More to Death asked Jon Underwood to explain himself and share his vision for a consumer led change to the funeral industry. We hope everyone reading this will remember to refer every friend and family to this site, helping to establish it as a essential guide to better service.
Buying a funeral can be a tricky business.
In our culture we are not often presented with death as most of us experience it. When we read about death in the newspapers or see it on TV it is often ‘extreme death’, such as gory horror movies or terrible accidents.
But statistics show that we sometimes shy away from looking at death as it affects most of us. A survey by Dying Matters shows that less than only 29% of people have discussed their wishes around dying. So when looking to buy a funeral people can find themselves unprepared.
Most people buy their funerals when they need them rather than planning ahead. Many of these are worn out from the emotional turmoil that death can bring. Many wish they want to be spending time with their loved one who has died, and organising a funeral is the last thing they want to be doing. And people buying funerals often lack experience – the average person only organises 2 funerals in their life.
The situation is further complicated by the funeral industry, which is completely unregulated. There is huge variety between funeral directors, from those who are completely amazing to those, unfortunately, who are awful. In the past year we’ve seen both sides presented on TV. The BBC ran a series called Dead Good Job that showed undertakers from a range of backgrounds acting with care and sensitivity. But there were also a couple of programmes about undertakers showing really ghastly bad practice in the industry.
For example in Undercover Undertaker, which appeared on Channel 4, reporters used hidden cameras to look behind the scenes at Co-operative Funeralcare. Many viewers didn’t like their industrial scale refrigeration units for bodies. Pretty much everyone was shocked by the blatant up-selling and deception of people looking to make arrangements for their dead.
This matters because funerals matter. A funeral is a one-shot deal; if it goes wrong there is no going back. A good funeral can be a profoundly moving and healing experience. A bad funeral can compound the pain of losing a loved one in a way that is almost unbearable.
There can be economic implications to your choice of funeral provider too. There is can be significant variations in price between undertakers. And, as the Undercover Undertaker programme showed, it is not beyond some unscrupulous operators to add additional costs for unnecessary procedures like embalming to unsuspecting consumers.
I experienced this myself recently. A woman I know who works as a cleaner had to organise a funeral for her father-in-law. I asked her how much she had been quoted and she said around £4,000. She told me about what the funeral involved and it was very similar to the funeral for my own father-in-law which had taken place six months earlier – and which had cost £1,800. It seemed to both of us that an unscrupulous undertaker was charging an unnecessarily large amount.
I personally have been aware of these issues for some time and in 2010 decided to do something about them. It seemed to me that people needed more information to be able to make the right decisions about which funeral director was right for them. I was aware that in the hospitality industry the site Trip Advisor had had a transformative impact. This was a ‘review site’, which enabled people to write their experience of staying in certain hotels for others to read. Would the same model work in the funeral industry?
I decided that there was only one way to find out and decided to ask the Natural Death Centre to partner with me on this work. I contacted them to see what they’d say and was surprised to hear that they were already thinking along the same lines. We loosely agreed to work together and off I went with a name for the project – Funeral Advisor – and the task of creating a website.
This was slightly complicated by the fact that I had no idea how to do this! Such was my determination and belief that this was needed I learned how to do so from scratch, which took around a year and a half and countless hours of head-scratching frustration.
And finally the website was born! It’s at funeraladvisor.org.uk.
At this site anyone who has organised a funeral in the last three years can write their opinion of the funeral director they worked with. The objective is really to help the best funeral directors stand out from the crowd so that funeral consumers can benefit from their help and experience. So far the reviews we’ve received have been overwhelmingly positive. Hopefully in time the website can help make organising a funeral a less tricky business.