The 5 Underlying Issues of the Australian Funeral Industry

The period after the death of a loved one is often a stressful and confusing time for those left behind to pick up the pieces. Unfortunately, it is also a time when unscrupulous elements in the funeral industry manipulate funerals cost, influencing the way we grieve.

There have been several credible reports of Australia’s $1 billion funeral industry taking advantage of people when they are most vulnerable.

In 2017, Sandra Van der Laan, a University of Sydney Business School academic, was taken aback by how funeral businesses guarded their pricing. This prompted her to embark on a study of the funeral industry which found that most funeral providers were deliberately confounding their consumers.

Although most providers charge anything between $4000 and $15000, their tendency to push unnecessary upsells and charge exorbitant mark ups are making funerals thousands of dollars more expensive than they have to be.

Four Corners reveals the dubious tactics being used by some in the funeral industry.

A Call for Transparency at a Vulnerable Time

While populating their website, Gathered Here, a funeral prices comparison website, founder Colin Wong called over 600 funeral homes in Australia within three months.

He found that: ‘the great majority of funeral homes in Australia do not readily provide itemised price lists when requested. Many refuse to provide pricing information over the phone, and many more refuse to provide itemised quotes. In practice, the existing regulations do not work to protect consumers.’

These findings led him to create a petition to protect grieving families by requiring funeral services providers to disclose their itemised price lists on the internet.

There are many ways funeral providers take advantage of their vulnerable clients. Below are some unethical behaviour and things that go on in the funeral industry that the public might not know about.

1. Fake Coffins

While speaking on Channel Nine’s A Current Affair, Jeff Boyle, owner of the Whitsunday Funerals and Crematorium funeral homes in Queensland, claimed many facilities are using fake coffin tops to cover cheap coffins used for cremations.

Some funeral homes switch coffins at the last minute, often with pine or MDF boxes, without you knowing that they are flimsy knock offs. Families are charged as high as $1300 for these knockoffs which actually cost about $70.

2. Fraud and Deception

The funeral industry is famous for its lack of transparency from bodies being identified in carparks to funeral providers overcharging their customers. New South Wales Funeral Directors Association president Michael Mackay calls this a disgraceful practice and we tend to agree.

Earlier this month, Choice consumer group released a detailed report that found wide discrepancies in pricing between providers. For instance, a direct cremation could cost between $1200 and $3600, depending on the provider, while the price of a body viewing among thirty six providers ranged from $110 to $1600.

Our direct cremations cost $2300 and we are always transparent and upfront about our costs.

3. Breach of Crematorium Act in Australia

Depending on the region, the cremation process could be protected by a Cemeteries and Crematoria Act which stipulates what can and cannot be done with a body after death. Unfortunately, some funeral providers find creative ways to skirt these laws and, in some cases, violate them altogether.

4. Taking Advantage of People’s Emotional State

Many dishonest funeral providers count on the vulnerable emotional state of their clients at the time of organising a funeral to take advantage of them.

‘The reason why they don’t want to give out prices is that they want to get the family in front of them,’ Mr Wong said. ‘Once the family has spent two hours going through the process, they don’t want to back out— or they’ll have to go through it all against with another funeral director,’ reports

5. Profit Driven Operations

The funeral industry was once driven by care and compassion for those who have experienced loss but no more. Currently, a third of the Australian funeral industry is dominated by two companies, InvoCare and Propel, both of which are ASX listed.

If you’re seeking a family owned funeral home in the Mackay and Whitsunday area, be sure to do your research. It may seem like funeral homes, such as Mackay Funerals and City Funerals Mackay are local but they are, in fact, owned by InvoCare Australia, which is an ASX listed company that dominates about one third of the industry. As the ABC has already reported on, this could mean that customers are ‘not getting good deals’. Whereas, Newhaven Funerals are also not as locally owned as they may first appear, as they are owned by another industry giant and ASX listed company, Propel Funeral Partners, which The Sydney Morning Herald has lifted the lid on previously.

These giant conglomerates are entirely profit driven, which could lead to all sorts of unethical behaviour— leaving mourners with a funeral that ends up being thousands of dollars more expensive than planned.

A former Invocare worker even left the company after witnessing some of this underhanded behaviour that the ABC article reported on.

‘It doesn't matter which brand you're using, the facilities where the preparation takes place, or the supplier, or the various products— all come from the same place,’ Terry Clifton said.

And as the Invocare CEO, Martin Earp, confirmed, bodies are often prepared in the very same mortuary, despite varying prices. ‘…much like going to a restaurant, you may order a different meal, your main course may be a lot more than someone else's, it still happens in the same kitchen," he said.

At Whitsunday Funerals and Crematorium, we understand how hard this time can be for you and your family. This is why we maintain our transparency at all times. Plus, we take pride in upholding our family values when running our family owned local business.

Whitsunday Funerals and Crematorium are one hundred per cent family owned and are focused on the needs of the local community.

We believe that knowing the truth about the industry will help you avoid providers who put themselves first.

Have someone on your side. Contact us today.