A sensitive touch at a difficult time

Regulation and training ensure one of the most difficult days of anyone's life can go smoothly for the bereaved. Picture: Getty

Regulation and training ensure one of the most difficult days of anyone's life can go smoothly for the bereaved. Picture: Getty

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As the Scottish Government moves to regulate the funeral industry, Paul Cuthell says existing standards are working

IT is a little known fact that anyone can open a funeral home. You don’t need qualifications, experience or even the right attitude towards dealing with the bereaved. Anyone can do it.

Not that everyone does, of course. But we have seen, down the years, examples of people thinking they can make a quick buck or an easy living before realising that running a funeral home is nothing of the sort.

By then the damage has been done. Damage to the bereaved, who have received shoddy service at a highly vulnerable time. And damage by association to the funeral industry, which is proud of its reputation. This is why all NAFD members adhere to a strict code of practice and professional standards, and why, while we support regulation, we believe proposed government regulation is unnecessary.

Last year, in the report from the Infant Cremation Commission, Lord Bonomy made 64 recommendations, many of which are being looked at by the newly established National Cremation Committee. Some recommendations require legislative change and last month the Scottish Government published proposals for a bill relating to burials and cremations.

Among the many issues the proposal covered, it has raised the question of whether regulation of the funeral industry in Scotland should be introduced. It suggested licensing the industry and the introduction of an inspectorate to ensure funeral directors’ are meeting consistent minimum standards of practice and that training needs are met.

Pointing at examples of regulation in other countries such as Canada, Australia and America, it also conceded that the practice is not widespread and that the process in Scotland would be “large and costly”.

The good news is that many of the things the Scottish Government is looking to implement already exist within the NAFD membership rules and regulations, and therefore do not need to be imposed twice, if you like.

Representing 80 per cent of funeral directors across the UK, we fully support regulation and we already have a strong Code of Practice that ensures the highest standards are met when dealing with customers and there is clarity of information in respect of prices, estimates, final accounts and marketing.

This Code of Practice runs alongside an updated Code of Professional Standards, introduced last year. These standards are rigorously imposed and strictly enforced. In fact, the Association has recently increased its full-time quality assessment staff to four, the most senior of whom is based in the west of Scotland.

A successful and effective independent client redress scheme is already in place, so by being part of the Association, companies are bound by these standards and the public can visit any of our members with confidence.

We accept that in some people’s eyes self-regulation can be seen as non-regulation, as a tick box or back-patting exercise, but nothing could be further from the truth – hence the independent Funeral Arbitration Scheme, which seeks resolution and has a range of sanctions if required. The scheme is run through IDRS Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution and all members are bound by its decisions.

We know that training was an issue raised by Lord Bonomy and sits high on the Government’s agenda. The NAFD operates two Diplomas, in funeral arranging and administration, and funeral directing, both of which are accredited by One Awards. It has also recently launched a new funeral awareness course, an online course aimed at anyone wishing to find out more about the industry or seeking a route into it.

The NAFD already has strong links with Holyrood and Westminster – we are currently holding roadshows in partnership with the Scottish Government, disseminating information to all Scottish funeral directors on the new death certification legislation coming into operation shortly – and we would be delighted to work in conjunction with the government on our codes in order to help bind the profession together, but with such stringent self-regulation policies already in place there seems no requirement or appetite within the industry for extra layers, which by the government’s admission are expensive and already exist.

The public can play a major part in this. By selecting an NAFD member when choosing a funeral director, you are selecting the industry quality mark and can be guaranteed these high standards, while at the same time helping put the bad operators, those who do not provide the guaranteed high levels of service, out of the way.

Ministers are taking on a large challenge and one which, as the standard bearer of the funeral industry, we will work closely on to give them every assistance we can. They must consider that any Code of Practice they introduce must be meaningful and strongly enforced, as it is already by the NAFD. With those parameters already in place, one step down from government regulation would be self-regulation with ministerial guidance, which would appear to be the more sensible and cost effective solution for all concerned.

Paul Cuthell is president of the National Association of Funeral Directors www.nafd.org.uk

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