Education Day 2017 recap

SAIF Education Day always pulls a wide variety of visitors from across the UK – Independents of all sizes sitting alongside SAIF associates who specialise in wildly different areas.

Bringing them together is the constant change and development that surrounds the funeral profession, and has the power to affect each of them. This year’s speakers came from backgrounds just as varied as their audience, and together they ensured 2017’s Education Day was yet again the focal point for learning about every kind of cutting edge development relating to funerals.

Those developments have come from the worlds of politics, law, science, technology and training, and speakers were on hand to give in-depth insights in each of those areas.

Suicide bereavement research

Stepping ably in to a change in the schedule was Dr Sharon McDonnell of the University of Manchester’s Centre for Mental Health and Risk. She gave a detailed presentation on a subject she hopes to bring out of its infancy: “Giving a voice to those bereaved by suicide and those responsible for their care.”

Dr McDonnell has been devoted to this field for years, and was herself bereaved by suicide. In her time investigating this unique form of bereavement, she has carried out research into how different services are affected by it. Now, she wants to hear from funeral directors.

As Dr McDonnell explained: “Health professionals are affected by such deaths, but there are celebrants and funeral directors here and we have no idea about you lot. I am planning to do some research and hope you will talk to us, because at the moment your needs are not even considered – and it’s not that people don’t care; people don’t realise, and taking part in research can make the difference.

“I don’t think you’re immune. There will be some of you here possibly affected by suicide professionally or personally.”

Thanks to work carried out by Dr McDonnell, training for healthcare professionals is now available on how to respond to parents bereaved by suicide in particular. She said her interest in speaking to funeral directors came from the work that went into creating this training – she found that health professionals were often found to be “getting it wrong” by families, with funeral directors “getting it right”.

Issues families were found to be regularly confronted with include suicidal thoughts of their own, anxiety on the part of the professionals they met, and difficulty accessing support. Assisting professionals – potentially including funeral directors – could help not only them, but the families who rely on them.

Ultimately, Dr McDonnell said that while much of her current advice came from looking into healthcare professionals, there were plenty of lessons that could already be applied to funeral directors. Independents were invited to get involved in research being carried out right now. A survey can be found here.

Dr McDonnell added: “If you learn one thing, please learn not to say ‘commit’, but ‘died by suicide’. It can be very difficult, but I would ask you to teach your staff as well.”

Political developments

SAIF staff and Executive members have been engaging with parliaments across the UK, and Education Day was the perfect chance to discuss that wealth of knowledge with the wider membership.

Kicking the day off, SAIF Chief Executive Terry Tennens and Scottish SAIF President Mark Porteous held an interactive session on the work the Scottish Government has been doing, including the appointment of Natalie McKail as Inspector of Funeral Directors, and the co-operation between SAIF and the NAFD in engaging with that work.

Terry said: “Natalie understands there can be unintended consequences when regulation is brought in, and that changes need to be scalable with businesses of different sizes.”

Members used the chance to get their thoughts and concerns across. Many funeral directors from outside of Scotland asked questions, aware of the potential impact across the UK, while associate member the Association of Independent Celebrants, asked for their situation to be considered within the process, and were assured it would be.

Paul Allcock, Government Liaison Officer on behalf of SAIF, talked about the UK Government’s plans. These particularly focused around the Department of Work & Pensions’ (DWP) planned changes to Funeral Expenses Payments and the claim process.

He said: “I have been impressed with [the DWP’s] endeavour to improve the application process, to make it simpler for funeral directors as well as our clients to go through the process, and ultimately have a swifter understanding of where we stand when someone is claiming this benefit.”

He directed people to where the Government response to the consultation on planned reforms was expected shortly after the event (see page 30).

Technology marches on

Changes in technology affected lots of strands on Education Day, influencing data protection, insurance, and embalming, as outlined by Kevin Sinclair of GT Embalming Service Ltd.

Kevin’s talk on ‘medical technology in the funeral service’ showed the increasing difficulties for funeral directors in ensuring potentially dangerous implants are removed prior to cremation. Items like pacemakers are growing harder and harder to detect as the size of new models continues to shrink, and some items cannot even be found by metal detectors.

