Funeral Industry

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While almost everyone is fated to be a consumer of the funeral industry at some point, few people understand how the industry operates, the rights of the bereaved, and the options that are open to them. Most people would rather not think about the subject until they are forced to by the death of someone close to them, and in that situation, few are in the right frame of mind to ask critical questions or shop around.

Perhaps as a result of these realities, the funeral industry has come under increasing criticism in recent decades.

The following is a guide to the funeral industry for the public, compiled by activists who have learned through their own encounters with the profession.

Unregulated status

Members of funeral trade associations are not regulated by law. They operate their own voluntary codes of practice and principles. Also, there is no requirement in law that a funeral director belongs to one of these associations. The two main associations in the UK are the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD, the largest association) and the National Society of Allied & Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF). Non-members are not subject to the codes.

In consumer terms, funeral directors are viewed as general traders of goods and services, and there is no legal requirement that they all offer the same company terms and conditions.

According to Geoff Caldwell of the NAFD:

The terms and conditions published on the NAFD website, is an example template only, and is designed so the member company can simply edit this with their trading style.[1]

This raises the question of why all the members of NAFD are not held to a common code of practice, as is the case with many trade associations.

2001: OFT review

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) conducted a market study into the funeral industry and published its findings in July 2001. As part of the market study, OFT commissioned Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) to undertake research to establish the nature of consumer’s experiences and the problems that they encountered in relation to arranging funerals.[2]

Mark Pratt of the OFT explained the methodology of the study as follows:

The survey comprised of a randomly selected sample of people who had made funeral arrangements during a period between six and 12 months prior to the date of the survey. The research undertaken by TNS was in two stages: qualitative research involving 20 in depth interviews in three areas of the UK, to inform and develop a questionnaire, followed by a full quantitative survey.
The quantitative stage involved structured interviews with 400 individuals. The consumer survey showed satisfaction levels of 96% for consumers using funeral services.[3]

OFT carried out a review in 2003 and decided not to recommend legislation of the funeral service industry, but rather, in the words of the NAFD's Alan Slater, to encourage “trade associations to develop robust codes of practice”[4] – in effect, to regulate themselves.

Mark Pratt, Office of Fair Trading, OFT explained the methodology of its survey to a dissatisfied funeral consumer:

In 2003, during an internal review of the funeral industry, we [the OFT] looked again at some of the recommendations made in our market study. This review included 500 mystery shops [when someone employed by a market research company poses as a genuine shopper to test out a service or product] conducted by FDS International Ltd. … Whilst the OFT acknowledges that the funeral industry comprises over 4000 funeral directors, 500 individuals was considered a suitable number of funeral directors to present a reliable reflection of the UK market nationally.[5]

In addition, the OFT does not monitor the number of complaints received by the members of a particular funeral association.[6]

2002: Which? Report

A 2002 report by Which? Magazine into funeral directors made the following criticisms:

No training is needed to be a funeral director, and there is no compulsory licensing or regulation of funeral businesses. Understandably, bereaved consumers are unlikely to 'shop around' for a funeral and may be vulnerable to poor service. Many people don't know what to expect from a funeral director and reports show they are less likely to complain than consumers purchasing other goods or services. Numbers of complaints to the Funeral Ombudsman Service more than doubled between 1997-2000, although actual numbers of complaints were low.[7]

The Which? report added that “Dramatic variations in price and quality of service were revealed”, including:

  • Estimates of the funeral directors' own costs for a comparable service and coffin ranged from £660 from an independent in Sheffield to £1,415 from a branch of Dignity in Scotland. The average price quoted was £1,040
  • 10 out of the 25 didn't mention any costs until the researcher asked, at the end of the meeting. An OFT investigation in 2001 found that a staggering 28% of people had no idea of costs until after the funeral had taken place.
  • 14 of the funeral directors failed to give an adequate choice of coffins (coffin price can range from £85 to over £2,500), and 7 didn't offer a choice at all. On the plus side, none of the funeral directors tried to sell the researcher an expensive, inappropriate coffin.
  • 12 out of the 25 gave insufficient advice and information about what was involved in arranging a funeral.
  • 16 funeral directors failed to give researchers sufficient choices about the type of funeral they wanted
  • The attitude of most of the funeral directors was professional, tactful and sensitive, but some were rude, unhelpful and abrupt. Several made tactless or insensitive remarks, one adviser said “the gentleman hasn't died yet… I can't even say he's cold.”[8]

