Draft guidance on funeral costs consultation: analysis of responses

Independent analysis of responses to our public consultation about draft guidance on funeral costs.

Use of Language and Terminology

The consultation document acknowledges that some of the language used in the funeral industry is novel, can vary geographically, and can be adapted differentially when being used with service users to accommodate and respond to their individual needs at the time of dealing with a bereavement. To remove ambiguity and try to create some consistency in the way that funeral processes and costs are communicated, the draft guidance encourages the clear use of language by funeral directors and burial and cremation authorities.

Publication of a Glossary

Once finalised, it is intended that the guidance on funeral costs will be published along with a glossary of terms. As part of the consultation, respondents were specifically asked if they supported the publication of a glossary of terms and, if so, to specify what, if anything, should be included.

Q1. Do you think that the Scottish Government should publish a glossary of terms alongside the guidance on funeral costs?

  Number Percentage
Yes 35 72%
No 5 10%
Don't know 5 10%
No response 4 8%
Total 49 100%

Over two thirds of respondents agreed that a glossary of terms should be published alongside the guidance on funeral costs with only five indicating that they did not feel this was necessary. The remainder were either undecided or did not offer a response.

Suggested Terms and Explanations

Q2. Please list any particular terms that you think this glossary should include, along with a rough definition of what you understand the term to mean.

A full list of the terms that were suggested by consultation respondents, including the definitions that they offered, is included in Appendix A. The terms that were cited most often, and which were seen to be potentially confusing to those engaging with the industry were interment, embalming, lair[1] (both burial and cremation lairs), direct burials and direct cremations and lair holder or lair owner. Several respondents also specifically cited the need to provide clear definitions around the various certificates or documents that are required to assist in the process of burial or cremation (including lair certificates and interment certificates).

The costs and fees attached to various processes also needed to be clearly defined, it was suggested (e.g. burial and cremation fees, lair costs, interment fees, mercury abatement fees, etc.) One respondent suggested that the glossary should also set out that there are often charges associated with administration and processing of forms. Indeed, central to the consultation, clarity around costs was key to enhancing public understanding and confidence in the sector, it was suggested:

"Any glossary should be focussed on terms used in the profession that relate directly to costs or assist the client to understand the financial or emotional implications of any choice they make. The glossary should also use simple language and avoid industry terms which are not easily understood by consumers."

Although not citing any specific terms or definitions, some respondents also indicated that 'times' be clearly set out or described, e.g. the provision of chapel/service rooms and associated times allocated, different time allocations at crematoria, as well as additional service time uses and associated costs.

Several respondents who answered this question gave no specific suggestions for what should be included in the glossary but instead offered their support for the idea of a glossary, in principle:

"It is important not only to think about what you say, but how you say it. Everyone should be able to access and understand information easily during this traumatic period in their lives. Language that is easier to understand helps people to make better choices regardless of the circumstances. Care and consideration requires to be taken to ensure the use of non-technical, jargon free language is a priority for any guidance or communications in relation to guidance of funeral costs. The addition of a glossary of terms would support this objective."

There seemed to be a general consensus that the language used in the industry was confusing to service users and that introducing a glossary of the kind described would help to bring about some consistency and clarity:

"Terminology in the funeral sector differs between funeral directors and can be unfamiliar to clients. A common glossary of terms across funeral directors would aid understanding and also make comparison between providers easier."

In developing the glossary, the Scottish Government was urged to consider that some terms may have developed over time for the sake of sensitivity and, where this is the case, it was recommended that terms are defined in the glossary with great care and clarity.

Some respondents used this question to highlight terms and practices which they considered were particularly not well understood by those outside of the industry. This included, in particular, the processes of embalming and hygienic treatment. These processes were often confused, it was suggested:

"From our perspective, cleaning of the deceased is a matter of respect and dignity, whether the body is to be viewed or not. Embalming, however, is by and large, a choice. We believe that it if people understood the impact of the process on the body and the environmental implications, they may be less inclined to embalm."

Indeed, some commented that members of the public may often be 'mis-sold' these particular services, on the understanding that they were mandatory requirements, instead of optional (even in cases where viewing of the deceased person is desired). Indeed, one respondent indicated that, if no viewing of the deceased is to occur, customers may prefer to have minimal intervention, and this should be explained. One respondent indicated that embalming can sometimes be offered as part of a 'Care of the Deceased' package and, indeed, this term itself was generic and could provide a catch all for a variety of different services being offered by different practitioners. Offering clear definitions of these practices and setting out their non-mandatory nature may help consumers make more informed decisions around what services they engage, it was felt. Indeed, several respondents encouraged clear and itemised descriptions of professional services across the industry which, at present, were seen as often being "too short of detail".

Several respondents commented that a lack of knowledge and understanding around funerals was both confusing and off-putting to people and could result in them disengaging with the planning process and being easily led by (for profit) funeral directors. This can often result in people paying more than they originally intended or more than they can afford, which exacerbates funeral poverty, they perceived. Linked to this, it was suggested by one organisation that the glossary could include a list of benefits that are available to people to help pay for the cost of funerals, including details on the qualifying criteria, as well as setting out the support available to people with low incomes to assist them in planning for a funeral.

Three organisations suggested that the final glossary be shared with those in the industry to allow further input, as required, before being finalised. This separate consultation would help to resolve any difference of opinion on what each term means and allow consideration of how the definitions presented may influence purchasers' decision making, it was suggested:

"We would suggest an opportunity for the profession to propose the make-up of the glossary but would counsel against making it too exhaustive as it could lead to overload."

One care and support charity also suggested that the Scottish Government could make use of the Social Security Experience Panels to help draw up the words that should be included in the glossary, for completeness.

Three organisations urged the Scottish Government to publish a 'Plain English' version of all finished documents, to assist adults with learning disabilities or complex needs, and/or young people, in particular. Both urged that the use of abbreviated terms be minimised wherever possible and one suggested that the glossary be tested by community engagement prior to being signed off. One organisation suggested that the finished glossary be available both online and in paper versions at a range of public locations, to maximise its accessibility and use. Another suggested that customers may benefit from having a paper copy of terminology to take away with them whilst considering their funeral planning options.

Finally, although not specifically answering the question, it is important to note that some respondents replying on behalf of the private sector expressed views that the guidance, as drafted, seemed to be more directed at those working in the industry rather than at the general public or consumer audience. This, they felt, was misleading since those in the industry were not the ones in need of additional guidance:

"Such a glossary of terms would be far better aimed at the consumer so as to improve their understanding of the various terms used and to better enable them to compare the products, services and activities offered by a funeral director, if they so choose."

One organisation expressed particular disappointment at what they considered to be a missed opportunity to tackle the widespread misunderstanding of funeral costs and fees and suggested that, while Section 98 of the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 provides that Scottish Ministers may publish guidance on the costs associated with making arrangements for a funeral, this had been misdirected in the publication of guidance for the industry rather than the consumer:

"…it is clear that the audience that would most benefit from receiving guidance on funeral costs are the families and individuals who need to pay for them. We are therefore disappointed by the Scottish Government's decision to direct this funeral costs guidance, not at consumers, who would benefit greatly from additional guidance, but at funeral directors, who are among the most knowledgeable people in existence on the subject."

The same organisation stressed that, if a glossary was to be produced, it should not be too rigid and should still allow funeral directors some discretion to tailor it to local circumstances/communities, as appropriate.

Overall, however, there was support for producing a glossary of terms and a recognised need for such a resource, especially as the number of new and different products entering the market increases. There was also an expressed willingness among several respondents to continue to assist with its development.


Email: funeralpoverty@gov.scot

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