Need to know
- The ACCC report reveals that many of the practices CHOICE unearthed in our investigation are still occurring
- Lack of price disclosure and corporate-style upselling are among the industry's failings
- The ACCC is calling on consumers to blow the whistle on unethical operators
When CHOICE first started looking into the funeral services industry in 2019, we had reason to believe consumers were not being well served.
Over the course of a four-part investigation, we found that lack of pricing transparency was entrenched and widespread, leaving grieving customers at the mercy of profit-driven corporations such as Invocare.
Our work led to regulatory changes in New South Wales. As of August 2019, funeral service operators have had to display price lists instore and on their website, and provide cost-itemised quotes.
Deceptive marketing, unfair terms
Now the ACCC has released its report on the funeral services sector and the regulator's findings confirm what our investigations unearthed. They also show that the industry still has work to do when it comes to putting customers' interests above its own.
The ACCC report finds that some funeral businesses are still falling short on fee disclosure, and that some funeral service operators continue to market themselves as small, locally-owned businesses when in fact they're owned by large corporations.
Other corporate-style conduct came to light, such as the practice of bundling deals with other service providers such as florists or headstone makers, and imposing potentially unfair contract terms, such as excessive interest rates for overdue payments.
CHOICE investigations have found that steep markups on caskets are a major revenue stream for funeral homes.
Commissions for referrals
In addition, the ACCC found that online comparison websites and staff working in nursing homes and hospitals may be receiving commissions from particular funeral companies in return for positive recommendations or referrals – a likely violation of consumer law.
"After hearing from consumers about their experiences organising funerals, we are calling on the funeral industry to do a thorough review of their systems, training and marketing practices to ensure they don't mislead consumers on pricing or other claims," says ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.
While CHOICE is not surprised by the ACCC's findings into the funeral industry, we are disappointed that the industry continues to pull up short when it comes to transparency and fairnessCHOICE policy and campaigns advisor Amy Pereira
"At a time of great vulnerability and stress, people organising a funeral should be able to trust they're not going to be taken for a ride," says CHOICE senior campaigns and policy advisor Amy Pereira.
"While CHOICE is not surprised by the ACCC's findings into the funeral industry, we are disappointed that the industry continues to pull up short when it comes to transparency and fairness."
"The ACCC's enforcement work in the funeral services sector continues and we encourage consumers and funeral industry participants to report any concerns about practices in the sector," says Rickard.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.