Draft guidance on funeral costs consultation: analysis of responses

Independent analysis of responses to our public consultation about draft guidance on funeral costs.

Not Using the Services of a Funeral Director

There is no legal requirement for people to use a funeral director to arrange a funeral and, therefore, bereaved people will sometimes choose to arrange a funeral themselves, without using the services of an independent provider. This means that many of the actions usually carried out by the funeral director will need to be undertaken directly by the family, or another delegated person (including, for example, liaising with burial and cremation authorities, preparing the body for cremation or burial, suitable transport, handling and storage of the body, etc.).

Reasonable Efforts to Accommodate Wishes

To reduce barriers to families arranging a funeral themselves, and to maximise consumer choice, the draft guidance recommends that if someone wishes to arrange a cremation or burial without using the services of a funeral director, then burial and cremation authorities should make reasonable efforts to accommodate the person's wishes.

Q11. Do you think the guidance should include a provision encouraging burial and cremation authorities to make reasonable efforts to accommodate the wishes of a person that does not want to use a funeral director?

  Number Percentage
Yes 42 86%
No 5 10%
No response 2 4%
Total 49 100%

The majority of those who answered this question agreed that this provision should be included in the guidance and only five did not.

Q12. Please explain your answer.

Widening Choice and a Personal Approach

Among the individuals who supported the proposal, the main sentiments were that this would allow people to opt for a burial or cremation that was more relaxed and less formal, would allow people to plan funerals in a way that best suits their needs and wishes, would be particularly helpful for those living in poverty and that it would allow people to choose from the fullest range of different options possible:

"As the arrangement of a funeral can form an important element of the relationship the bereaved have with the deceased, the choice of 'disposal' must reflect the bereaved wishes. This must include the capacity and assistance to arrange the service without using the services of a funeral director."

Some individuals commented that they wished they had been aware of this option before employing a funeral director. They considered that their own experience had been costlier than expected and that this may have been avoided had they been aware of this option (indeed, several respondents highlighted that there may be a public assumption that use of a funeral director was mandatory). Other individuals and organisations suggested that they welcomed this guidance because a family run funeral was more personal, they felt, and making it clear to people that their friends, family, colleagues, etc. could take responsibility instead of a funeral director may provide some with additional comfort:

"This is the best thing that a family can do for one of their own. Mortuaries should be encouraged to help families prepare the body and place it into a coffin or shroud ready for onward transportation to a place of rest or cremation. By doing so they make the seemingly impossible very achievable and the cost benefits and reward that the family achieves at each stage they fulfil is immensely salutary."

Several supported the proposal on the basis that they had direct experience of advising families on how to proceed with a funeral without using the services of a funeral director, with no negative consequences. Alerting people to this option, was therefore seen as being non-problematic:

"We have experienced several families who have arranged their own funerals, both in the cemeteries and at the crematorium. They were done successfully, respectfully and at a much reduced cost. However, it is widely acknowledged that many families will not want to take on this responsibility, but information and advice should be widely available."

Indeed, local authorities who responded commented that they were happy to do this and felt well equipped to do so, as well as viewing it as an important public service (where required):

"The purpose of any funeral provision should be to ensure the deceased receives a dignified burial. Those responsible for organising a funeral and who require additional financial support to meet the costs of a funeral due to low income need to know that there is a reliable and effective system available as and when required regardless if a funeral director is used or not."

One local authority confirmed that they already actively advertised this service offering, both online and in their premises. One individual also commented that such funerals should be recommended as hands on and as 'alternative' options rather than 'cheap' options. The promotional language was fundamental, they stressed.

Seeking Partial and Wider Support

One organisation suggested it would be desirable if families could employ only very limited services of a funeral director, to assist with the practical elements of care of the deceased, especially storage of the body prior to a funeral or cremation taking place, which is often the most challenging area of arranging funerals without a funeral director. Indeed, one private provider noted that this is already provided by some:

"There are already organisations that can support people to keep the body at home (or have it returned home) for several days after death, prior to calling a funeral director. This allows people to have their own rituals, and tending of the deceased in this way can be an important part of people's grieving process. While once commonplace, it is now less so, and indeed there can be something of a disconnect and detachment if one follows the traditional funeral route."

Making available a list of funeral directors or other organisations who could assist with this part of the service provision (without requiring any additional purchase of services) would enable families to carry out the bulk of the funeral service without any further assistance, it was suggested, and widen the choice even further.

Others suggested that strengthening of existing supports or the creation of a network of support organisations (religious and non-religious) who could assist families with organising a funeral without a funeral director would also be welcomed and would strengthen this provision:

"Families can be dissuaded from opting to organise the funeral themselves - if there was a support network or advice available relating to what is involved then this could make it easier for families to pursue."

In particular, places of worship were suggested by one organisation as being in a position to provide support in this area, and to signpost people to relevant organisations who may be able to offer help and advice with planning a funeral without the use of a funeral director. Including such organisations in the guidance would complement what was being proposed for cremation and burial authorities, it was felt.

Similarly, one private provider who supported the proposal indicated that they would also be willing to assist cremation authorities struggling to enable direct use of their facilities. This collegiate approach was in the best interests of all, it was suggested.

