In early March 2024, Humberside Police received reports of concerns about “care of the deceased” at a funeral home in Hull. Two people have allegedly was released on bail after the bodies and ashes of at least 35 people were found REMOVED from the premises. An investigation is currently underway.

As shocking as this news was, such concerns are not unexpected. Across England and Wales, funeral directors are an unregulated workforce. There is little external control and minimal educational requirements to practice.

have funerals long firmly anchored in the business world. Funeral arrangements were already the subject of funeral arrangements in the 17th century family business and an alternative source of income for carpenters and upholsterers.

These days, there are few ways in which funerals become a public issue. Some deaths are referred to coroners and local authorities are involved in organizing and funding a public health funeral if someone dies without the money or family to organize a memorial service. However, most municipalities outsource this work to private, for-profit funeral companies.

In general, politicians and policymakers are largely reticent when it comes to death and who supports the dead. It is rarely an election winner. It does not fit neatly within the boundaries of individual government departments (including health and social care, pensions, benefits, housing, cemeteries and crematoriums), all of which have competing interests and priorities.

Furthermore, the dead are incapable and those left behind are often too tired to seek attention. It is only when families fight the system through public inquiries and investigations, or when events like those in Humberside gain media attention, that the handling of death actually receives political attention.

A lady in a yellow jacket stands in a cemetery.
Grieving people value the certainty that their loved ones will be cared for as promised.
Anze Furlan | Shutterstock

Lack of regulation

It is common practice in countries such as the United States that funeral directors must hold a qualification as a funeral professional in order to practice. However, no relevant training or accreditation is required in England and Wales. More or less anyone can open a funeral home.

There are two main trading organizations: the National Association of Funeral Directors and that National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors. These offer optional educational opportunities and champion the sector’s reputation by acting as arbiters of poor practice. Although they can and do inspect premises because they rely on and represent their members, the extent to which they intervene or publicly report poor practices is controversial.

Research has shown that there is significant variation in the services offered by funeral homes from a consumer perspective. It can be difficult compare sufficiently Provision of services between companies.

Concerns were duly raised about the potential vulnerability of families who face financial obligations following the death of a person. These concerns are compounded by the lack of routine inspections across the funeral sector.

A minimal training and inspection system would at least reassure the public that funeral homes are operating within a set of defined parameters. There would be safeguards to ensure that the information they provide is up to date, that staff are trained and equipped to deal with recently deceased people, and that there are independent arbitrators to whom concerns can be raised. Crucially, such oversight would ensure that the deceased people in their care are safe.

Implementing even a minor regulatory regime will be challenging. Until 2016, my colleagues and I ran an independent undergraduate course in funeral services at the University of Bath. We encountered some mistrust in the industry.

Our research revealed People were resistant to educate and share good (and problematic) practices. The decisive factor for this was a highly competitive market and the desire not to give competitors an advantage.

There are also significant costs associated with making training and regulatory compliance a requirement. This would likely drive up costs for consumers in an already stressed sector.

Even before COVID, low-cost funerals and rituals were being carried out behind closed doors were becoming increasingly popular. Current estimates assume that 20% of all deaths now result in direct cremation, i.e. without an accompanying funeral – this usually costs around half the price of a standard burial. Pay for a funeral allegedly One in five families in the UK experience financial difficulties.

Profit margins for providers are therefore coming under increasing pressure and there are concerns about consumer exploitation. However, the risk of overcharging or receiving services that offer poor value for money is just one aspect of possible funeral mistakes.

A fictional Welsh funeral home.
The Simpsons Funeral Directors set in Pontyberry, as featured in the Welsh TV sitcom Stella.
John Selway | Shutterstock

Others include the Potential for fraud and the consequences when a funeral home abruptly ceases operations. In October 2023, police in Penrose, Colorado removed 189 bodies from a dilapidated building green funeral home. It was reported that the company had missed tax payments, was threatened with eviction from a building and was being sued by a crematorium over unpaid bills.

The impact of this type of news on those left behind cannot be overstated. Reports of how families in Humberside have responded to concerns that their deceased may not have been treated as they would have expected have rightly highlighted their concerns Pain.

In recent years there have been some steps towards better control. In 2019, the State Competition and Market Supervision Authority undertaken a comprehensive review of the funeral sector in England and Wales, particularly setting out the reasons for price transparency. It did not go so far as to determine what constitutes high quality delivery. And although it raised the question of regulation, it did not recommend it across the board.

In 2022 the Financial Supervisory Authority began regulating prepaid funeral plans offered by 26 companies.

Scotland shows how this could be done better. In February 2024 the Scottish Government introduced a funeral director Code of Conduct. This is the latest development within the end-of-life regulatory framework started of Holyrood in 2017.

Such government policies in Scotland position death as a central feature of the welfare state. The way a government acknowledges, supports, and resources death and mourning reflects its ideological conceptualizations of citizenship, rights and responsibilities, and social justice.

What happens backstage at a funeral home is, by nature, hidden from the public. The public in England and Wales must know that those who become guardians of their dead will act appropriately and ethically.

By admin

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