Funeral directors, also known as undertakers or morticians, play an important role in the funeral process in the United Kingdom. They help grieving families make arrangements for their loved one’s funeral, from transportation of the deceased to embalming and preparing the body for viewing or cremation. This guide will provide an overview of funeral directors in the UK, including their services, costs, regulation, and tips for choosing the right one.
Services Provided by Funeral Directors
Funeral directors offer a wide range of services to support families during the difficult time after a death. We’d like to thank our contributors for this information, including Simple Send Offs, a funeral director in Wirral, for providing this information on their website.
Here are some of the key services UK funeral directors typically provide:
- Transportation of the deceased – Funeral directors have vehicles and staff specially trained to collect the deceased from their place of death and transport them to the funeral home. This includes filing necessary paperwork and following all regulations for the dignified and proper handling of human remains.
- Preparation of the body – At the funeral home, the body is prepared for viewing and/or cremation or burial. Funeral directors wash and disinfect the body, close the mouth and eyes, set facial features, and dress the deceased.
- Embalming – Embalming preserves the body by replacing blood and bodily fluids with preservatives. This allows for viewing of the deceased if desired by the family. It is an optional service.
- Restoration – If the deceased’s body has undergone trauma or decomposition, funeral directors can perform restorative treatments to rebuild damaged features.
- Presentation of the deceased – Funeral directors cosmetically prepare the body for viewing by styling the hair, applying makeup, and setting the facial features. The body is placed in the casket.
- Funeral arrangements – Funeral directors meet with the deceased’s family to guide them through all the details for the funeral, including choosing a casket, flowers, service locations, obituary, death certificates, and more. They coordinate with the cemetery, crematorium, officiant, and other vendors.
- Viewings or visitations – The funeral home provides a place for friends and family to come and pay their respects to the deceased before the funeral service. Funeral directors prepare the viewing room and the body.
- Funeral services – Funeral directors arrange, coordinate and manage all details of the actual funeral service, whether it be a burial, cremation, or memorial service.
- Filing documentation – Funeral directors complete and file all the legal paperwork related to the death, including death certificates, burial transit permits, and cremation authorizations. They can also assist families with securing death benefits.
- Aftercare – Many funeral directors provide grief counseling referrals and assist families with creating memorials, such as headstones, memorial trees or donations.
Costs of Funeral Services
The cost of a basic funeral in the UK averages around £4,000-£5,000, not including cemetery or crematorium fees, according to the National Association of Funeral Directors. However, there are ways to reduce costs:
- Simple coffin – Using a basic particle board coffin rather than an expensive hardwood casket saves significantly on costs. Coffins can start around £100.
- Direct cremation – Opting for direct cremation without a service or viewing can lower costs. Direct cremations average £1,500-£2,000.
- Transportation – Using a funeral director close to the place of death lowers transport costs.
- Embalming – As embalming is an optional service, forgoing it reduces fees. Refrigeration preserves the body sufficiently for a viewing.
- Pallbearers – Using family or friends as volunteer pallbearers rather than paid staff saves on service fees.
- Viewing – Eliminating viewing or limiting viewing hours decreases costs.
Many funeral directors are willing to work with families’ budgets and offer payment plans. Third party funeral plans purchased in advance can also reduce costs considerably.
Regulation of Funeral Directors
In the UK, funeral directors must follow regulations set by the government, local authorities, and industry organizations.
- Funeral directors must hold a certificate of competence from the British Institute of Embalmers or National Association of Funeral Directors showing they have undergone proper training.
- They must adhere to laws regarding handling of dead bodies, certification and registration of deaths, hygiene practices, transport of deceased, cremation procedures and more.
- Funeral directors’ premises must pass inspections by local authorities related to storage, preparation areas and mortuaries.
- They must comply with environmental regulations regarding emissions and waste disposal.
- Members of industry associations like the National Association of Funeral Directors and National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors follow codes of practice.
- Funeral directors must provide price lists to customers and inform them of their rights.
- The Competition and Markets Authority regulates the funeral services market.
These regulations protect consumers and ensure proper, dignified treatment of the deceased.
Tips for Choosing a Funeral Director
When selecting a funeral director, keep the following tips in mind:
- Shop around – Compare prices and services from several funeral directors in your area. Avoid going with just the closest one.
- Check credentials – Verify they are certified by a professional institute and licensed by the local authority.
- Consider reviews – Read online reviews and get references to evaluate customer service. Avoid Funeral directors with multiple complaints.
- Meet in person – Visit their premises and meet the director to evaluate their professionalism, cleanliness and dedication to service.
- Ask questions – Inquire about services, costs, payment plans and any other concerns. A funeral director should explain all options clearly.
- Discuss special wishes – Explain any unique requests you may have for religious or cultural traditions. See if they can accommodate them.
- Compare facilities – Look at their preparation room, viewing room, chapels, vehicles and other facilities. They should be clean and well-maintained.
