How are funeral directors regulated?

 In light of recent news of malpractice and improper handling of human remains that took place in a Hull funeral home this month, here we outline current funeral regulations;. an overview of funeral home and funeral director regulations in the UK and abroad, as well as a look at what stricter regulations could mean for consumers and the funeral industry.

In this blog, we'll explore

  • How funeral homes are regulated in the UK
  • The standards set by industry associations
  • If a funeral home breaches the codes of conduct
  • Funeral home regulation in other countries
  • Pushing for stricter regulation in the UK
  • The Future of Funeral Regulation

How are funeral homes regulated in the UK? 

Currently, there is no statutory code of conduct that funeral directors are required to follow in the UK. This means that there are no government prescribed rules and regulations that funeral homes must abide by, nor are they subject to mandatory routine inspections. 

Funeral directors can voluntarily become members of funeral industry bodies like the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) or the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF). Currently, there is no legal requirement for any funeral directors in the UK to join or abide by codes of conduct set by these industry bodies. 

In a BBC article, an NAFD spokesperson said: "Regulation of operational standards in the funeral sector is currently on a voluntary basis. Funeral firms that choose to join the NAFD (or fellow trade body SAIF), commit to abide by the requirements of the Funeral Director Code and open their business up to unannounced inspections. Equally, firms can choose not to take part in this voluntary regulation and can operate without scrutiny.” 

 

What are the standards set by NAFD and SAIF?


NAFD’s Funeral Director Code 

According to NAFD site, there are more than 4,100 UK funeral homes with membership which undergo regular inspections by their Standards and Quality Management team. However, it is unclear how often inspections take place as well as what the consequences are for funeral homes that do not meet the requirements. They also offer an independent complaints scheme for funeral consumers,via NAFD Resolve, which is operated on their behalf by CEDR (the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution), which is - a third-party mediation body). 

The code of conduct set by NAFD for their members covers 10 areas including:

  1. Caring for your clients
  2. Your operational facilities
  3. Caring for deceased people
  4. Management of your business
  5. Publicity and the ethical procurement of business
  6. Training and professional development
  7. Equality and diversity
  8. Confidentiality and data protection
  9. Complaint handling
  10. Working with your regulators

NAFD states that their code is “not prescriptive in behaviours, only in outcomes”, which allows flexibility in how their members choose to provide their services to their customers. The full version of the NAFD Funeral Director Code can be viewed here.

SAIFs Code of Practice 2022 

According to SAIF they currently have around 1,000 members, and members are inspected against the Code of Practice every 2 years.

SAIF’s Code of Practice is organised into 8 sections:

  1. Compliance with government legislation.
  2. General conduct of a funeral director and suitability of staff.
  3. Engagement of a funeral director and transfer of the deceased.
  4. Engagement with the bereaved and planning of the funeral service.
  5. Funeral director’s premises and care of the deceased.
  6. Delivery of the funeral.
  7. Complaints.
  8. Business continuity and managing risks.

The Code is made up of strict rules, which members must follow, as well as “good practices” which are prescriptive and offer flexibility to members. The Code applies to all funeral directors that are voluntary members of SAIF. The full Code of Conduct can be accessed here.
While consumers are encouraged to look for the NAFD or SAIF logos when researching funeral homes, they should keep in mind that these are voluntary codes of conduct and not statutory codes set by the government. 
 

What happens if a funeral home breaches the codes of conduct? 

It remains unclear what consequences funeral homes will face if found in breach of the codes of conduct laid out by NAFD and SAIF.

As funeral homes are not regulated by the government in the UK, there is no ombudsman available to take on complaints from consumers. 

In relation to the misconduct by Legacy Independent Funeral Directors, both NAFD and SAIF have made statements confirming that the funeral home is not currently a member of either organisation. In a BBC article, the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) stated that Legacy had resigned its membership of their organisation in 2021 and had not been inspected since 2018. 

In a statement on their website SAIF confirmed that Legacy Independent Funeral Directors is not and has never been a member of SAIF. They state SAIF members undergo regular inspections against their code of practice, every 2 years.

Pushing for stricter regulations for funeral homes in the UK

Several organisations have been calling for stricter regulations for funeral directors in the UK, including the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) who published an investigation into the funeral market in 2021. The report, which can be viewed here , called for stricter regulations around funeral pricing, information supplied by funeral directors to consumers, and to monitor “care of the deceased”. 

