NFDA Responds to the Funeral Service Ombudsman

It was with great concern that we took note of recent newspaper articles and radio interviews which portray the entire funeral industry in South Africa as being in a state of complete chaos and disarray.

Certain individuals are making public announcements regarding a new regulating authority and Ombudsman that will address alleged atrocities which are rife in an “unregulated” funeral industry.

These reports are inaccurate and a distortion of the truth, but have the potential to tarnish the public image and reputation of respectable funeral establishments, whilst the driver(s) of this campaign are trying to satisfy personal ambitions.

Our intention with this letter is to present facts that will put issues into perspective and correct the misconception that all funeral service providers are conducting business according to their own rules in a completely unregulated environment.

We urge the public, whilst considering the proposed regulations and Code of Conduct for comment, to take cognisance of the following facts:

1. The funeral industry in South Africa is not free from regulation. There is an abundance of regulations which apply to funeral establishments. These laws/regulations are however contained in various statutes and by-laws. Whilst there is not an overseeing regulating authority for the funeral service industry, this is true of many industries and should not be portrayed as unusual or strange.

The funeral service industry is obligated to comply with national legislation and municipal by-laws and therefore local authorities enforce compliance. Certain other regulations, which are applicable, relate to the provision of financial services and are enforced by the Financial Services Board. These are just examples of many regulations which are applicable and therefore the term “unregulated” industry creates the incorrect impression that “anything goes”.

Non-compliance with the regulations could have serious repercussions for service providers (e.g. criminal prosecution or closure of the establishment) and therefore the public is advised to always make use of reputable establishments.

2. The majority of the larger, more prominent and long established funeral undertakings in South Africa are associated to one of three associations listed below, which in turn are associated with the Funeral Federation of South Africa (FFSA).

• National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA)
• South African Funeral Practitioners Association (SAFPA)
• Independent Funeral Directors Association (IFDA)

The FFSA and the associations affiliated to it have approximately 3 000 member organisations (businesses). These member organisations are subject to and must conform to the FFSA’s Code of Conduct providing consumers with recourse against the FFSA’s members for failing to comply with its code. The code provides an alternative dispute resolution process as would the proposed ombudsman scheme.

The provisions of the Consumer Protection Act apply to funeral service providers and consumers have recourse against unscrupulous undertakers via the National Consumer Commission (NCC).

3. There are undoubtedly unscrupulous funeral service providers in the market exploiting consumers and as such, the members of the FFSA are in favour of an industry code of conduct and the appointment of an Ombudsman for the funeral industry to protect consumers against abuse and exploitation.

During a recent meeting with the NCC, which was held to consult members of the FFSA, we declared our support for statutory governance, but we expressed the concern that role-players were not consulted on the proposed regulations and Code of Conduct before it being published in the Government Gazette.

All objections and concerns were duly noted by the NCC. The FFSA was invited to compile an alternative Industry code that would be representative of the industry and address the serious shortcomings of the code proposed by “Funeral Industry Regulatory Authority” (FIRA).

4. The organisation known as FIRA is not (contrary to the misconception created by its name) the official regulating authority for the funeral industry and has no statutory authority, nor does it represent any constituency other than its own directors.

The directors of FIRA developed the proposed regulations and Code of Conduct without consultation with any other industry role-players. The Code of Conduct proposed by FIRA is fundamentally flawed and is not endorsed by the FFSA. A certain director of the company has had a chequered career in the funeral industry, amongst others being involved in two failed funeral companies, unsuccessfully attempted to have a funeral training college accredited by SSETA, having at least one civil judgement against him (awarded with costs), being a recipient of at least one attorney’s letter regarding defamation of character and/or slander, and being the originator of an unsuccessful, multi-million rand document (paid for by the tax payer) proposing to change legislation relating to funeral directors. Objections and concerns were raised during the recent meeting between the NCC and members of the FFSA.

We trust that the above will put matters regarding this burning issue into perspective and we would like to suggest that the media approaches the FFSA and/or the affiliated associations for comment to obtain an objective and balanced overview of the industry at large.

NFDA Not Opposed to a Funeral Service Ombudsman

The NFDA is not opposed to the introduction of a funeral services ombudsman- in fact we welcome it. We do, however, have an issue with the way that the Funeral Services Code was gazetted without any consultation. Consultation takes place before the fact, not after.
Johan Rosseau of FIRA has stated, on radio, that his research is available to anyone who requests it. A member of the NFDA EXCO has written to him, asking for a copy of these documents. It would be interesting to see the outcome of this request.

We would also like to know what constitutes being an expert in the funeral industry? Is it the number of years that a person has worked in the industry, or the number of funeral businesses that you have run?
Many of the stories that have been run on FIRA’s social media pages date back many years. These incidents are rehashed, making them seem as if they have occurred recently. Whilst we do not doubt that there are instances of poor service, and of companies acting in an unethical manner, we feel that the number of transgressions has decreased in the past years, mainly due to the existence of various associations.

If we take that there are 54 000 000 people in SA, and we have a death rate of around 13.05 deaths per 1000 people, we have about 700 000 funerals per annum in SA. The number of complaints that we receive, or hear about, is minute in comparison with the number of funerals conducted. We would like it if there were no complaints at all, but we are dealing with people who are fallible, so mistakes can happen.

The NFDA is of the opinion that the current process of the appointment of a funeral services ombudsman is reminiscent of the drafting of the ill-fated Gauteng Funeral Regulations that was developed at great cost to the province a few years ago by the same person that is pushing the Funeral Services Code.