Every funeral is the most important

BEREAVED families deserve to be treated fairly, says Paul Cuthell
Bereaved families deserve to be treated fairly. Picture: Greg MacveanBereaved families deserve to be treated fairly. Picture: Greg Macvean
Bereaved families deserve to be treated fairly. Picture: Greg Macvean

Earlier this year, the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) launched the Funeral Promise, which all NAFD members must abide by as part of their membership criteria.

As a funeral director myself, and the latest custodian of a long-standing family business, it is a pledge that we take extremely seriously.

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My father has always told me, just as his father and grandfather told him, that you care for a family as if it were your own.

That means that, although it might be one of many funerals we conduct in a month, each funeral to the family concerned is a one-off, something unique and special, and it is our responsibility to treat is as such.

People think that funerals are all the same but they’re not, so the question to funeral directors is why would you treat them as if they are?

Every funeral we do is personal in some way – whether it’s an unusual request for a service or for something to be placed in a coffin, whether it is a very particular ceremony or song choice, or even whether we are asked to stream the service online so that relatives living away can become involved.

To engage and converse with every family, to treat each one differently and to ensure their individual needs are met, is a central plank to the Funeral Promise.

People might say “well, you should be doing that anyway” and they are right. But there’s a difference between funeral directors knowing it and families – who often haven’t dealt with funeral directors before and who do so at a vulnerable time – knowing that when they pick up the telephone or visit, they can expect it, that it is visible and that they have choices.

Areas covered by the Funeral Promise are nothing that many funeral directors haven’t abided by across the 100 years that the NAFD has existed, but during the last year we have updated the Code of Practice and Code of Professional Standards, and it made sense to include, as part of our commitment to the highest standards, something more visible to the general public, to assure them that they have the choice and the right to have the funeral they and their loved one want.

The Funeral Promise gives bereaved families the comfort and confidence that, when dealing with an NAFD member firm – we represent 80 per cent of funeral directors across the UK – they will receive the best possible care.

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Many of the things included you would expect a funeral director to do as a matter of course, but as we see from time to time in the press, sometimes firms fall below that standard, damaging the reputation of the industry as a whole despite being very much in the minority.

Our member firms are trained and regularly assessed against the high standards laid out by the NAFD’s regulatory codes, including the Funeral Promise.

We work closely with any firms failing to meet those standards to help them improve, but continual poor business behaviour can see firms fined or even expelled from the association.

The Funeral Promise includes pledges such as providing a fitting funeral at a price the bereaved family is happy with, to treat families with dignity and respect at all times, to seek and fulfil any special wishes and requests. The last pledge ensures that the family is entitled to independent redress should the need arise.

A natural question would be to ask why, if all funeral directors were so good, is there a need for a promise?

The answer is simple. We believe that bereaved families should know what to expect from their funeral directors from the off, that the director offers transparency and honesty and meets the highest standards possible.

That’s why the NAFD logo, displayed in the front window of all members’ premises, is seen as a kite mark of quality and why we will continue to strive to provide the very highest levels of professionalism and integrity.

The public deserve a funeral they want, they can afford and that is a fitting tribute to their loved one.

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The Funeral Promise goes a long way to ensuring those wishes are fulfilled.

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