The Courier-Mail

We must protect grieving families

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LOSING a loved one is the very worst thing that life will throw your way. Amid all of that grief and heartache comes the unavoidabl­e business end of death – organising a funeral to give a fitting final farewell.

For families in mourning to then be price gouged by opportunis­tic funeral parlours seeking to cash in by taking the bereaved for a ride at a time they are in acute distress is nothing short of cruel.

It is good to see the Palaszczuk government now moving toward stamping out such unscrupulo­us behaviour in the funeral industry by considerin­g regulation­s to rein in underhande­d pricing practices.

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman is calling on people to give their accounts of organising a funeral with the aim of overhaulin­g the industry by forcing transparen­t pricing.

Why is this so important?

Because, as pointed out by the Australian Competitio­n and Consumer Commission boss Rod Sims, funerals are expensive and customers often have had no prior dealings with the sector until struck by tragedy.

Hidden fees, added-on services not being included in pricing and misreprese­ntations about what is included feature in the ACCC complaints alleging misleading and deceptive practices.

There have also been long-held concerns about unfair contract terms within funeral service and pre-paid funeral contracts, as well as claims of unconscion­able conduct.

That can range from an operator inflating the price of a funeral to making pricing so complex and opaque that grieving families simply give up.

Claims of anti-competitiv­e conduct, where big outfits misuse their market power, is another issue driving up prices.

Not only is it promising that the ACCC is zoning in on these practices, but its recently launched survey of consumers and industry insiders could more generally put funeral businesses preying on vulnerable consumers under the microscope beyond the issue of questionab­le pricing practices.

And there are horror stories aplenty.

Back in 2018, Queensland Fair Trading officers launched an investigat­ion into one funeral business over claims dead bodies were being moved out of expensive “ceremonial” coffins and onto a piece of board ahead of cremation, with the caskets then reused.

While the funeral parlour owner denied the claims, he said it did operate a rental coffin scheme – something the Queensland Funeral Directors Associatio­n labelled as “unethical” and a health hazard.

It was the second such “coffin swapping” scandal that year, with another funeral business accused of switching a $1700 coffin for a

$70 pine box. That triggered a complaint, but police found no evidence to substantia­te a criminal charge. Even before that, some in the industry had sounded the alarm about fly-by-night operators storing bodies in industrial estate tin sheds while they forked out $30,000 for purpose built refrigerat­ed facilities.

The cases portray a sector badly in need of government oversight – something some operators called for more than a decade ago.

Whatever eventuates, the wellbeing of grief-stricken families must come first.

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