Don’t wrap funeral directors in red tape

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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Proposed laws shun industry body, writes Paul Cuthell

Following the appointment of Robert Swanson, Scotland’s first Inspector of Crematoria, eyes now turn to what the Scottish Government intends to do in terms of regulating the funeral industry.

The Scottish Government is looking at updating the laws relating to burial, cremation and funeral provision. It is anticipated that ministers will not go down the route of agreeing to a similar appointment – an Inspector who specifically covers funeral directors – but are looking very closely at introducing a licensing scheme requiring every funeral director to be registered and abide by a new, statutory code of practice.

As part of the cross-party Funeral and Bereavement group at Holyrood, the National Association of Funeral Directors has been heavily involved in the consultation process, and as such we have been heavily scrutinising the proposals to ensure that our members’ voices are well heard and that we are acting in their best interests.

Regulation seems to the NAFD to be unnecessary given that our association represents 80 per cent of funeral directors in the UK and all our members already have to abide by a strict code of practice and also a code of professional standards. An independent redress scheme provides enough checks and balances to ensure that the funeral industry is operated responsibly and with the best interests of the bereaved at heart.

The loophole is of course that this current self-regulation, which also includes biennial inspections and regular accredited training opportunities, is only enforceable if a funeral director is a member of the NAFD. If a funeral director is not a member, it does not prevent them from being able to trade.

The most sensible answer would be for ministers to insert into the new legislation being considered a demand that all funeral directors are members of a trade association and are therefore subject to the kind of robust protocols that NAFD members abide by. They ensure high standards whilst reassuring the public that dealing with an NAFD member means they are getting an assurance of quality and an independent auditor in the rare circumstance that something should not be to their satisfaction.

We believe that by the government forcing all funeral directors to become part of a trade association, any rogue traders would quickly be weeded out.

Legally-binding registration and a new code of conduct will only serve to add to the bureaucracy and paperwork that funeral directors will be subjected to when there is already a perfectly robust system in place.

Regulation also comes at a price. It will involve licence fees and other costs which will add to the rising costs of funerals and prove an unnecessary financial burden on the bereaved.

There is little being proposed by ministers that hasn’t already been implemented by the association, and we do not feel that simply adding another layer of bureaucracy adds value for the bereaved families who rely on receiving the very best service possible.

Mr Swanson’s role includes ensuring that Cremation Authorities are adhering to current legislation and best practice, responding to complaints from the public about cremations and the inspection of cremation registers and other statutory documentation to ensure they are being completed and maintained appropriately.

Although we support his role in the cremation sector, we have our reservations when it comes to adopting a similar role in the funeral sector.

The government, with which we maintain a strong working relationship, is looking at establishing a national framework that sits above the NAFD code of practice, which members would still have to abide by with the same threat of sanction in place.

We understand that ministers want to ensure consumer protection covering all funeral directors, and we support that.

However, it makes greater sense for them to team up with the NAFD to offer our existing codes of practice and professional standards rather than writing their own and insisting on everyone abiding by separate ones.

Paul Cuthell is the immediate past president of the National Association of Funeral Directors