Chapter 10
Funeral sector overview

Industry organisations

10.31Industry organisations play a significant role in the funeral services sector, although membership of these organisations is voluntary. The Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand (FDANZ) is the largest industry organisation, and has existed since 1937.455  Other organisations are also relevant, and, in particular, the New Zealand Embalmers Association (NZEA) has a distinct but complementary role to that of FDANZ, focusing on training and professional support for embalmers. More recently, New Zealand Independent Funeral Homes Ltd (NZIFH) was formed as an alternative industry voice, specifically representing New Zealand-owned, family-operated funeral homes. Most funeral directors associated with NZIFH remain members of FDANZ as well, although some chose to affiliate only with NZIFH.456
10.32A primary role of FDANZ is the establishment and enforcement of a professional code of conduct.457  This code includes the requirement for all members to have a nationally recognised qualification. Other minimum standards also apply, such as a three-yearly inspection of premises. New members must demonstrate that they comply with FDANZ’s standards and criteria, and meet continuing education requirements. Members receive a practising certificate, and FDANZ provides for a complaints resolution process to enforce its code of conduct. NZEA also issues practising certificates to qualified embalmers, provided continuing education requirements are met. NZEA has a separate code of conduct, but no separate complaints service. Instead, FDANZ also reviews complaints about embalming, but we have been told that these are particularly rare.
10.33FDANZ has advised us that very few complaints are received each year, and these are mostly resolved at the earliest stage of the complaints process.458  In 2012, FDANZ received seven complaints, of which five were resolved informally and two progressed to the formal dispute resolution process.

10.34When a complaint is first received, FDANZ will encourage the aggrieved party to write a letter detailing the complaint and to visit the funeral director together with a support person to see if it can be resolved informally. Usually this is the end of the matter. If the complaint is not resolved, the aggrieved party will then write a formal letter of complaint to FDANZ and agree to be bound by FDANZ processes. The funeral director then has an opportunity to respond to the complaint in writing. The person complaining will occasionally respond to new matters raised.

10.35The written materials are given to a complaints committee, comprising two members of the executive of FDANZ. They will issue their decision on whether there has been a breach of the FDANZ code of ethics based on the written material, and will also determine the appropriate sanction. This decision can be appealed within 60 days. The appeal is heard by an independent third party, generally a Disputes Tribunal referee acting as an independent arbitrator.

10.36If FDANZ finds that the funeral director has breached the code of ethics, the sanctions range from requiring an apology, to a full or partial refund, compensation, training, or suspension of the practising certificate. An FDANZ member can also lay a complaint against another FDANZ member considered to be breaching the code or calling the organisation into disrepute. However, FDANZ considers that it is unable to review complaints about prices, because doing so could be construed as an attempt to determine prices across the industry and may be seen as a breach of section 30 of the Commerce Act 1986.

10.37FDANZ has informed us that a major concern for its organisation is that in the absence of compulsory affiliation, the code of conduct has limited effectiveness. We have been informed that each year, several calls are received from bereaved families who are dissatisfied with the service of non-member funeral directors. A related concern is that the voluntary nature of their organisation undermines the efficacy of disciplinary proceedings, because members subject to an adverse finding may simply leave the organisation.

10.38Indeed, the percentage of operational funeral homes that are members of FDANZ has dropped significantly over the past 10 years. This could suggest either that some funeral directors (especially new providers) are deciding the benefits of membership are not worth the costs, or that fewer funeral homes meet FDANZ standards; or a combination of these factors. In 2003, around 80 per cent of funeral directors were affiliated with FDANZ. That figure is now closer to 60 per cent. However, FDANZ has informed us that most of the unaffiliated funeral directors are low-volume service providers, and approximately 85 per cent of funerals are conducted by a FDANZ funeral home.459

10.39Both FDANZ and NZEA have repeatedly called for mandatory standards for the sector. In 2003, NZEA submitted that embalmers should be regulated under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Bill, but the Select Committee did not recommend their inclusion. We understand that this is because embalming does not treat a medical condition. In a submission on our 2011 Issues Paper on death certification, FDANZ expressed the view that funeral homes should be required to have at least one member of staff with a qualification in funeral directing, and that no one should be permitted to embalm a body without a formal qualification.

10.40As with any voluntary self-regulation, the existence of an industry body such as FDANZ creates a two-tier industry: one that is unregulated, and one that is subject to standards of service developed by the industry. While anyone may be a funeral director, achieving affiliation with FDANZ requires certain standards to be met. New providers may struggle to demonstrate that they have high standards without becoming affiliated with FDANZ. This is likely to be a particular issue for providers of natural funeral services, as FDANZ’s standards are focused on traditional full-service funeral directors.

10.41Conversely, a drop in membership potentially makes it difficult for consumers to distinguish between experienced and reputable funeral directors who choose not to be affiliated with FDANZ, and funeral directors who do not meet FDANZ’s standards. We have spoken to several funeral directors from NZIFH who meet FDANZ’s membership criteria but have chosen not to join. These funeral directors considered that there were insufficient benefits of membership, and that FDANZ membership did not provide a significant marketing advantage.

455Originally under the name “New Zealand Federation of Funeral Directors”: see <>.
456We note that FDANZ has informed us that some funeral directors affiliated with NZIFH were formerly members of FDANZ, but resigned membership after an adverse complaints decision.
457The functions of the Association are:
To be the pre-eminent voice and standard setter for funeral service in New Zealand;
To promote quality, expertise, and integrity in the funeral profession by its members in New Zealand;
To promote, control and regulate the funeral profession by its members in New Zealand;
To promote the training, education, and examination of persons practising, or intending to practice, the funeral profession in New Zealand.
458Telephone call with Robin Grooby, FDANZ Executive Officer (5 December 2012).
459FDANZ has also informed us that it is aware of several new providers that are not eligible for membership because they have unqualified staff or inadequate facilities.