Caveats to Support

Several organisations supported the draft guidance in principle, but caveated their support. One suggested that, while they agreed that the draft guidance would empower local authorities to provide impartial information to persons who do not want to use the services of a funeral director, they would not support provisions that proactively encourage local authorities to duplicate the services of funeral directors. The same organisation warned that there may be some public misunderstanding, specifically around body decomposition after death, which would need to be carefully managed by authorities in offering guidance to families wishing to proceed without a funeral director:

"…where a person indicates that they wish to care for the deceased themselves, the local authority should provide them with the information, both on the legal obligations that must be followed and on the process of body decomposition after death, to prepare them, both practically and emotionally, for the task ahead."

Failure to adequately prepare families for what to expect if they opt not to employ a funeral director could lead to additional distress, it was highlighted.

Similarly, comments were made that, while they supported this proposal, authorities would need to ensure that they were adequately prepared to offer the support being proposed, including, for example, ensuring that they had adequate stock of coffins (of different standards, including eco coffins), suitable vehicles for transporting bodies, and suitable containers where a body arrives at a cemetery or crematorium stored in a deficient container. Indeed, one authority that supported the position to broaden consumer choice, in general, commented that burial or cremation authorities may not always be in a position to accommodate direct services:

"We cannot, for example, supply coffins or vehicles for the transfer of the deceased. Funeral directors are experienced in making funeral arrangements and navigating the complex paperwork and arrangements necessary to make a funeral run smoothly. We would, however, make reasonable effort to support the wishes of a person who did not want to use a funeral director, where they have demonstrated their ability to make the necessary arrangements independently."

To ensure that such basic provisions were in place, local authorities may wish to come to a standing arrangement with a local funeral director to provide such services, in matters of last resort, it was suggested, and so careful thought would be required to how procurement arrangements might be administered. Specifically, in such a scenario, one organisation urged that the Scottish Government ensure that local, independent funeral directors have equal opportunity to bid for such contracts alongside national brands.

Also linked to financial concerns, one authority responded that they supported the proposal subject to such services being paid for either by the family of the deceased or by the Scottish Government. Indeed, one organisation responding on behalf of local authorities stressed that they should not face additional burdens that cannot be accommodated within existing resources, and another suggested that there may, instead, be scope for a national agency which provides this type of advice remotely, as an alternative (although it was recognised that this type of non-funeral director service was unlikely to be taken up by a significant number of families).

If government funded, then the uptake of this service needed to be means tested, it was suggested, to take into account individual circumstances and the estate of the deceased including property, savings or other fund sources which are relevant to the deceased person. This would ensure protection of the most vulnerable and marginalised individuals, it was suggested, whilst still offering a choice where financial barriers were not the main concern.

One organisation also highlighted concerns that, if families were encouraged to make private arrangements, support may also be needed to assist them in completing the relevant paperwork and administration required:

"These are services that are quite correctly provided by funeral directors and, if cremation authorities were to spend time and resource providing them instead, the cost of doing so would inevitably be passed on to the public in the form of increased cremation fees."

Others noted that burial and cremation authorities needed to be afforded discretion to guide families to contact a funeral director for assistance, if they felt that the individual was not in a position to care for the deceased in line with legal and regulatory requirements:

"Where an authority is in any doubt that an individual making arrangements themselves is either not capable of doing so or is doing so only to reduce costs and will not have a satisfactory experience, then they should require an adviser or funeral director supports the individual. This reflects that while we are in favour of self-arranged funerals and the limited use of direct cremations we are keenly aware that no-one should use these routes purely for economic reasons where this does not fit their values."

One final caveat presented by one organisation was that, while they agreed that authorities should be supported to assist families requesting to carry out their own funerals, it may be important for them to try and establish if the wishes of the family to care for the deceased themselves was aligned to and reflected the wishes of the deceased.

Reasons for Lack of Support

Among those who did not agree, the main reasons were that there was too much potential for individuals to make mistakes without guidance from a funeral director (including not treating/preparing the body hygienically), that employing a funeral director gives people the time needed to grieve (and this would be missing if they took on the work directly) and a suggestion that local councils should adopt responsibility in cases where families opted not to employ a funeral director (i.e. making it a public service). This latter view was expressed by only one respondent and, in the main, objections focused on a belief that care of the deceased would be too difficult for most individuals to handle.

Two organisations objected on the basis that there could be inherent risks if private arrangements became more common, since they perceived it would be impossible to monitor compliance with health and safety standards required (even if appropriate guidance were issued by authorities). For example, the construction of coffins may not be compliant or people may unintentionally cause hazard risks through such things as placing explosive items in coffins for cremation. Private arrangements may inadvertently present safety risks for both public and staff working at crematoriums, it was suggested. While these organisations believed intrinsically in the choice of the client, they suggested that before any guidance on the promotion of non-professionally arranged and delivered funerals are discussed, the unintended consequences of such issues required greater consideration.

Finally, a key suggestion for strengthening the draft guidance further was that a clearer, operational definition of 'reasonable efforts' be provided. This was mentioned by several respondents.


Email: funeralpoverty@gov.scot

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