Between June and September 2019 the Scottish Government undertook an online consultation on its proposed Funeral Director: Code of Practice. The consultation was comprised of 18 questions, and collected information in both survey and open-ended comment format. The initial analysis of responses was conducted in late 2019, however the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 resulted in a delay to publishing this analysis report.
The consultation focused on the sections of the draft statutory Code that would potentially have the greatest impact on funeral directors (assessed from understanding of the sector and stakeholder discussions during development of the Code). It also included four questions about funeral industry staff qualifications, which are not currently in the Code but are a key area of consideration for future regulation of the industry.
The consultation received 86 responses (52 from organisations and 34 from individuals).
Respondents generally supported the Code and its intentions. A majority of respondents who were funeral directors expressed that they were mostly or fully compliant with the Code in its draft form.
However, the consultation also provided valuable feedback on, and critiques of, the Code by respondents. In summary:
- The majority of respondents indicated the requirement to have a designated and fit for purpose care facility or mortuary would not have an impact on their business, and further expressed support for this requirement in open-ended comments.
- The majority of respondents indicated that the requirement to refrigerate deceased people would not have an impact on a funeral director's business. A majority also expressed agreement with the proposed ratio of the number of refrigeration spaces to number of deceased people per year at 1 to 50. However, the open-ended comments demonstrated that this issue is complex and potentially needs greater clarity and flexibility. Most respondents also expressed agreement that there should be flexibility for funeral directors to provide refrigeration either as part of their business model, or to be able to access refrigeration by means of a formal Service Level Agreement (SLA) with a refrigeration provider or another funeral director.
- Most respondents indicated they were supportive of funeral directors providing viewing of the deceased as a service, and did not think that offering viewing would have an impact on a funeral director's business. Some respondents stated this requirement was already standard practice.
- Regarding implementation of the Code, respondents most frequently selected '18 months' as a reasonable time period to allow funeral directors to meet the Code's requirements. Regarding record-keeping, respondents most frequently selected the option of keeping records for 50 years. Both of these findings were aligned with the Scottish Government's own proposals.
- Respondents appeared divided about whether the standards set out in the Code will raise barriers for people considering entering work in the funeral director industry for the first time. However, among those who expressed that the Code would be a barrier to new entries, they frequently noted that this would in fact be beneficial to the industry and ensuring standards were maintained.
- The majority of respondents noted that the Code would not be a barrier to funeral businesses' plans for expansion, or innovation in the industry.
- The majority of respondents suggested the Code could be broader in terms of the types of incidents it requires to be reported to Inspectors. In addition to 'damage to ashes' and 'complaints about the care of deceased persons', respondents noted any events or incidents directly involving deceased peoples' bodies or remains (including loss or misidentification of bodies or remains) were necessary to report.
- Across the consultation, respondents noted that the Code may disproportionately impact different types of businesses, such as small and medium-sized, independent, or non-traditional funeral director businesses. From an equalities perspective, respondents from faith-based organisations asked that the Code require funeral directors to signpost their clients to free support and celebrant services provided by faith-based organisations. Further, comments expressed concern that introducing new standards may lead to increased funeral costs, and that these may particularly impact people on low incomes.
- Respondents suggested the Code's requirements should be more detailed in some sections, and identified a need for greater clarity around terms used (e.g. "client", "invasive procedures", or "funeral director").
- Respondents noted that significant investment by funeral directors might be required to meet the Code's requirements.
While training and qualifications were not included in the draft Code (the Scottish Government is currently unable to require Scotland's funeral directors to achieve a particular level of training or qualification), the consultation sought to explore respondents' views on this matter. Overall, respondents generally agreed that funeral directors, funeral arrangers/administrators, and funeral service operatives/assistants/drivers/bearers should be accredited by an official accreditation body, such as the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), or another official UK accreditation body. Additionally, the majority of respondents agreed that these groups should undertake training and receive qualifications that are primarily vocational in nature, with a focus on gaining practical skills over more classroom-based learning. Further, that accredited training and qualifications should be available to those wanting to undertake embalming courses in the future.
The Scottish Government will be taking steps to consider the draft Code in light of responses received. This includes further consideration of accreditation of funeral directors (and embalmers), given that respondents generally expected these groups to require accredited qualifications to practice. Additionally, the Scottish Government will be seeking further views from small, independent, or rural funeral director organisations. This is because of the potential impact the Code may have on these businesses, as reported by consultation respondents, and the relatively few responses received to the consultation from small or rural funeral directors.