Members of the National Association of Funeral Directors, across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, have given their backing to tighter regulation of the funeral profession that will help them demonstrate the high quality and standards of care they offer to bereaved families and root out bad practice within the sector.

Almost 90%, from smallest independent family firms to large corporate businesses, told the NAFD they wanted to see tougher standards for inspections – with more than three quarters also wanting to see requirements placed on funeral directors to prove their fitness to practise, on a regular basis.

Two thirds said they want to see regulation having some kind of statutory (government) footing and it is notable that some of the smallest funeral firms (those arranging less than 500 funerals a year) are equally as supportive of tougher standards and a statutory approach as larger firms.

NAFD Chief Executive Jon Levett said: “In spite of the many safeguards the NAFD has put in place to ensure the independence of its complaints, disciplinary and quality assurance procedures, there remains a perception that self-regulation alone no longer provides the level of robustness that is required to safeguard the needs of bereaved families.

“The poor practice of some of the small number of funeral directors, who are not inspected nor held to account by either the NAFD or fellow trade body SAIF, sullies the reputation of the profession as a whole. Regulation with statutory force would either pull those funeral directors into compliance with minimum standards, or force them out of business.”

The NAFD has supported Government-led regulation in Scotland from the outset, working closely with the Scottish Government and the Inspector of Funeral Directors, Natalie McKail, as the details of a regulatory system is developed there.

Adds Jon: “Proportionality and targeting are key. In terms of how we assess any proposed form of regulation, the concept of ‘right touch’ regulation advocated by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), which oversees the health and social care professional regulators, may provide a useful blueprint. It stipulates that any regulatory system should meet certain key tests of proportionality, consistency, targeting, transparency, accountability and agility.”

At a recent meeting of the Inspections Regulation Working Group in Scotland, It was confirmed that the work of the planned Inspectorate of Funeral Directors would be risk-based, both in terms of the frequency of inspections (the higher the assessed risk, the more frequent the inspections) and their depth (the higher the assessed risk, the greater the level of interrogation). The NAFD believes this is a sensible approach, particularly if a clean bill of health from a NAFD inspection forms part of the risk assessment to determine the frequency and depth of inspections.

The NAFD has, however, strongly cautioned against the unintended consequences of regulation.

“Regulation is nearly always funded by the regulated, through licensing fees, etc.” said Jon. “This is particularly important given the relatively low number of funeral directors. A recent Government consultation on the cost of health care regulation (Promoting professionalism, reforming regulation, October 2017) showed the economies of scale achieved by the regulators with the largest number of registrants. We need to avoid overly burdensome costs of regulation that risk being passed on to customers, or serve to reduce competition by driving smaller firms out of the market.”

The NAFD also confirmed that it would strongly oppose any form of price regulation, something that is mentioned in the interim report published by the CMA at the end of November. “In our view,” adds Jon, “setting price caps will do nothing to assist funeral affordability for the poorest in society, and would be more likely to have the effect of increasing prices, rather than driving prices down.

 “Instead, we believe continuing the current drive towards increased price transparency, both online and in funeral homes – together with better education about the decisions that need to be made by everyone for the end of life – would ensure consumers know and understand the costs of a funeral and can make informed choices.”