Parliament debates funeral regulation after distressing burial incident

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Jake Berry MP

Independent regulation of funeral director services came under the microscope in Parliament on 17 November with a debate called by Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen.

It followed an incident in his constituency where straps broke while a coffin was being lowered into a grave, causing considerable distress to the family and mourners present.

The funeral director concerned was not a member of a trade body, and it was the discovery that some funeral firms are able to avoid scrutiny which led him to apply for the debate and seek a response from the Ministry of Justice.

While expressing his horror at the incident which he described as “appalling”, Mr Berry was careful to underline “the vast majority of funeral directors provide an exceptional level of service” and the incident was so shocking because of its rarity. He also paid tribute to the “service and sensitivity” of funeral professionals during the pandemic.

Ahead of the debate, the NAFD team briefed key parliamentary figures including the All Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement, whose chair Sir John Hayes attended the debate, the Labour front bench, the Ministry of Justice and Jake Berry MP.

The association also issued the following statement: “Voluntary regulation of standards of care in the funeral sector, by trade bodies, no longer works. The idea that it’s appropriate for funeral directors to inspect other funeral directors is old fashioned and doesn’t cut it in a modern consumer environment. It means too many funeral directors can choose to evade scrutiny by not joining a trade body, which is incredibly frustrating for those responsible firms that are committed to high standards and leaves bereaved people at risk when they are vulnerable.

“The NAFD has already been working for several years to change this, by adopting the recommendations of a 2018 cross-sector review of standards in the sector. The key recommendations of the Funeral Service Consumer Standards Review (FSCSR), which was chaired by former Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith, were for the sector to adopt a more stringent, industry-wide code of practice, developed in consultation with consumer groups, and to separate out the monitoring of standards from trade bodies – where there is an obvious conflict of interest.

“Having already adopted the FSCSR code, the NAFD is now going further. In January 2022, the NAFD is separating entirely from its standards work and creating a fully independent regulatory body, The Independent Funeral Standards Organisation (IFSO), which has been set up as a Community Interest Company to put the public interest at the heart of all that it does.

“IFSO will take over all NAFD standards work and inspections and will be available to the entire funeral sector, irrespective of trade body membership. This approach has the backing of the vast majority of our members, who recognise that for responsible, compassionate funeral directors, this is the best way to demonstrate their professionalism and root out rogue operators.

“Once proven and established, IFSO represents a logical next step towards ensuring robust and independent regulation of all funeral firms – as it could be underpinned with statutory powers, compelling all funeral directors to register with it and be subject to its oversight.”