The regulation of the funeral industry

Normally that headline would have produced a big yawn and a switch to another post.  But, after the heart-breaking stories emerging from the criminal investigation in Hull, we hope to hold your attention for a little longer.

The very first speech I gave at Conference, back in 1998, was on precisely that subject.

Incidentally I always advise people to plan their first speech at Conference on a niche topic. Some debates scheduled in the “graveyard slot” attract few speakers so the chances of being called are very high. It can be really dispiriting to sit through a long debate on a hot subject waiting to be called – and the call never comes.

As it happens I did know a little bit about the industry, because members of my family have conducted many funeral services between them.

At the time of my speech the concern was that large American companies were buying up small family run funeral businesses, and injecting a stronger profit-making ethos. I had heard of bereaved people, at a highly vulnerable time in their lives, being harassed to buy more expensive coffins and memorial plaques. In contrast, a community based funeral director would know many of the families and provide appropriate and valuable support – indeed their reputation depended on it.

The industry is still not regulated by Government, and, shockingly, that means that anyone can set up themselves up as a funeral director. However, there are two trade bodies:  the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) and the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF), and they do provide a level of protection for the public.  Each has a code of practice. The NAFD Funeral Director Code is a comprehensive, professional code of practice, including a disciplinary procedure, but they recognise that it has no statutory status. SAIF has a similar Code of Practice for members.

You can check out whether a funeral director is a member of either body – here for NAFD and here for SAIF.

My family are fortunate in having a well regarded funeral director nearby, who is a member of NAFD – we have known the owner for many years and his son has now joined him in the business. The son has been a candidate for the Monster Raving Looney Party in local elections, but in spite of that (or maybe because of that) we have still told our family that we want them to organise our funerals.

However, self regulation has its limits because there is no process to sanction businesses who do not sign up to one or other of the trade bodies. And many people trying to arrange a funeral will not think to check out the credentials of local funeral directors.

The scandal surrounding the Legacy Funeral Directors in Hull has been shocking.  Needless to say, they were not a member of either trade body; in fact Legacy resigned from NAFD three years ago.

A local MP, Emma Hardy, has called for regulation and licensing of funeral Directors.  Liberal Democrats should be supporting her.

In 2020 the Competition and Markets Authority published a report with the following recommendation:

The UK government, and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales, should establish in England, Northern Ireland and Wales an inspection and registration regime to monitor the quality of funeral director services, as a first step to the establishment of a broader regulatory regime for funeral services in these nations (Scotland already has a similar regime).

A few months later the Ministry of Justice responded :

The government agrees in principle to a form of registration and inspection and believes that such a move in the long-term would assist in achieving the overall objective of an improved customer experience.

However the timing, in the middle of Covid, was apparently not right, and as far as we can see nothing has been taken forward.

Let’s give the Ministry of Justice a shove. We need regulation now.




* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Hello Mary Reid; thanks for an important piece, the events in Hull are indeed heartbreaking.
    I agree with your point re local community based funeral directors. My Dad was the vicar of suggest parish just west of Durham, obviously he had carried out many funeral services. When he died we went to the funeral directors with whom he’d worked for many years, the service and support we got was second to none and whilst some might suggest this was because, in this case,it was a ‘friend’ and colleague, no, it was because the person concerned had lived and worked in the community for several years and took his responsibilities re funeral service very seriously.

  • Michael Bukola 28th Mar '24 - 9:20pm

    Further regulation would prevent the Industry remaining a ‘closed-shop’ and a rather niche profession to those who seek a career of this kind.. I do have reservations however about the types of institutions suggested for that regulation. I am not sure how much confidence one can have in an industry which has been so parochial in nature for centuries. Former UKIP MEP and twice Party Leader, Jeffrey William Titford is a former President of the NAFD after the family business, Titford & Co, had been in existence since the early 1800’s. Its one of the last remaining ‘legacy’ professions. It certainly doesn’t appear to be very inclusive or diverse in its workforce.

  • As the the industry regulations stand there is nothing preventing from more diverse providers entering the market; perhaps the question should be, given the diversity of our population, why is is this market lacking?

  • Ruth Bright 30th Mar '24 - 9:53am

    The company that did my Dad’s funeral was very diverse and all the more moving that we asked attendants and pall bearers to wear normal clothes of their own choice so it ended up being very bright!! (no pun intended)

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