Shropshire funeral director backs calls to regulate industry
28 Mar 2024

A Shropshire funeral director is backing historic calls for the funeral industry to be regulated as a police investigation continues at a Hull undertaker’s.

Ian McDougal, of WRR Pugh & Son in Shrewsbury, is urging the Ministry of Justice to act quickly in its review of the funeral sector sparked by the enquiry and wants swift legislation to ensure future confidence in the industry.

Mr McDougal said it was vitally important for bereaved families to be reassured that their deceased loved ones are always safe and secure in the care of their funeral director. 

The investigation in Hull was launched after police received a report of concerns about the storage and management processes relating to care of the deceased at Legacy Independent Funeral Directors. A quantity of ashes and 35 bodies were later removed from the firm’s premises. 

A 46-year-old man and 23-year-old woman were arrested on suspicion of prevention of a lawful and decent burial, fraud by false representation and fraud by abuse of position. They were released on bail pending further inquiries.

Mr McDougal said: “We have been pressing for a long time about the need for the funeral industry to be regulated by a body that would oversee every funeral director, regardless of size.

“We do have the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), a widely recognised and highly respected regulatory body, and one we at WRR Pugh & Son are a proud member of, but it’s voluntary and not all funeral directors are members.

“The NAFD promotes high standards and provides members with resources to support them in the care of bereaved and deceased people, a body that has a strict criteria for members that must be adhered to - which is exactly what is needed right now to encompass the whole industry. 

“Events in Hull have brought the need for a regulatory body to the fore again but it is a debate that has been going on for too long without resolution. In 2020, for example, the Competition and Markets Authority published a report identifying a number of issues including inconsistent standards of quality of care for the deceased, and recommended the creation of a statutory registration and inspection body to monitor funeral director services.

“Then, last year, petitions calling for a regulatory body were launched by a woman in Birmingham after a funeral company left her father’s body to decompose. The Ministry of Justice is carrying out a review in light of events in Hull and it is to be hoped that this latest incident will lead to definite legislation sooner rather than later.

“It is important that people have confidence in the funeral industry and those entrusted with the care of their loved ones at what is already a difficult time following a family death. 

“I believe the introduction of a regulatory body will bring that reassurance and ensure funeral directors are held accountable through open and transparent processes laid out under strict, enforceable criteria.”

Barry Pritchard, President of NAFD, said in a statement to members: “It is time all funeral homes met the standards required of NAFD members. One of our core ambitions has been to provide bold, measured and responsible leadership for the sector.

“Our submission to the Ministry of Justice sets out our concerns about the ability of firms, like Legacy, to choose not to invite scrutiny of their business; the limits of the voluntary regulation NAFD members consent to participate in; and what we feel would be important to strive for going forward: a proportionate, inclusive regulatory framework, underpinned by Government, able to be met by all kinds of funeral businesses, from the smallest to the largest.  

“Bereaved families have a right to feel assured that their deceased loved ones are safe and secure, regardless of where they are cared for. The current self-regulatory approach means that some funeral homes opt out of scrutiny and so this assurance cannot always be provided. That must change.