In 2021, the National Association of Funeral Directors took a strategic decision to evolve its inspectorate, compliance, and quality functions and so, in January 2022, the NAFD launched the Independent Funeral Standards Organisation (IFSO) to help its members demonstrate their pursuit of high standards, to the public and to stakeholders and to provide an ideal model of what independent regulation for the whole funeral sector could look like.

IFSO was born at a time when the risk of burdensome government regulation was very real. Since then, though, a pandemic served to divert attention to more pressing matters, delay progress in Scotland and encourage a watered down set of rules from the CMA, compared to its original ambitions, solely focused on transparency of pricing information. And the Government made it clear that it was not ready to progress the oversight of standards in the sector.

Andrew Judd, NAFD Chief Executive Officer reflects on the impact this uncertainty created: “The lack of clarity affected IFSO’s ability, in the short-to-medium term, to fulfil its’ ultimate role of becoming a regulator for funeral firms beyond those already in NAFD membership, which led the NAFD to make prudent adjustments to IFSO’s operational structure, to ensure it could focus on its important work inspecting NAFD members, while remaining agile and ready to respond when the policy situation became clearer.

“Another eighteen months on, it still isn’t clear. However, we are getting closer; the focus on care of deceased people brought about by the Fuller case is pushing things on, and Scotland is cracking on with its statutory code – but there’s still no policy position that the sector can confidently work with on next steps, although we do know that the Ministry of Justice is paying close attention to how the sector conducts itself.

“It is clear from the Fuller Inquiry phase one report that the Chair and his team will pull no punches in their quest to rightly ensure deceased people are always cared for with dignity, security, and respect. This is, and has always been, a fundamental purpose of NAFD and, by definition, reflects the substance and professionalism of our members. Similarly, the Scottish Government rightly expects extremely high standards through its statutory code, planned licensing regime and inspectorate of funeral directors.

“The reality, of course, is that we cannot continue to do this in isolation – and so the work continues to not only support the Scottish Government as it implements its new Statutory Code, but also to press the UK government for a clear policy direction on the independent oversight of standards for all funeral firms, as the organisation marks its second anniversary, IFSO is evolving once more to keep pace with the change around it.

“Through all of these changes, the work of the IFSO team of inspectors has continued and both IFSO and the NAFD have remained steadfastly committed to the principle of independent oversight of standards in the funeral sector – not only of those firms in trade association membership, but of all funeral businesses offering services for deceased and bereaved people.

“Having stepped in a short notice to nurture IFSO through its’ infancy, I would like to sincerely thank Natalie McKail for her leadership and dedication as an excellent and knowledgeable Independent Chair for the IFSO Board. We have valued so highly all that she has brought to not only steady but propel the ship forwards. Similarly, I would like to extend the NAFD’s gratitude to Leon Livermore for sharing so generously his wealth of experience and independent oversight too and to funeral director Julian Walker of AB Walker, who continues to provide funeral sector expertise and insight to the IFSO Board. We are currently reviewing the composition of the Board, to ensure that it continues to reflect the necessary skillset, expertise, background and representation that IFSO needs in this ever-changing external environment.

“While no organisation or sector is perfect, nor can ever afford to be complacent, through the development of our robust Funeral Director Code and the quality assurance work led by IFSO’s inspectors, the NAFD and its members have been genuinely able to hold themselves up confidently to all UK governments as a robust model of sector-led, proportionate standards regulation.

“The NAFD remains committed to oversight of standards in the funeral sector and to ensuring we develop IFSO going forward. We remain committed to building upon the investment that has already gone into IFSO, and both enhance and augment its already diligent and capable team to ensure we remain agile and ready to meet whatever the future brings.”