New South Wales Clamps Down On “Exploitative” Funeral Industry
Beginning February 2020, bereaved families in Australia’s New South Wales will be able to see and compare pricing for funeral home goods and services.
Much like the United States’ Funeral Rule, which was introduced in 1984, NSW’s funeral information standard promotes transparent pricing. The standard will require funeral directors to provide:
- Information about their “basic funeral” option if they have one, its cost and what it covers, by giving a “basic funeral notice,”
- An itemized quote before entering into any funeral arrangement, and
- An itemized statement of the goods and services provided and their costs before accepting final payment.
So what prompted New South Wales’ government to create the funeral information standard? Although the government’s September 2 announcement didn’t specify, NSW journalists speculate that an in-depth investigation by a consumer group forced the action.
CHOICE, which dubs itself the “leading consumer advocacy group in Australia,” employed mystery shoppers and conducted surveys of recently bereaved families to investigate the funeral industry in NSW. CHOICE began publishing its eye-opening findings in a four-part series in June.
“Our investigation found an industry where manipulation, overcharging and misinformation were the norm,” said CHOICE investigative journalist Saimie Jeong. “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 country.”
CHOICE surveyed 548 people who had recently organized a funeral. They also mystery-shopped 36 funeral homes. Twelve of these are independent, while corporate chains InvoCare and Propel own the other 24. What they discovered didn’t bode well for any establishment, regardless of ownership:
- Quotes for direct cremation ranged from $2400 to $5600 (the cheapest was from an independent business)
- 14 funeral directors didn’t provide written (via email) price quotes within 48 hours, and 9 never replied at all
- Only 17 funeral homes provided itemized pricing of any sort
- “Body viewing” added a cost of $110 to $1600 to a basic funeral
- Only 17 of 36 funeral homes provided the cost of their cheapest coffin, which ranged from $980 to $1850
Other focus areas of the CHOICE investigation addressed “the pitfalls of prepaid funerals” (to be published soon) and whether a funeral director was really necessary.
As Connecting Directors shared in February, the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also launched an investigation into funeral pricing in 2018. The CMA should publish its final report on those findings in late 2020.