• 92% of people unaware funeral directors are not regulated
  • Expert evidence reveals alarming range of standards in caring for deceased
  • Dignity working with industry on recommendations for stronger regulation

A comprehensive report published today by funeral provider Dignity reveals that nine in ten people are unaware that funeral directors are not regulated.

People were shocked to discover there are no minimum standards enforcing how funeral directors should operate or care for the deceased. The vast majority (80%) are in favour of regulation in the funeral sector.

The nine month project included a variety of research exercises including a survey of more than 2,000 people who had organised a funeral, finding:

  • Nine in ten (92%) did not know that funeral directors were not regulated
  • Eight in ten (80%) supported regulation to ensure minimum standards
  • Seven in ten (73%) said care of the deceased was "very important"
  • Four in ten (43%) prioritised keeping costs low

Experts working in the industry described a wide range in standards of facilities to care for the deceased. This included inadequate storage, lack of refrigeration and general disregard for the person that had died. This is concerning, given the average time between death and a funeral in the UK has increased from less than ten days to over three weeks in less than twenty years.

One participating retired doctor said: "I've seen Cadavers stacked inside a big fridge at times and two bodies in one space if it is busy in the smaller cramped places. It would be awful if customers knew their loved ones were being stored in this way."

A professional embalmer said: "I do go to funeral directors that don't [have a mortuary]. The worst was a shed. I've embalmed on my hands and knees before because there was no room on the tables. But you do what you have to do to for the families who’ve lost a loved one."

Mourners expect funeral directors to adhere to industry standards or be regulated by the government. Many wrongly assume there are common standards for facilities (53%) and training (55%) across the sector to ensure their loved one who has passed away is properly cared for. Current industry codes of practice should be updated to reflect these findings.

Another expert witness from the funeral sector who participated in the research described how he had seen some funeral directors unable to store the deceased properly, with no refrigeration at premises that were in very poor condition.

When the researchers conducted a mystery shop of funeral directors, not one of the premises visited allowed them to view the mortuary facilities. This means there is no way for families to be sure how their loved one might be looked after.

Simon Cox, Head of Insight, Dignity said: "Our research has uncovered the gap between perception and reality of the standards across the UK’s funeral industry. While the majority assume there are demanding standards or tight controls in place, the worrying reality is very different.

Without regulation or a system of independent inspections, it’s almost impossible for people to understand the difference in quality between funeral directors. This is particularly important given our research shows 79% of mourners only consider one funeral director, and do not shop around.

That’s why Dignity will look to work with industry partners and other stakeholders to improve standards in the funerals sector. It is imperative that the UK government take this seriously and act to ensure grieving families can be confident that their loved ones receive the care they assume, want and expect from funeral directors."

The report "Time to talk about quality and standards" is the most comprehensive study of funeral directors ever published in the UK. As well as qualitative and quantitative research with members of the public who had organised a funeral, it includes interviews with industry experts and a mystery shop of 75 funeral directors.

Dignity has consistently called for stronger regulation of the sector. Today's research report will be shared with the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA), Inspector of Funerals in Scotland and the National Association of Funeral Directors (the trade body to which Dignity belongs). It will also be shared across the sector to stimulate debate on the best way to achieve regulation and higher minimum standards.

This comes at a time when the Scottish Government has been undertaking their own investigation into the funeral sector. The Inspector of Funerals is looking to make recommendations to Scottish Government on the establishment of minimum standards in a statutory Code of Practice and whether a licensing regime should be introduced.

In the UK, there are an estimated 7,000 funeral directors carrying out over 600,000 funerals each year.  

Abi Pattenden, President of the National Association of Funeral Directors said: "The NAFD welcomes anything which helps the funeral profession to provide the best possible care for bereaved families. This report by Dignity makes a useful contribution to the wider debate about how we make certain that all funeral directors can be properly assessed for their operational standards, not just those firms which currently abide by a Code of Practice and are regularly inspected, which all NAFD members are.

"As Dignity's research has found, only 4% of bereaved families say they were not satisfied with the services of their funeral director - a consistent finding with YouGov's (June 2018) survey of people with recent experience of organising a funeral. This is encouraging and a testament to the 22,000 people employed by the UK funeral profession who work hard to care for bereaved families and their loved ones. Nevertheless, even just one unhappy family is one too many and that is why the NAFD’s independent complaints and arbitration service provides an important safety net for those who do wish to make a complaint."

Download the full report: Time to talk about quality and standards


For copies of the report “Time to talk about quality and standards” or more information please contact Leigh Marshall: lmarshall@goodrelations.co.uk, 0784 134 7038 or Imogen Robinson irobinson@goodrelations.co.uk 0207 9323 623.

Notes to Editors

About Dignity  

Dignity is a British company that has funeral homes and crematoria in towns and cities across the UK. The business also has a strong market presence in pre-arranged funeral plans, where people plan and pay for their funeral in advance.

Dignity Funeral Directors operate at the high end of the funeral market and provide excellent client service and facilities to care for the deceased.  Dignity is the first company in the UK to be awarded the BSI Kitemark for Customer Service for its funeral planning business. Dignity has some of the best rated funeral plan products rated by Fairer Finance and their Diamond funeral plan was recently awarded a five star Defaqto rating.

84% per cent of families chose Dignity because of reputation, recommendation, previous experience or through use of Dignity Funeral Plans. 99 per cent of respondents to Dignity’s client survey say that the company met or exceeded their expectations.

At Dignity, all families have access to proper mortuary facilities and embalming.

About the research

The insight in this report is underpinned by a comprehensive and robust programme of primary research encompassing consumers, the funeral industry and Dignity itself. In brief, the research elements are as follows.

Industry research

Professionals: 24 qualitative interviews and 22 survey responses with individuals working in a variety of professions that come into regular contact with funeral services (including police officers, coroners, hospice workers, embalmers, celebrants and ministers) to understand range of standards and practices in both 'front of house' and 'behind the scenes' services.

Funeral directors: Mystery shopping of 75 Funeral Director premises across England and Scotland to understand variation in customer service approaches and condition of 'front of house' premises. We also intended to capture information about 'back of house' facilities (in 25 premises) but were not granted access.

Consumer research

Qualitative research: three focus groups with funeral arrangers, two focus groups with funeral attendees and 36 household depth interviews with funeral arrangers were conducted to understand in consumers' own words what their specific experiences had been and their expectations of funeral services. This research took place in Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Nottingham, Manchester and Slough and was used to inform quantitative research.

Quantitative research: online survey of 3,008 UK consumers, including 2,008 people who had arranged a funeral in the last three years and 1,000 who had not.

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