Funeral parlours licensed like tattoo parlours

Scottish Government is introducing a statutory Code of Practice, an inspection programme and a licensing scheme for funeral businesses as part of a regulatory framework to ensure high standards of service. They’ll be working on implementation over 2019/20.

In their consultation and investigation they drew an interesting parallel comparing the funeral parlour business model and the wide variety of practices within it with tattoo parlours. Clearly for both, the public want to feel assured that the staff are trained, competent, safe and that their health and safety is protected as a minimum.

Government plans to change the operating landscape of the work of Funeral Directors in Scotland to bring in scrutiny and accountability to an area of work “less well understood or visible to the wider public”. The aim of this work is to ensure bereaved families that their kith and kin are treated with dignity and respect.

Natalie McKail, Inspector of Funeral Directors, spent 18 months to June 2019 getting a feel for the issues and engaging with stakeholders to feed into outcomes. There was widespread public consultation as well as with funeral directors. Government is scoping a new role for an Inspector under the Burial and Cremation Act 2016.

Unsurprisingly, funeral poverty and affordability is on the agenda and this impacts on service design for the devolved Social Security Funeral Expenses Assistance scheme.

The picture in Scotland

There are 700 funeral director businesses and company branches in Scotland – 450 individual funeral director businesses and approximately 250 funeral director branches.  Stalwarts, Co-operative Funeralcare and more recent market-leaders, Dignity, operate the majority of these branches across Scotland. The landscape is changing rapidly though – more rapidly in the last few years than in the last 20 years. There are around 57,000 funerals a year and this number is set to rise. Changing customer expectations will shape change ahead too.

One key change is that Government will require notification from anyone trading as a funeral director. “In order for accountability and calibration of standards through inspection and enforcement, a provision requiring, as a minimum, formal notification of business trading and operational activity is required. The full implementation of all provisions within the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016, will allow for this notification process to be commenced.”

The minimum is likely to require notification that includes:

  • a description of the legal business entity 
  • leadership arrangements and identification of controlling parties
  • location of premises and activities provided
  • a description of who is involved in providing those services, for example setting out the composition and numbers of the team, or a description of the formal and informal business relationships used to deliver the range of services or aspects of journey of care (with Disclosure checks in place)
  • numbers of funerals delivered to the bereaved.

Government is planning early introduction of a scheme of Progressive Licensing that would allow for this basic level of information to be formally requested and allow them to phase in intervention over a defined period. This allows them to support the sector through change.

Scottish Government aim to keep up dialogue with the sector on challenges, opportunities, risks and outcomes.

Read the full Scottish Government Regulatory model including Progressive Licensing scheme for Funerals Directors report.

My fear is that if trade bodies and current funeral directors are the main source of information on practice, they are building plans on an already old and tired model that radically needs to be changed. I’d like to see them reach for a much more radical model… like the one I presented to Scottish Government after studying for a Masters in Design Innovation (Service Design). Why don’t we provide a state funeral for everyone (not just Heads of State). We’d all get the same send off at a fixed price that we pay for during our working life with National Insurance contributions. They could legislate for the change we need to eradicate funeral poverty in one fell swoop. Can’t say I’m surprised that this isn’t in the frame.


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