ACCC targets funeral companies for misleading, overcharging customers

The Australian funeral industry has been put on notice after two funeral homes were fined for falsely claiming they were locally owned.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued infringement notices to the nation’s second largest funeral company Propel because WT Howard Funeral Services and Coventry Funeral Homes, trading as Fitzgerald’s Funerals, had made “false and misleading representation about their ownership”.

The companies paid just $12,600 in penalties, but ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said the industry was “on notice that further enforcement action will be considered this year”.

Consumer advocate CHOICE previously called on the ACCC to act after its investigations revealed funeral providers did not display the cost of their goods and services.

Read more: How COVID changed funerals

“The ACCC and CHOICE are standing up against false and misleading advertising, pricing and practices in the funeral sector,” CHOICE said in a statement.

“CHOICE’s investigations into the funeral industry have found that a lack of transparency is harming grieving people at their most vulnerable. We look forward to further findings and enforcement actions from the ACCC as it conducts its investigation into the funeral services sector this year.”

Ms Rickard urged anyone who has arranged a funeral or worked in the sector to complete a survey on the ACCC website “that targets anti-competitive behaviour and the provision of misleading and deceptive information to bereaved families”.

She said by suggesting that the companies they bought were part of the local community, Propel gained an “unfair advantage” with local consumers.

Last Friday, the Queensland government backed the ACCC survey, saying it was “set to prioritise reform in the funeral services sector”.

Read more: Save on funeral costs

Propel owns 130 funeral homes in Australia and New Zealand, second only to Invocare, which was targeted by CHOICE in last year’s Shonky Awards for “failing to be upfront about prices”.

“When we mystery-shopped the industry in 2019, funeral businesses either wouldn’t give us an itemised list of expenses or were evasive on the question of whether we could arrange some items ourselves at a lower cost,” the CHOICE report stated.

“When we did get quotes, it was only after repeated requests in some cases. And the quotes for the cheapest option – cremation without a funeral – ranged wildly from $2400 to $5600, all for the same set of goods and services.”

NSW Fair Trading insisted on funeral businesses to display transparent funeral pricing. But these strictures do not apply in the rest of Australia.

It’s little wonder then that the cost of funerals varies wildly across the nation. Comparison site Finder has revealed that the average funeral cost $8261 in Perth but $6278 in Brisbane.

Australian Funeral Directors Association (AFDA) president Adrian Barrett told AAP that the survey hasn’t broken down overall costs and the differences were probably due to interstate variations in cemetery fees.

“That’s the biggest variation between the states, whether the crematoriums and cemeteries are state owned,” he said.

He welcomed the scrutiny of his sector, saying the “vast majority of the industry” was doing the right thing.

“If there are issues consumers are facing, its important they are on the table.”

Funeral director Asha Dooley, from Grace Funerals in NSW, told AAP people should not choose a funeral director on cost alone.

“Do your homework, find a provider you are comfortable with and make sure they are upfront and transparent because as an industry that’s how we should be operating.”

Kate Browne, personal finance specialist at Finder, says many people don’t realise how expensive funerals are “until it’s time to foot the bill”.

“A basic funeral can easily set you back more than $5000, while more elaborate options can be closer to $15,000.

“Dealing with the death of a loved one is extremely difficult, let alone having to organise and pay for a funeral.

“In some cases, it can help to prepay the cost of a funeral to reduce the financial burden at the time, but this obviously isn’t always possible,” Ms Browne said.

“Holding a budget-friendly funeral doesn’t mean your loved one is any less valued.

“Keeping costs to a minimum can reduce a grieving family’s burden, let them mourn and remember their loved one without an excessive bill at the end of it.”

Funeral costs by state

1          Perth               $8261

2          Hobart             $7588

3          Melbourne      $7581

4          Canberra         $7032

5          Adelaide         $6993

6          Sydney            $6976

7          Brisbane          $6728

Finder’s hints to reducing funeral costs:

  • Skip the extras. There’s no need to fork out extra for embalming, flowers, funeral cars, and limousines or funeral notices.
  • Opt for cremation. The price difference between cremations and coffins can range from $300 for a simple cremation capsule to $10,000 for a premium coffin.
  • Hold the wake at home, rather than paying to book a venue. This can save you hundreds of dollars.

Are funeral costs a wake-up call for you? Are you planning on a bells and whistles funeral or something more budget conscious?

Read more: Get your funeral plans sorted

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Written by Will Brodie

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