Choosing the right funeral director for your needs provides critical support and guidance during an intensely difficult time. Following these tips will help you select one you can trust completely.
Types of Funeral Services
There are a few different common types of funeral services families can choose from in the UK:
In a traditional burial service, the deceased’s body is interred underground in a cemetery. Many burials involve:
- A viewing of the deceased prior to the service
- A funeral service, either religious or secular
- A procession to the gravesite
- Burial rites conducted graveside
- Family and friends attending
Burials require purchasing a cemetery plot and headstone in addition to the casket and funeral director’s services.
Cremation is increasingly popular in the UK, with over 75% of funerals now involving cremation. The cremation process includes:
- A brief viewing service beforehand, if desired
- Transport of the coffin to the crematorium
- A funeral ceremony in the crematorium chapel
- Insertion of the coffin into the cremator to be burned down to remains
- Collection of the ashes by the funeral director
- Scattering or interment of ashes as chosen by the family
Some families opt for direct cremation without any services. Cremation is typically less expensive than burial.
Eco-friendly ‘green’ funerals aim to have less environmental impact through measures like:
- Using biodegradable coffins or shrouds made of materials like wicker, cardboard or bamboo
- No embalming chemicals
- Burial in an all-natural or woodland burial ground
- Planting a tree or memorial shrub rather than a headstone marker
Green funerals have a lower carbon footprint but may have higher associated costs for burial sites.
Some people choose to donate their bodies to medical science or organ donation. This avoids a standard funeral service. Remains are usually cremated once studies are complete and returned to the family if desired.
Trends and Technology in the Funeral Industry
The UK funeral industry, worth around £2 billion annually, has undergone some changes thanks to shifting cultural trends and new technologies:
- Personalization – More unique, tailored funerals celebrating the deceased’s life, interests and personality. Things like photo memorials, releasing doves, fireworks, balloons, or sharing stories.
- Alternative coffins – Custom artwork coffins, football team logos, or using the coffin as a final message with pictures and text. Reusable or biodegradable eco-coffins.
- Online funerals – Live streaming of funeral services for remote guests to watch online from home. Some services are even virtual pre-recorded memorials.
- Online tools – Funeral directors use web tools for customer management, collaboration with crematoriums and cemeteries, and administrating digital paperwork. Some provide online client portals to simplify arrangements.
- Memorial websites – Personal memorial sites where friends and family can share photos, videos, memories and grief support. Directors assist families in setting these up.
- Prefab services – Low-cost direct cremations with no frills using prefab coffins and streamlined transport and cremation services with minimal overhead expenses.
While traditions remain, there is more openness to new ways of grieving and commemorating loved ones. Funeral directors adeptly serve families either way.
Finding Support as a Funeral Director
Funeral directors deal with death daily, which can take an emotional and psychological toll. But there are positive ways for them to find help and support in this difficult profession:
- Peer groups – Many funeral directors find solace in talking with their colleagues who understand the unique challenges they face. Directors can vent, ask advice and find empathy within their professional community.
- Counseling – Specialist counseling or therapy groups help funeral directors process grief, anxiety, burnout and other issues related to their work. Some may suffer compassion fatigue from absorbing clients’ pain. Counseling builds resilience.
- Work-life balance – Making time for self-care, hobbies, friends, family and fun outside of working with the deceased all day is crucial. Keeping perspective prevents burnout.
- Training – Ongoing training and seminars help directors learn positive coping techniques like meditation, breathwork, mindfulness, and leaning on faith or spirituality.
- Gratitude – Focusing on the deep fulfillment of serving families compassionately and honoring the dead can make the pressures worthwhile. Funeral directors transforming grief into healing is profoundly meaningful.
- Time off – Taking regular vacations and breaks, sabbaticals if needed, and not overextending themselves is key to longevity in such an emotionally draining profession.
With the right support system, funeral directors can have long, positive careers helping grieving families navigate loss. Their caring service provides true comfort.
A Day in the Life of a Funeral Director
To understand the role funeral directors play in serving families, it helps to look at what an average day may involve:
- Receive notification of new deaths overnight from hospitals, care homes, or homes
- Make initial contact with families to set up transfer of deceased from place of death
- Prepare documentation like death certificates
- Transfer deceased to funeral home using transfers with discreet vehicles
- Embalm bodies and prepare for viewing if selection
- Meet in person with families to begin arrangements
- Guide families gently through options for services while listening to wishes
- Explain costs and financing options; develop personalized funeral plans
- Liaise with cemeteries and crematoriums to begin bookings
- Visit florists and caterers as needed for service details
- Perform restorative treatments on deceased if needed
- Dress, cosmetize and prepare bodies for viewing
- Facilitate viewing or visitation hours at funeral home chapel
- Be on hand to comfort grieving families, assist elderly visitors, answer questions
- Transfer deceased to site of service the following day
- Catch up on paperwork – scan documents, update files, process payments
- Make follow up calls to families to confirm details
- Clean and disinfect preparation areas; do maintenance checks on facilities
- Reflect on supporting families through the grief process
Funeral directors must be adept multi-taskers and great listeners as they guide vulnerable clients making complex arrangements under difficult emotional circumstances. Their tireless service ensures every deceased person receives dignified, respectful end-of-life treatment.
