When you’re choosing a funeral director, you might have heard that X company is an “independent funeral directors”, while Y is a “chain” – and you might also have wondered why it matters.

The truth is, choosing an independent can bring a lot of benefits. Here’s everything you need to know about independent funeral directors.

What are independent funeral directors?

Independent funeral directors are privately-owned businesses run by small teams, rather than those managed by a large corporate chain. They’re usually family-run outfits that pride themselves on their quality of customer service, and many have been in business for generations.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between an independent funeral director and a large national chain, especially if you’re not familiar with the funeral industry.

Yet, who owns the funeral home can entirely change the experience of arranging a funeral, from what you can expect to pay right up to the quality of the funeral itself. For example …

How are independent funeral directors different to other funeral directors?

They’re small, often family-run businesses. Independent funeral directors are often run by families, and (being part of a smaller, close-knit team) even unrelated staff tend to become honorary family members.

Some independent funeral homes date back hundreds of years, handed down from generation to generation.

Their focus is on service. Independent funeral directors are usually prepared to go that bit further to help a family in need because they are not constrained by profit-driven targets set by management, and are more focused on looking after families during a difficult time.

They have close community ties. Independent funeral directors will also know the area they trade in well and may have been in business there for decades. Many will have built their reputations over generations, with the business passing down through the family.

Most independent funeral directors are already deeply invested in the community, often getting involved in fundraising for local charities.

That’s not to say all independent funeral services are without fault, or that you’ll never have a bad experience using an independent funeral director, but in general, the company culture is very different, and so is the customer experience.

The most well-known funeral homes are run by The Co-operative Funeralcare and Dignity – neither of which are independent.

If you’re looking to compare independent funeral directors, you can see customer reviews and accurate funeral costs on the Beyond website.

What are the benefits of choosing an independent funeral director?

1) Cost. Independents tend to be more reasonably priced. When we compared Dignity chain prices to those of independent funeral homes on the Beyond site, the independents came up 123% less expensive, despite including the same services.

Independents are able to give you a better price because they make a smaller profit on the funeral compared with the large corporations and have fewer overheads.

2) Continuity of service. If you choose an independent funeral director, you can generally trust that the person who helped you through the funeral planning process will also be there to support you at the funeral itself, rather than a stranger.

3) Flexibility. Because independent funeral directors manage their own time, they can spend more time trying to understand your needs and are often more flexible. For example, many will happily visit you at home to arrange the funeral.

4) Experience. Independent funeral directors often have years and years of experience, and a history in the community that can make it easier for them to arrange even unusual requests.

5) Ongoing bereavement care. Some independents offer ongoing support after the funeral, and include this in their own professional service fees. Many hold free annual memorial services around the end of the year to support all the families they’ve served and commemorate their loved ones.

How can you tell if a funeral director is independent?

Don’t be deceived by a family name above the door – it does not necessarily mean they are independent.

Often, large funeral chains will use family names on their signs, because they know customers will be more inclined to trust them, and they often use the reputation of the family name. It is quite common for corporations to operate under old family names and not change the look of the premises after the funeral home changes hands.

So, how can you tell?

1) Look for a brand name. One good way to tell if a funeral director is independent is to look for a brand name, such as Dignity or The Co-operative, in the bottom corner of the shop sign and at the bottom or top of paperwork.

Do not confuse brand names with trade organisations, however. You may notice stickers in the window of funeral directors for the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) and the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), which are both trade organisations. SAIF funeral directors in particular are actually more likely to offer independent funeral planning (it’s in the name). You can find out more about SAIF and NAFD here.

2) Check their Beyond profile. If a funeral director is signed up to Beyond, their profile on our site will tell you if they’re independent or not. Type in a postcode here to find a funeral director.

3) Check their website and shop window. If they are an independent funeral director, it may be prominently displayed on their website or in their shop window.

4) Ask. You should also be able to find if your funeral director is independent when you visit the funeral home. If you’re unsure, just ask!

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