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Funeral directors: does empathy mask poor advice?

Our recent undercover investigation into funeral directors found that some are using sharp selling practices, giving poor advice, or failing to provide clear prices. What are your experiences of arranging a funeral?

Arranging a funeral is thankfully not something most of us have to do very often. However, this does mean that we don’t necessarily bring with us the experience and knowledge base we do to other business transactions.

So when we get the empathy we need from a funeral director, we may well think we’re being given a good service.

But how many of us – at a time when we’re feeling at our most vulnerable – really know the technicalities of how long we’ve got to register a death? Or whether we’ve been given all the options we should have – such as whether you could pay for a cheaper ‘simple funeral’ that just covers the basics?

Our undercover funeral directors investigation

Our investigation, where we sent undercover researchers to funeral homes across the UK, exposed a worrying amount of poor advice.

Of the 20 visits, the advice given in 14 visits was rated poor or very poor by our experts (comprising of an experienced funeral director, a trading standards officer and an expert in bereavement support).

For example, our researchers should have been offered a ‘simple’ funeral under the industry code that around 80% of funeral homes are signed up to. Yet only nine of the 18 signed up to this offered a ‘simple’ option, meaning the bill would be significantly higher than necessary.

We even saw some questionable selling of embalming, a technique to preserve human remains, which our experts believe may breach consumer protection regulations. This leads us to ask whether there is a wider problem among Britain’s funeral directors.

We did see good practice too

However, even though our investigation found many examples of poor practice, there were many examples of empathy and good practice. For example, one Dignity visit was described by our experts as a ‘sensitively conducted and exceptionally good arrangement with amazing customer care and superb advice’.

Nonetheless, a good funeral arrangement is about more than empathy; it’s about correct advice, along with impeccable professional conduct which we didn’t always see.

A key problem is that it’s not hard to set up as a funeral director: you could walk away from your computer right now and put a plaque above your door. And there’s no compulsory training, licensing or regulation of the industry, although most high street funeral homes do belong to a trade organisation, such as The National Association of Funeral Directors and The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors.

Thankfully, both organisations told us that they want all their members trained sufficiently to meet high standards.

Arranging a funeral involves making difficult decisions at a time of considerable distress – funeral directors must get it right every time. Isn’t that the least we should expect at the most stressful time?

steven@yahoo.com says:
15 September 2015

yeah we used them in sheffield (i did it my way) very shabby service clueless stay well clear we regret using them for our mum place is a dump as well

Liz says:
13 May 2018

I am still waiting for my mother’s headstone and surround to be replaced 18 months after she died. We keep being given a date for the refix and then when it doesn’t happen, they say they have to wait for the ground to settle. I feel that they have got their money and now that the funeral is over, they just can’t be bothered. We have been left with just an ugly mound of earth and the gravestone just flung to once side where it has become damaged on the uneven ground. This is a very large company and we thought we could rely on their reputation. It is causing the family so much stress and we don’t know what to do.