In response to this report, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) stated that they support the work of trade bodies such as NAFD and SAIF and their self-regulation, but agree with the recommendation for creating a statutory body to regulate the funeral industry. 

To Hull Live newspaper, Mark Horton, president of SAIF, has said that “Statutory regulation of the funeral industry must come into force as soon as possible.” 

MPs who have supported stricter regulation include Emma Hardy, MP for Hull West and Hessle who met with government minister Dame Diana Johnson and the Chief Constable of Humberside Police to discuss the ongoing case. 

Citizens like Jodie Langsford have also been calling for stricter regulations. After she discovered that a funeral home had not stored her father’s remains properly, Jodie launched a petition calling for a Funeral Directors Regulatory Body. 

A petition to make inspections compulsory has also been started by Michael Fogg, an Independent Funeral Director from Sheffield. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that the government was reviewing the regulation of the industry overall. 

 

The future of funeral regulations in the UK

In view of the recent case against the Hull-based funeral home accused of misconduct, stricter funeral regulations in the UK would be beneficial in protecting both consumers and funeral directors. A statutory code would ensure higher standards across all funeral homes and lessen distrust of the funeral industry as a whole. For consumers, stricter regulations would mean peace of mind when purchasing funeral plans for themselves or loved ones. 

In conclusion, care and compassion for the deceased should be at the forefront of all policy and decision making to regulate the funeral industry in the UK. 

We hope to end the stigma around talking about death, dying and funeral practices and aim to facilitate discussions about death with compassion and understanding. 
 

How are funeral homes regulated in other countries?

Scotland 

In January 2024, Scotland’s government approved the Funeral Director Code of Practice. This is a statutory code of practice that will apply to all funeral directors operating in Scotland. Funeral homes have a one-year grace period from 1st March in which to align with the code’s requirements. Full compliance is required by 1st March 2025. 

The full Code of Practice can be viewed here

Scotland’s Funeral Director Code of Practice covers six areas of a funeral directing business. These are: 
Engagement of the funeral director and transfer of the deceased
Care of the deceased and premises used by the funeral director
Planning the funeral service according to the wishes of the deceased and the bereaved
Delivery of the funeral
Complaints
Business continuity and managing risks

The Scottish Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health also published a consultation on the proposed licensing scheme for funeral directors in Scotland that would require funeral directors to renew their licence and undergo an inspection every 3 years. 

EU 

The European Federation of Funeral Services (EFFS) is a European non-profit organisation of national and regional funeral associations, funeral directors, funeral homes and any other funeral professionals, whose goal it is to support all sectors of the funeral industry to achieve the highest professionalism, qualifications, dignity and respect for the deceased and their bereaved across European borders and beyond. 

Funeral directors in Europe voluntarily adhere to the EN15017, a 54-page European Norm that pertains specifically to a wide range of funeral services, aiming to ensure a minimum level of quality, transparency, and professionalism.

While the EFFS provides guidance and support to businesses providing funeral services in Europe, most countries in the EU have their own laws and regulations pertaining to the funeral industry. 

Germany, for example, has strict funeral and burial laws and one of the most highly regulated funeral industries in the world. Most crematoriums and embalming services are state-controlled, and private funeral homes must be licensed. 

USA 

In the United States federal laws provide consumer protection when purchasing funeral services. In addition to the Funeral Rule, each State has its own set of laws and regulations regarding funeral services, embalming, burial, licensing and educational requirements for funeral directors. 

The FTC Funeral Rule, enacted by the Federal Trade Commission on April 30, 1984, and amended effective 1994, was designed to protect consumers by requiring that they receive adequate information concerning the goods and services they may purchase from a funeral provider. The Funeral Rule is mainly concerned with misrepresentation in pricing of goods and services. 

Specific laws relating to burial, cremation, embalming, handling of remains, or scattering of ashes vary from State to State, details can be found online.

Most States also require specific licensing requirements, that can also be different for embalmers and funeral directors. Some States require funeral homes to acquire a business licence as well. These laws can be viewed in full on the National Funeral Directors Association USA. 

The American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE) serves as the national academic accreditation agency for college and university programs in Funeral Service and Mortuary Science Education. 

International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards (ICFSEB) is a not-for-profit voluntary association providing examination services, including the Funeral Service National Board Exam (NBE), information, and regulatory support to funeral service licensing boards and educators, governmental bodies and other regulatory agencies. 
 

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