The funeral sector
16.7Funeral directors are the public face of the funeral sector and the people that bereaved families typically interact with the most. They help to guide the bereaved through the rituals and processes around death, including burial or cremation. However, the way that New Zealanders engage with funeral directors has changed over time, resulting in higher expectations of accountability.
16.8One hundred years ago, the process of dying and the rituals of death centred on the home. Family and close friends took responsibility for preparing the deceased for burial. Once the body was laid out, family, whānau, friends and acquaintances would come to the home or the marae to pay their respects to the deceased person and the whānau and to grieve. For Pākehā, the funeral was generally held within three days of death, with a minister of religion reading the service prior to burial in the church graveyard. For Māori, a death would trigger a tangihanga of several days’ length, after which the body would be buried in the deceased person’s ancestral urupā. The role of funeral directors, known then as undertakers, was primarily to provide coffins and transportation of the deceased from the home to the place of burial.
16.9The 20th century saw society become more urbanised and death increasingly medicalised, particularly in Pākehā culture. As death moved from home to hospital, dying and the burial or cremation of bodies became the domain of the specialist funeral director who managed all the funeral arrangements, including preparation and disposal of the body.
16.10Funeral directors, in seeking to become professionalised and to shed the dour undertaker image, set up the New Zealand Federation of Funeral Directors in 1937 and lobbied Parliament for regulation. In the 1950s through to the 1970s, there was a substantial uptake of knowledge and skills from the United States, including first an emphasis on service and later the understanding and treatment of grief.
16.11Today, most funeral directors offer a wide range of services. These may include:
- collecting the body from the place of death;
- meeting with the family to discuss funeral arrangements;
- embalming and preparing the body for viewing;
- organising a death notice;
- arranging the funeral service, which may include music, flowers, a memorial booklet, video or PowerPoint show and catering;
- conducting the funeral service or arranging for a celebrant or religious minister to do so;
- liaising with cemetery managers for the purchase of a burial plot;
- cremating the deceased body or arranging for cremation at a separate facility;
- transporting the body to the crematorium or cemetery;
- offering counselling or bereavement services;
- selling coffins and urns and referring consumers to memorial stone providers; and
- completing the legal documentation.
16.12It is now possible for funeral services to be conducted entirely within a funeral director’s premises, particularly when they also offer embalming services, a chapel and a crematorium.
Legislative obligations on funeral directors
16.13The Health (Burial) Regulations 1946 provide general requirements about the handling and transportation of dead bodies. They also require any person carrying on the business of a funeral director to be registered annually in the district in which they are operating. Registration is a straightforward process. The application to the relevant local authority must include only the person’s name; the funeral business’s name and address; and the requisite fee. There are no other prerequisite conditions to operating as a funeral director. If the business address is to be used as a mortuary, the applicant must indicate this on the application and provide a certificate of fitness from a health protection officer or environmental health officer. A separate registration certificate is issued by the local authority for each premises in which a funeral director conducts business within its district. Registration to carry on business as a funeral director in another district will require a separate application to the relevant local authority.
16.14There is no requirement that a funeral director must actually have premises to carry out the business. A funeral director can arrange for burial or cremation, transport a body that has already been prepared for burial by someone else (such as family, a hospital or another funeral director) to a mortuary or place of burial and arrange a funeral ceremony without having their own premises. However, if a funeral director keeps or stores bodies, the funeral director must do so in a mortuary or a reception room.
16.15Some funeral directors are members of industry organisations which have their own standards, rules and disciplinary procedures. There are two organisations for funeral directors—the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand (FDANZ) and New Zealand Independent Funeral Homes (NZIFH).
16.16FDANZ reports that approximately 60 per cent of funeral directors belong to their organisation, NZIFH has 21 member firms and 10 businesses are members of both organisations. Members accept a measure of regulation by these bodies in relation to requirements for training, qualifications, inspections and the provision of a process for dealing with complaints from consumers.
16.17FDANZ has a Code of Ethics and a Code of Professional Conduct governing the conduct of members. Member firms are required to:
- be registered with the local authority as a funeral director;
- be directly engaged in practice as a funeral director;
- have at least one staff member who holds a practising certificate issued by FDANZ (which includes having obtained the prescribed number of training hours);
- participate in continuing education and ensure all staff are appropriately trained;
- have access to, and the supervision of, a person who holds a current embalming qualification;
- have the use of facilities as set out in the FDANZ rules and be subject to a three-yearly inspection of premises; and
- be subject to a complaints and disciplinary process.
16.18NZIFH requires its members to:
- uphold the NZIFH mission statement;
- have principals who are recognised as having many years of experience in funeral service and are acknowledged by their peers as leaders in their profession;
- have personnel that are well trained, professional and experienced and are encouraged to pursue continuing education;
- demonstrate high standards of professionalism, integrity and ethics;
- have a reputation for providing a caring, personal service; and
- have funeral home buildings and facilities that are recognised as being of a superior standard.
16.19Some funeral service providers have advised us that they do not belong to an industry body because their business model does not fit the traditional funeral services model. This sometimes includes providers specialising in natural or alternative burial practices. Others told us that they do not belong because they believe their own standards are higher than those of the industry bodies or they do not like the traditional nature of the main industry body FDANZ.
16.20Professional qualifications are available, although currently they are not compulsory. The Funeral Services Training Trust (FSTT) is the Industry Training Organisation recognised by government for the training of funeral directors. Training is run through Wellington Institute of Technology (WelTec). The qualification is a Level 5 NZQA-accredited diploma, which takes 12 months to complete. The training combines on-the-job learning in a funeral home under an approved supervisor with modular courses taught at WelTec. Candidates are only accepted for training if they have worked for one year in a funeral home. FSTT advised us that, in 2014, 16 funeral directors graduated from its courses.