East End, Quaker Social Action’s Down To Earth project is doing great work to enable people on low/no income to arrange affordable funerals — they go to incredible and creative lengths to achieve this.

If government won’t step in to mend this unhappy situation, and in an age of food banks it looks increasingly unlikely that it will, organisations like QSA, working at the community level, look to have their work cut out for the future. 

Sharp rise in Pauper’s funerals

Posted by Vale

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Oliver Twist is in a workhouse somewhere asking for more. It seems extraordinary in 2012 that there are headlines like this in the Daily Telegraph this week, followed by the stark (and slightly ludicrous) quote from Kate Woodthorpe of the University of Bath that it is:

“becoming too expensive for poor people to die”.

The article is based on a joint report between the university and Sun Life Direct and notes that the number of applications rejected for a funeral payment increased by 6.9% and is likely to jump again in the future. Put bluntly funerals are becoming unaffordable for more and more people.

There are issues with the report of course. Sun Life’s interest in shepherding people towards its end of life plans is one. It also includes a great deal of information that deserves more detailed consideration. For the moment though our concern here at GFG has a narrower focus. Let’s go back to the news that, in an age where benefits claimants are routinely stigmatised and welfare support is harder to access, state support for the costs of funerals is shrinking; that the funeral as it is designed, sold and delivered is becoming too expensive for too many; that we are pauperisng people.

As a service (that likes to puff its chest out and call itself an industry) does this news make you feel good about the drive to upsell? Are you comfortable with a lack of transparency about pricing? Do the packages you offer, the lack of flexibility, the way that basic or simple is designed to look mean and cheap fill you with pride?

Are you filled with a drive to change, to build new and more responsive businesses where trustworthy services and products are offered in a culture of respect and openness?

Or do you dust off the top hat and smile to yourselves at the prospect of this new Victorian age?