Funeral Industry News

Unqualified Undertakers Working Out of Their Loungerooms

September 23, 2009

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Unqualified Undertakers Working Out of Their Loungerooms

AUSTRALIA – SELF-declared undertakers with no qualifications or experience are setting up shop in their lounge rooms to cash in on the lucrative funeral industry.

Major Queensland funeral companies say they are alarmed that new cut-price operators are able to collect bodies from hospitals and nursing homes, and to arrange burials and cremations because there is no government regulation. Anyone can register a business name, call themselves a funeral director and trade.

There are no background checks or monitoring of practices, raising fears that bodies may be improperly dealt with, misplaced or buried in the wrong graves without their loved ones’ knowledge.

A sharp rise in the number of cut-price funeral companies entering the market – worth an estimated $1 billion a year nationally – has some of the state’s largest funeral directors calling for change.

A Queensland University of Technology report, prepared for the Queensland Funeral Industry Regulation working party in 2006, recommended a code of conduct, safety regulations for the transportation of bodies carrying infectious diseases, regulation of mortuaries and the roll-out of industry training programs.

But long-time funeral directors told The Sunday Mail the industry continued to operate unchecked.

Some new funeral directors do not even have a hearse or office, relying on public crematorium chapels and churches to hold services, and hiring mortuaries belonging to other firms.

Australian Funeral Directors Association president Rowan Steer said that, without an accreditation process, it was difficult for relatives to accurately assess a company’s credentials.

The industry is also concerned at the lack of scrutiny of private mortuaries operated by funeral companies, which do not need accreditation or government inspections.

Doris Zagdanski, general manager of InvoCare Queensland, the state’s biggest funeral group, wants tighter regulation of the industry.

“They can operate out of their lounge room and have a very nice website,” she said.

Some directors are offering funeral packages for about $3000, compared with an average $5000 for a cremation and $8500 for a burial, including the cemetery costs.