Challenges Facing the Funeral Industry
While providing an essential service, funeral directors also face a variety of challenges:
- Funeral demand is dropping with declining death rates and movement toward cremation. Cremations are faster and require less services than burials.
- Funeral home bills continue rising, making offerings unaffordable for some. Equipment upgrades, energy and real estate costs contribute.
- The physically and emotionally demanding work, irregular hours and on-call needs make hiring and retaining staff difficult.
Scams and Fraud
- Some dishonest funeral directors exploit vulnerable, grieving families, overcharging for unnecessary services. Strict oversight is needed.
- Independent funeral directors face increasing competition from corporate consolidation of funeral homes and cheaper low-cost providers.
- More people are opting for minimalist direct cremations and memorial sites like Facebook versus traditional services. Funeral directors must adapt accordingly.
- Complex government rules, licensing requirements and inspections make regulatory compliance challenging for small operators.
By focusing on stellar service, embracing technology, controlling costs, investing in staff, and safely expanding offerings, UK funeral directors can meet these challenges head on and continue providing comfort to those who need it most.
Why Choose a Funeral Director Over DIY Options
Some families may consider handling funeral arrangements without professional assistance to save money, but funeral directors are worth the investment because they:
- Save precious time and energy – At an exhausting emotional time, they efficiently handle countless complex tasks families struggle to navigate alone.
- Prevent legal issues – Mistakes in paperwork, laws around transporting and storing the deceased, and other regulation can lead to serious problems without an expert guiding you.
- Provide objective advice – They help you make clear-headed decisions during a turbulent time when your judgement is clouded by grief.
- Have practical facilities – Their funeral home has professional equipment, storage, chapels and preparation rooms families lack.
- Bring experience – Their extensive experience with hundreds of services means they know how to properly honor wishes.
- Offer support – Their kind assistance and advice provides comfort and reassurance through overwhelming grief at a fragile time.
- Honor wishes – They fulfill the exact memorial service the deceased would have wanted, rather than leave loved ones regretting DIY mistakes.
While DIY funerals may seem cheaper, they often end up more costly and stressful in the long run. An experienced funeral director’s guidance is priceless.
Frequently Asked Questions About Funeral Directors
- What qualifications must funeral directors have in the UK?
Funeral directors must have a certificate of competence from the British Institute of Embalmers or National Association of Funeral Directors showing completion of proper training. They must also be licensed by their local authority.
- How do you transport a body if you don’t use a funeral director?
Legally, only trained professionals with proper vehicles can transport dead bodies in the UK. Untrained individuals transporting a body risk violating laws.
Hiring an undertaker for transportation is advised.
- Can I arrange a viewing of the deceased without embalming?
Yes, with refrigeration, a viewing is possible for a day or two without embalming. However, embalming preserves the body for longer viewing.
Discuss options with your funeral director.
- What percentage of funerals are burials vs. cremations today?
Approximately 75% of funerals are cremations now, with 25% burials. Cremation is increasing in popularity due to lower costs and less space required.
But burials remain chosen by those with cultural or religious preferences for it.
- How soon after death do you need to contact a funeral director? There is no set timeframe, though it’s courteous to contact them within 24 hours. The funeral home can store the deceased in the interim, allowing families time to make arrangements without pressure. Contact them when ready.
- Can you negotiate costs with a funeral director? Yes, costs are often negotiable. Be open about your budget. Simpler options like forgoing viewing or embalming can significantly lower costs. Many directors work with families’ financial situations.
- Should I tip the funeral director? Tipping is appreciated but not expected or required. Some families offer a modest tip of £50-100 to funeral home staff if they felt they went above and beyond. Or donate to a charity in their name instead.
- How do I becoming a funeral director? You must undertake a 2-3 year accredited training program, apply for required certificates and licenses, and complete a 1-2 year apprenticeship under an experienced director before practicing independently.
- Do funeral directors get benefits and pensions? Most do receive typical benefits like healthcare insurance, paid time off and pensions, though it varies by employer. Corporate funeral homes often offer better benefits than independent homes.
- Why are funerals so expensive? Key factors driving costs higher include facilities overhead, transportation fees, administrative tasks, storage of bodies, highly customized services, expensive caskets/urns, and legacy profit margins. But lower cost options are available.
Arranging the sensitive logistics after a death can feel daunting, but UK funeral directors provide critical support and guidance for grieving families during this difficult transition. Their professional services ensure your loved one is honored and commemorated with the utmost dignity, care and respect according to your wishes. With the information in this guide, you can choose a funeral director that provides you and your family peace of mind as you pay tribute to someone cherished. Though saying a final goodbye is painful, the funeral director’s compassion and expertise eases