Concerns around this issue from the audience led to the suggestion that pressure could be put on officials to require more stringent standards from crematoria, as many other countries already do.

Kevin referred to as an extensive resource for information.

Feuding families

Gavin Faber, Partner in Irwin Mitchell’s Will, Trust and Estate Disputes Team, shared advice on how funeral directors should avoid being drawn into disputes within families. He said the ageing population, changing families and only a third of people having a Will all created a “perfect storm for disputes”. In particular, he said: “I am getting more cases around ashes and there is little guidance in this area. There is some uncertainty, and there is conflict between the rights of the executor and the rights of the cremation applicant.”

He advised that funeral directors not be drawn into extensive mediating and that, while the legal risks were low, there were other risks in getting involved with inter-family disputes.

Disaster recovery

Kenyon International’s Robert Rowntree said the disaster recovery service was always open to new team members, with plenty of funeral directors having traditionally taken part in their international efforts.

Robert talked through the varied work Kenyon does across the world, including ongoing efforts at Grenfell Tower, where the personal items collected were already in the tens of thousands.

More detail is available online here.

Protecting data

One of the biggest and most pressing changes set to affect everyone in the funeral profession is GDPR – the General Data Protection Regulations, set to replace and enhance data protection legislation from May 2018. The new regulations are much more stringent and have the potential to completely change the way some Independents carry out some areas of their work. So it is not surprising that three different Education Day speakers touched on GDPR to different degrees.

Support from SAIF

Chief Executive Terry Tennens emphasised: “I would really strongly recommend you begin to map the journey of how your firm collects data, both in paper form and digitally.”

He continued to note that SAIF would be providing assistance to help funeral directors comply and continue to work effectively under GDPR. Terry said: “We are going to be producing a GDPR toolkit. The arrangement form will be a key document for you; when you are making an arrangement there will be certain phrases included that will enable you to have legitimate contact with your clients after the funeral.”


Brian Hart of Unicorn Insurance discussed the increasing cyber-insurance available to SAIF members under SAIFInsure.

He said: “If you go back five years, cyber-insurance didn’t really exist, but we now find that information is money. The cost of global cyber-crime even six years ago was £245 billion, and big organisations like the NHS have been hit.”

On data protection, he said there were responsibilities for funeral director businesses.

“I don’t want to scare anyone, you are not a seriously threatened sector, but you hold data and do need it en masse.”

SAIFInsure now offers ‘third party protection’ for members – meaning if a customer’s details are accessed, the business will be covered. Bespoke further cover is available depending on your business’ needs.

Pre-need data

Alison Wilson, Golden Charter’s Director of Risk & Compliance, returned to build on last year’s Education Day GDPR presentation. Data protection regulations are more concerned with the living than the deceased, so pre-paid funeral plans are necessarily a bigger data issue than at-need business. Golden Charter is therefore planning various tools to support funeral directors.

Alison said: “The existing Data Protection Act from 1998 doesn’t disappear, GDPR actually builds upon it, so if you are not compl iant with current data protections you won’t be compliant with GDPR. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website has self-assessment tools that will let you check your compliance. Then you can build upon it going forward.

“Under GDPR you can only hold data that you absolutely require. That means photocopying pre-need application forms are an absolute no-no when Golden Charter sends you a plan summary already. Payment information like bank details for pre-need should not be kept.

“There are two big issues for funeral directors. The first is consent. At the moment people have to opt out of most marketing activity; from now on you will need an explicit opt-in. Not only do you have to ask ‘can I market to you’, but you actually have to ask how – can I write, email, text, telephone? Customers can choose. Unless you have permission to contact families about further services after a funeral, you will be in breach if you do so.

“The second issue around pre-need is that with Golden Charter you accept certain terms and conditions, and those will be getting enhanced, more stringent and more onerous. From a legal point of view, you need to be absolutely clear what your obligations are.”

As well as assistance SAIF and Golden Charter can provide, Alison recommended the ICO website here.

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