Funeral industry ignoring new laws, still lacking transparency

Apr 13, 2021
A report has found that only two-thirds of funeral providers list any price information on their websites, and less than half publish all the information they are required to by law. Source: Getty

Despite new funeral industry regulations being introduced in 2019, an independent regulatory body has found that less than half of funeral providers are displaying the information they are legally required to show.

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) New South Wales has found that the funeral industry isn’t giving consumers enough information about funeral prices, in a situation where they are making decisions under stress and time pressures.

The finding comes after a Choice investigation in 2019 found that grieving families had been “taken advantage of” by exuberant prices and hidden costs for ceremonies. Following the revelations by the consumer watchdog, the NSW government introduced new price transparency laws, meaning all funeral homes were required to display price lists in-store and on their website, display the cost of their least expensive package, and funeral directors were required to provide a cost-itemised quote to a customer before entering an agreement to carry out their funeral service.

Despite the laws, Deborah Cope, acting chair of IPART, said the draft report into the costs, pricing and competition within the NSW funeral industry found that many funeral providers were not displaying the information they were legally required to. “We found that only two-thirds of funeral providers had any price information on their websites at all, and less than half publish all the information they are required to,” she said.

“Most people are satisfied with the funerals they purchase. However, people told us that the process of organising a funeral can be confusing and that more information would help. For consumers to be able to get the right funeral for them at a price they can afford, they need to be able to access that information quickly and easily, so they can compare providers.”

While both consumers and industry stakeholders have called for stricter regulation of the industry, Cope says it may not make any difference. “Some people called for more regulation of the industry, but we found that this would likely only add to the costs of a funeral without increasing industry standards,” she said.

Instead of tighter regulations for the industry, IPART has drafted recommendations that focus on improving the information available to help with organising a funeral. Among the recommendations, IPART asked that NSW Fair Trading clarify the wording of the industry requirements, and continue to audit websites and commence enforcement action for those who were failing to provide transparent information. The report said that audits would ensure that funeral providers publish their prices, as legally required, in a prominent position on their website.

The group also called for the government to consolidate information — which is currently littered across numerous websites — into one place and is calling on NSW Fair Trading to develop a consumer guide that helps people compare funeral providers and understand their rights, responsibilities and choices when it comes to organising a funeral.

The group also requested the update of relevant forms on the NSW Health, and Births Deaths and Marriages websites, including the ‘authority to collect deceased’ and the ‘registration of death’ forms. This would allow families to complete and submit the forms electronically, without the assistance of a funeral provider.

IPART’s funeral review also looked into the affordability and choice for funeral services in rural and regional NSW, as well as across Sydney, finding that the funeral and crematoria market was “workably competitive”.

The draft report makes a number of recommendations that focus on improving the information available to help with organising a funeral, and is requesting feedback and suggestions. You can view their recommendations here, attend an online public hearing on Thursday, April 29, and make a submission of your thoughts by Friday, May 14.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial or legal situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product or legal advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial or legal decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services or legal advice.

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