Helen Parker, editor of Which, commented:

We want to see all funeral directors in the UK signed up to a standard code of practice. The code should be monitored and enforced by an independent body.[9]

Industry response

In response to the Which? Report, Alan Slater, Chief Executive Officer of the funeral trade association, the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), commented in a press release:

Which? Was critical of the fact that we have not submitted our code of practice to the OFT and we felt there was an implication that the funeral profession as a whole is sitting on its laurels after gaining a 96% "satisfied" or "very satisfied" response in the OFT’s consumer survey of "at need" funerals. …
In fact, the report’s findings correspond with some of the issues we have identified through ongoing research amongst the NAFD membership, and we had already set in motion a review, as a precursor to strengthening our code, at the time Which? conducted its research. … We are currently mid-way through the process of improving our code … Once finalised, the new code will be sent to the OFT.” [10]

The NAFD’s Slater said this in 2002. But as of February 2009, the NAFD code of practice has not been approved by OFT. In fact, none of the funeral trades associations’ codes of practice have been approved by OFT as OFT continues to encourage self-regulation.[11]

Gordana Cumming of OFT confirmed in February 2009:

Codes of practice administered by the NAFD have not been approved under the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS).[12][13]

Consumer Codes Approval Scheme

Gordana Cumming of OFT explained in February 2009 that OFT encourages self-regulation by the funeral industry:

The OFT encourages businesses to regulate themselves through effective codes of practice. It does so through the CCAS [Consumer Codes Approval Scheme], which was launched in September 2001 and aims to promote and safeguard consumers interest by helping them identify traders by publicising the CCAS and the OFT approved code logo which promise to treat them fairly, and to encourage businesses to improve their levels of customer service, beyond the basic requirements of consumer law, by following codes of practice which meet robust and challenging OFT criteria.[14]

The main benefits to consumers in dealing with CCAS-approved code members are:

  • A 14 day cooling-off period during which consumers can cancel the contract (the statutory minimum provides a seven-day cooling-off period for unsolicited visits only)
  • A consumer guide to shopping at home
  • Guidance and training to direct sellers to ensure that they act with integrity and do not use misleading, deceptive or unfair practices
  • A free independent arbitration scheme
  • Regular compliance audits and consumer satisfaction surveys with a disciplinary committee to deal with members who do not comply with the code

Extra benefits to funeral consumers include statutory protection under:

  • the Consumer Protection Regulations 2008 [15]
  • the Sale of Goods Act 1979 [16]
  • the Supply of Goods and Service Act 1982 [17]
  • the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 [18]
  • and general contract law.

Interestingly, Cumming notes that the NAFD was initially involved in the CCAS process but subsequently withdrew:

Initially the scheme invited applications from seven ‘priority sectors’ which included the funeral sector. The NAFD was previously in the CCAS process but has chosen not to progress its application. The OFT cannot compel them to apply.[19]

A FoI request to the OFT resulted in the following information being provided on 16 March 2010:

The OFT has not, to date, approved any codes of practice from the funeral sector under the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS).[20]

2003: Citizens Advice Bureau report

A report published by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) in 2003 reviewed developments in the funeral industry in the wake of the 2001 OFT report. CAB’s report contradicts the notion that all is well for the funeral consumer.[21]

CAB said:

We have looked at evidence from [Citizens Advice] bureaux from 2001 onwards, and these suggest that significant changes have not taken place in the industry with regard to information consumers should have. Our aspirations for improved information go beyond the OFT report’s recommendations for price display and the provision of written estimates. Our evidence also shows a need for funeral directors to improve the information they provide about the help available from, for example, the social fund [a government scheme that assists people on a low income with a grant or in some cases a loan to be repaid from the deceased’s estate].

CAB also expresses concern about the demise of the Funeral Ombudsman scheme, which previously operated as an independent overseer of funeral directors:

The OFT Funerals report highlighted the vulnerability of the funeral purchaser and the loss of an industry ombudsman raises important questions about how the industry is going to be monitored to protect the consumer and how consumers will be able to seek redress when things go wrong.

CAB notes that the OFT report asked trade associations in the industry

to seek approval for voluntary codes of practice and to pay particular attention to systems for monitoring and for dealing with complaints but the voluntary nature of these codes fails to protect all consumers. We should be interested to know how many trade associations in the funeral industry have indicated they will be submitting codes to the OFT for approval and to know the percentage of the market these sponsors’ codes will cover.

