Where were all the celebrants when the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) was conducting its investigation onto the funeral sector?
Although it may seem a silly question, they are all but ignored in the CMA’s provisional report, released in August 2020.
The investigation into identifying whether or not the funeral sector offers value for money hardly mentions the officiant – one of the key roles that can add value
In its focus on the cost of a funeral, the CMA appears to have lost sight of the difference between cost and value. Families who leave a funeral feeling comforted and cared for by a unique commemoration of their loved one are getting good value for money. Those who pay the same price for a mediocre, off-the-shelf ceremony are losing out.
It’s a practice that has to stop.
CMA investigators spoke with celebrant organisations, including the Institute of Civil Funerals (IoCF) at the beginning of the process. The IoCF, and no doubt others, made it clear that the celebrant – and indeed, any officiant – is a key part of the funeral care process. Yet the provisional report does no more than mention celebrants occasionally and certainly gives no recognition to the potential value they add.
It’s celebrants who are responsible for crafting and delivering the funeral ceremony. Arguably, for the consumer, this is the most important event in the funeral care process. Indeed, for most members of the public, the words ‘funeral’ and ‘ceremony’ are synonymous.
The ceremony is where an entire, unique, lifetime is condensed into the time allocated by the crematorium. A good celebrant makes best use of that time. They deftly weave favourite memories into a fitting tribute, they fully involve all mourners, they use their experience and empathy to suggest perfect readings and music.
The ceremony needs to be powerful and meaningful, creative and, above all, personal.
Sadly, many are not.
If the CMA wants value for money from the funeral sector, we argue that it’s not enough to force funeral directors into transparency over costs. The CMA should also require them to use qualified, professional celebrants and to pay them a fee that recognises the training and talent they bring to the role.
Funeral directors who already use trained and qualified funeral celebrants know they can expect professional standards of practice and conduct that enhance their own reputation and guarantee value for money.
Yet, still, there are funeral directors who are happy to use celebrants who deliver ‘off the shelf’ ceremonies that do not give that same value for money.
Because the ceremonies are cheap, predictable and short thus allowing funeral directors to maximise time and resources.
It’s a practice that must end to protect all those bereaved in future and to protect the reputation of the funeral sector.
The IoCF’s contribution to the CMA investigation was a recommendation that all celebrants should be properly trained and qualified by a recognised academic body. We hoped the report would advise that regulation or registration of celebrants is necessary. That would lead to transparency for funeral directors and the general public and allow a choice of officiant whose value to the bereaved is accountable and quantifiable.
We remain hopeful. IoCF has made further representation on the provisional report to let the CMA know of our concerns. We recognise that the investigation has been, in the CMAs words ‘severely restricted’ by lockdown and we understand why the time is not right for regulation.
Meanwhile, there is a telling phrase in the provisional report: ‘The bereaved typically place their trust in the funeral director to guide them to the most suitable option for them’.
We know that the majority of funeral arrangers choose the celebrant themselves on behalf of the bereaved family. Many select on the basis of familiarity; some for the reasons above – because the ceremony will be short and predictable. Few think about the value for money individual celebrants give.
But it does not have to be that way. One simple change would be to require funeral directors to provide information about several celebrants, allowing consumers to choose for themselves. This would force those celebrants who continue to get work just because they are favoured by a particular funeral arranger to prove themselves a worthy match for those offering better value for money.
Meanwhile, bereaved families could yet take matters into their own hands and request a list of celebrants – with testimonials. As ever, knowledge is power.
Article by Susan Tipping
Institute of Civil Funerals