Funeral Industry: Greater Demand for Transparency

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A Melbourne woman who says she was ripped off by a leading funeral provider has called for changes to the industry to protect other vulnerable families."This is not right, because you're vulnerable," Jane Sinclair told 7.30."You're always going to be vulnerable."My feeling is the only way around it is some sort of regulation, some sort of consumer protection to stop people just being able to charge what they like, charging like wounded bulls."Photo: Jane Sinclair only had time check her mother's funeral bill months after the cremation. (ABC News: Andy Burns)
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National standards neededFuneral director Ross Pokere believes his industry needs to be more transparent about what it charges.He moved from New Zealand seven years ago and now runs the small independent Heaven Funerals in Logan, south of Brisbane.The high prices quoted by his competitors have shocked him.Mr Pokere is particularly concerned by the service fee Tobin Brothers charged Ms Sinclair."That's very high for a no-service cremation," he said."That's the least expensive way that someone can take care of your loved one."The amount of time involved for the funeral director is maximum, sort of, four hours, five hours' worth of administration cost."There's no chapel usage, no viewing."Mr Pokere believes introducing national standards for pricing and service standards would help resolve customers concerns and make running his business easier."It would make it a lot more simple administratively," he said."It'll make it better for families to know that they're being told the truth by whoever it is that is providing them that service."You're not buying a refrigerator from us, you're trusting us with your loved one, and we have one time to get it right."Ms Sinclair believes the need for change is urgent."If there was transparency, they wouldn't get away with charging those [excessive] sorts of fees," she said."They need to, say, protect people who are vulnerable and can't think clearly."Photo: Funeral director, Ross Pokere Snr, is calling for national standards for the funeral industry. (ABC News: Christopher Gillette)
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Funeral prices in AustraliaAccording to market research company IbisWorld, the funeral industry makes $1.6 billion in revenue each year and is expected to grow by 2.5 per cent a year.The market is dominated by three major players, led by InvoCare which has more than 230 funeral homes and accounts for about a quarter of all revenue.They are closely followed by Propel Funeral Partners and then Tobin Brothers.Colin Wong runs a website called Gathered Here, which compares the cost of funeral services.He has obtained the prices from 825 funeral homes across Australia, which he collected by cold-calling companies because not all of the information was transparently provided online.He said the professional service fee was often significantly more with a premium funeral director."The reality is that this is where the larger funeral homes and the more expensive funeral homes will add in extra amounts for things like their brand name premium, their offices in marketing, and where they can generate and add more profits to the bottom line," he told 7.30.Mr Wong is also the author of a new report called Funeral Prices in Australia, which he has provided exclusively to 7.30.He said his findings underscored how important it was to shop around."When you look at the average between the cheapest and the most expensive option for a basic funeral in Australia, that's $5,066, so that really underlines the many thousands of dollars that families can save," he said.The report found New South Wales was the most expensive state for a non-service cremation, at an average of $4,311, while South Australia was the cheapest at $2,756.The most expensive non-service cremation was a whopping $8,800.Photo: Colin Wong runs a funeral cost comparison website which highlights the difference in price across states and funeral providers. (ABC News: Monique Schafter)
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The more funeral parlours, the more you payThe size of the funeral provider you choose can have an impact on the price."Funeral homes with four branches you'll pay 9 per cent more, funeral homes with five branches or more branches you'll pay 20 per cent more, so it seems regardless of whether you go to InvoCare or another large brand, there's going to be an element of the price premium involved," Mr Wong said.The report also found consumers would pay significantly more if they chose market leader InvoCare, which owns the well-known brands White Lady and Simplicity."There was a big difference in price between InvoCare funeral brands and independent funeral companies," Mr Wong said."So, on average InvoCare funeral brands are up to 22 per cent more expensive, and independents are 9 per cent cheaper."InvoCare declined an interview, but in a statement chief executive officer Martin Earp challenged the validity of the Gathered Here report.Mr Earp claimed the report did not fully account for InvoCare's full range of funeral brands, including its budget option, Value Cremations."InvoCare provides a range of service and products that caters for all budgets of our customers, a point that Mr Wong seems to have over looked," the statement said."Mr Wong quotes in his report that InvoCare is on average 21.3 per cent more expensive than the Brisbane average of a direct cremation, but omits to report that InvoCare's entry-level direct cremation service is $1,290."It is unclear whether this report takes into account the full range of InvoCare's service offerings."Photo: White Lady is just one of InvoCare's funeral brands (ABC News: Christopher Gillette)
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Overcharging and bad service are main complaintsIt is widely accepted that there is a lack of regulation governing the funeral industry, but it is bound by Australian consumer law.Most complaints go to the relevant fair trading body in each state and territory.7.30 has collated complaint figures and found that since 2013 there have been almost 420 complaints across the country.They related to overcharging, unsatisfactory services and failure to supply services.New South Wales received the most with 168, followed by Victoria with 87 and Queensland with 66.Photo: No-service cremations are one of the cheaper forms of funeral. (ABC: John Gunn)
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