Most families look for their trusted, local operator when seeking a funeral home at a time of grief, but penalties levied by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) indicate that all may not be as it seems.
According to the consumer watchdog, WT Howard Funeral Services (based in Taree, NSW) promoted on its website that it was “proudly local and independently owned”, while Coventry Funeral Homes represented that “Fitzgerald’s Funerals in Townsville, North Queensland is locally owned and operated” when in fact both homes are owned by publicly listed company Propel Funeral Partners.
WT Howard and Coventry have each paid $12,600 in penalties after the ACCC issued each of the businesses with an infringement notice for allegedly making a false and misleading representation about their ownership.
Propel is the second largest funeral service provider in Australia, owning 130 funeral home locations in Australia and New Zealand, including 31 cremation facilities and nine cemeteries. The company provided more than 13,000 funeral services in the 2019-2020 financial year.
According to the ACCC, Propel acquired WT Howard in 2015, and then bought Coventry in 2019, but the businesses “failed to remove their claims about local ownership after they were acquired by Propel”.
“Businesses need to have systems in place to regularly check that the information they are providing to consumers on their websites and other promotional material remains accurate, as making misleading representations to consumers is a breach of the Australian Consumer Law,” Delia Rickard, the ACCC’s deputy chair, said in a statement.
“These penalties are the first enforcement action by the ACCC in this enforcement priority area, but funeral service businesses are on notice that further enforcement action will be considered this year.”
WT Howard and Coventry have since removed the misrepresentations from their websites and other promotional material after being contacted by the ACCC.