CAB adds:

We are not optimistic, in the light of the demise of the ombudsman scheme, that self-regulation can deliver independent redress.

CAB suggests that little has changed regarding making funeral consumers better informed about their options:

There is, significantly, nothing in our evidence to suggest that consumers are now better informed on costs or on the availability of cheaper options when purchasing funerals. On the contrary, bureau evidence suggests that consumers still have little idea in advance of purchase what funeral costs will be, as some of the enclosed case studies illustrate. Many clients are given inadequate advice about social fund funeral grants or are misled about the level of payment the Social Fund is likely to make. While it is not possible to say where this misunderstanding or misinformation arises, clients often have no idea until after the funeral that the full costs are not going to be met, leaving them with significant shortfalls of anything between £100–£1000 to pay from an income on benefits.

CAB concludes:

This all indicates that good information on the range of choices available, with clearly itemised costs, is not always reaching the consumer prior to a purchase agreement being signed. We know, and your report highlighted, that funeral purchasers are usually unprepared and without experience. If they are not given adequate information to make realistic choices in respect of costs and options, then the risks of overspending and debt will persist.

Charter for the Bereaved

In recent years, adverse criticism about modern funeral practices has increased. The Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration (IBCA) recognised this situation, and in 1996 produced the Charter for the Bereaved as a guide to the rights of the bereaved.

The content of the Charter is based on the experiences of cemetery and crematorium managers with bereaved families. Professional and charitable groups involved with the bereaved had also been consulted.

The Charter provides information on holding funerals without the involvement of funeral directors, as well as the social fund scheme.

The rights in the Charter are available to view at any cemetery or crematorium whose management have formally adopted the Charter for the Bereaved. These are referred to as “Charter Members”.

The Charter identifies 33 rights and is promoted by the Institute of Cemetery & Crematorium Management (ICCM).[22]

The Charter states:

The Charter will increase your awareness of "interest" groups and how they influence the bereavement process. These include local authority staff, the clergy, Funeral Directors, embalmers, monumental masons, hospital staff and others. [23]

Interestingly, the Charter stated in its 1996 edition that it is not supported by funeral directing and embalming organisations. Though the NAFD is not mentioned by name, their lack of support is implied:

The content of the Charter is based on the experiences of cemetery and crematorium managers with bereaved families. Professional and charitable groups involved with the bereaved have also been consulted. Regrettably, the Charter has not been supported by organisations representing funeral directing and embalming. It is hoped that their support can be obtained at some stage in the future to enable rights to be offered when these professionals are employed.

APPG for Funerals and Bereavement

The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) supports the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement (APPG).

All-Party groups are informal, cross-party interests groups. They are not part of the official structure of the Houses of Parliament and are therefore not accorded any role or powers by it.

The APPG for Funerals and Bereavement was set up and first registered in May 2002. It is chaired by Lorely Burt, Liberal Democrat MP for Solihull.

The group is required to register the names of its officers and of 20 qualifying members. This may be viewed on its Parliamentary Register entry.[24]

In addition to the NAFD, the group is supported by Politics Direct, which provides secretarial services to the group.

Groups may or may not receive support from other organisations but if they do so and the benefit received by the group is below a certain financial value which is currently £1000.00 per calendar year, there is no requirement for the group to register it.

How groups keep their accounts is up to them, except that they must keep sufficient records to be able to meet the registration requirements detailed in the Guide to the Rules on All-Party Groups.[25]

Any member of either House may turn up and speak at any meeting of any group; anyone else may only attend if invited by the group.

Groups have no official status in Parliament. Hence although some basic information about them is registered they are in most regards subject to a light regulatory regime, but are no under any lawful obligation to make their minutes or accounts publicly available.

It seems clear from an announcement made by NAFD after Gordon Brown became prime minister that the APPG for Funerals and Bereavement acts like a lobby group:

When Gordon Brown reshuffled his team after taking office as Prime Minister this summer, the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) wasted no time in seeking consultation with key Ministers on issues that are of concern to the funeral profession…. A General Election would have resulted in a further reshuffle, so Gordon Brown’s decision not to go to the country means the All Party Parliamentary Funerals and Bereavement Group can continue to develop its excellent relationships and solicit the support of the new Ministers. [26]

Rights of the bereaved

The following is advice from Teresa Evans, a campaigner for the rights of the bereaved ([27]

  • It is not required by law that the public/bereaved use a funeral director to conduct arrangements for them.
  • Funeral undertakers are not regulated by license in the UK.
  • A funeral is a classic ‘distress’ purchase – people don’t know what to expect, spend little time thinking about their purchase and feel under pressure to sort everything out quickly.[28]
  • It is the lawful right of the bereaved to care for the person who has died in the privacy of their own home, and to collect the body of a person who has died from a mortuary, ward or a hospice. They may do so with their own suitable vehicle. No law requires that a coffin is to be used.[29][30]
  • The funeral industry continues to police itself.

