Funeral code ensures fitting farewells

Code of practice has been introduced to ensure uniformity across the industry. Picture: Paul Parke
Code of practice has been introduced to ensure uniformity across the industry. Picture: Paul Parke
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Agreed standards will provide uniformity in best practice, says Paul Cuthell

MUCH has been written in the past few months about the death and funeral sector, with much of it negative – two reports on historic infant cremations have been published this year – and much of it, with reason, questioning working procedures across the sector.

In terms of funerals, the public have a right to know in the clearest possible terms how their loved ones are treated. Funeral firms aim to set the highest possible standards in order to help families through a traumatic time, and the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) – the funeral profession’s leading trade organisation – takes the lead in ensuring those standards are met.

The NAFD is part of a cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament and has strong links at Westminster. Representing 80 per cent of all UK funeral firms – from large groups to small independents – the association campaigns strongly on issues that affect funeral directors and the bereaved families they serve, whether it is to campaign for an increase in the government’s social fund payment to help the poorer in society afford a funeral; or to rally against the ever-growing list of local authorities that are pushing up the costs of graves and other funeral-related disbursements.

And now, for the first time, members of the NAFD have to adhere to a new code of professional standards, the aim of which is to reassure the public that, in dealing with an NAFD member, they are guaranteed the highest standard of service possible.

It’s important to say at this stage that the new professional standards are not a knee-jerk reaction to the infant cremation reports or any press coverage. It is not the case that things were bad and somehow need fixing. Neither are they there to override any other outside regulations, such as the new independent commission being established by the Scottish Parliament in response to Lord Bonomy’s report.

Many funeral firms already adhere to everything in the code of practice, but it has been introduced to ensure uniformity in best practice right across the industry and to help drive the highest standards possible.

The code has been written in consultation with all members across the United Kingdom and joins a revised version of our existing consumer charter – the NAFD Code of Practice – copies of which are available in all NAFD funeral homes. It covers all aspects of how the funeral business is run, from the fabric of the premises to care of the deceased, and how funeral firms are expected to deal with cremated remains and charitable donations. Much of it is about the “back of house” and the conditions that should be found there, and it also contains information about how donations should be collected and how to store cremated remains.

For example, on the issue of donations, the code details the procedure of how they should be catalogued when left at a branch. For funerals, it states that donations should be collected in a locked box marked with the funeral details. If they are taken back to a funeral director’s premises they should be counted with another member of staff, for independent verification, before being logged.

For the first time, the NAFD’s inspectors will inspect all areas of a funeral director’s premises rather than just the public parts.

The code drills down into the minutiae for a reason – the NAFD has been upholding standards in the UK funeral sector since 1905 and we are committed to continually challenging our members to maintain the highest possible standards.

It is sad to say that while funeral directors provide an important service to all communities, not all firms meet the high standards set by the NAFD.

The NAFD logo is a quality mark, setting our members apart, and the new code of professional standards will further ensure that by choosing a funeral directing firm which is a member of the NAFD, bereaved families can choose an NAFD member in their time of loss with confidence, knowing that their loved one is in safe hands and the funeral director will arrange a funeral that is a fitting farewell.

• Paul Cuthell is national president of the National Association of Funeral Directors