The New South Wales Government has announced major action against the funeral industry amid revelations that grieving families have been “taken advantage of” by exuberant prices and hidden costs for ceremonies.
Instead of being hit with unexpected costs when planning a ceremony for their loved one, new rules will see all funeral companies in the state provide easier access to pricing for Australians in their time of need. A list of costs and services will be documented at their place of business and website, ensuring that all details are made available before a person enters into an agreement.
The announcement follows an investigation by leading consumer association Choice into the industry which revealed many Aussies are being taken for a ride by funeral companies and are charged inflated prices for basic services.
Sharing his thoughts on the new rules, Choice investigative journalist Saimi Jeong praised the government’s decision and said funeral companies must no longer be able to get away with profiting from a lack of price transparency. “Families are being taken advantage of when they’re at their most vulnerable,” he explained.
“Our investigation found an industry where manipulation, overcharging and misinformation were the norm. It’s important that governments and regulators, like the NSW Government in this case, act on manipulative markets. The funeral industry must be held to account across the the country.”
The investigation, which was released earlier this month, found many funeral businesses flouting existing laws. After sending out its team of mystery shoppers, Choice reported that almost half of the 36 funeral providers it investigated failed to hand over written information on their charges within two days of a ‘customer’ making a request for direct cremation (that is, a cremation without an accompanying funeral service).
Ten of the 36 providers gave lump-sum quotes that provided no cost breakdowns, while nine providers didn’t respond with a written quote at all. Where Choice did obtain quotes, it found big variations in prices for the same goods and services, which included transporting and storing the deceased’s remains, filling out paperwork, liasing with a crematorium and providing a coffin.
Choice reported that the Propel funeral homes did not provide written quotes for direct cremations, while Simplicity funeral homes quoted between $3,000 and $3,900. Low-cost provider Value Cremations, mid-range Simplicity and premium White Lady are among the brands owned by InvoCare, a stockmarket-listed company that is Australia’s biggest funeral provider. Propel, another listed company, typically runs funeral homes under their local names rather than as large chains, and is Australia’s second-largest provider.
The independently owned funeral homes weren’t better, however, when it came to providing itemised quotes, with five of the 12 approached by Choice providing no breakdown of costs at all.
Where there was a breakdown of costs provided by both big-brand and independent funeral homes, it was typically for the lower-priced items such as flowers and a celebrant, not for more expensive items such as a coffin, Choice said. Other, pricier services were typically grouped under ‘professional service fees’ in the quote; these fees can cover mortuary care or the use of facilities or transport.
Thankfully, though with the new rules in place, Jeong said the emotional process will be made that much easier for Aussies with no fear that they are being ripped off.“Arranging a funeral can be an emotional and time-sensitive process,” she explained.
“When coping with grief and arranging a funeral, we’re almost always reliant on funeral suppliers and are limited in our ability to shop around. The new rules are a step in the right direction and will make it easier for people to find options that are fair, affordable and appropriate. It’s important that the industry is monitored and these new rules are enforced effectively.
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