Teresa Evans believes that the OFT should take steps to implement a light regulatory regime that the entire funeral profession is forced to adopt.[31]



  1. Geoff Caldwell, NAFD, email to Teresa Evans 28 January 2008
  2. Mark Pratt, Office of Fair Trading, OFT, in a letter to Teresa Evans 25 January 2008,
  3. Mark Pratt, Office of Fair Trading, OFT, in a letter to Teresa Evans 25 January 2008
  4. Alan Slater, quoted in National Association of Funeral Directors Responds to Which? Report, NAFD website, accessed 20 July 2009
  5. Mark Pratt, Office of Fair Trading, OFT, in a letter to Teresa Evans 25 January 2008
  6. Mark Pratt, OFT, in a letter to Teresa Evans 25 January 2008. Mark Pratt’s actual words are as follows: ‘Although we don’t, as you asked, actively monitor the number of complaints within a funeral association, our previous work on the funeral sector would have highlighted if there were a considerable number of problems in this market.”
  7. Bereaved consumers - beware unscrupulous funeral directors, Which? 7 March 2002, accessed 21 July 2009
  8. Bereaved consumers - beware unscrupulous funeral directors, Which? 7 March 2002, accessed 21 July 2009
  9. Bereaved consumers - beware unscrupulous funeral directors, Which? 7 March 2002, accessed 21 July 2009
  10. Alan Slater, quoted in National Association of Funeral Directors Responds to Which? Report, NAFD, NAFD website, accessed 20 July 2009
  11. Arranging a funeral,, 2009, accessed 22 July 2009
  12. OFT Consumer Code Approval Scheme (CCAS), Direct Selling Association website, accessed 20 July 2009
  13. Gordana Cumming, Consumer Policy, OFT, in an email to Teresa Evans, 4 February 2009
  14. Gordana Cumming, Consumer Policy, OFT, in an email to Teresa Evans, 4 February 2009
  15. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, Office of Public Sector Information website, accessed 20 July 2009
  16. Revised Statute from The UK Statute Law Database,Office of Public Sector Information website, accessed 20 July 2009
  17. Revised Statute from The UK Statute Law Database,Office of Public Sector Information website, accessed 20 July 2009
  18. Statutory Instrument 1999 No,2083, Office of Public Sector Information website, accessed 20 July 2009
  19. Gordana Cumming, Consumer Policy, OFT, in an email to Teresa Evans, 4 February 2009
  20. David Micklefield, Consumer Markets Group, OFT, Request for information – Consumer Codes Approval Scheme, 16 Mar 2010, Ref IAT/FoIA/79982, in an email attachment to Claire Robinson, SpinProfiles managing editor. Download the document here
  21. ”Funerals”, Citizens Advice Bureau, 14 March 2003. Downloadable from here.
  22. Charter for the Bereaved, ICCM website, accessed 23 February 2008
  23. Charter for the Bereaved, Rotherham Cemeteries and Crematorium, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, undated, p. 6, accessed 22 July 2009
  24. Register of All-Party Groups, 8 July 2009, House of Commons – Register of All-Party Groups website, p. 335, accessed 20 July 2009,
  25. House of Commons House of Commons-register of All-Party Groups website, accessed 20 July 2009
  26. NAFD seizes the chance to lobby new Ministers, NAFD website, accessed 20 July 2009
  27. Email from Teresa Evans to SpinProfiles/Powerbase editors, 22 July 2009
  28. A Report of the OFT inquiry into the funerals industry, July 2001, OFT website, accessed 21 July 2009
  29. Arranging a funeral without a funeral director, website, accessed 20 July 2009
  30. Coping with grief - practical issues, BBC website, accessed 20 July 2009,
  31. Email from Teresa Evans to SpinProfiles/Powerbase editors, 22 July 2009