When a family member or friend passes away, it can be an emotional and stressful time. If you’re responsible for organising the funeral, this time can be even harder. Most Australians will be responsible for organising at least one funeral at some point in their lifetimes. It helps to be informed about what happens when you arrange a funeral.
Funeral providers have certain obligations under the law, and you have certain protections. For example, it’s not acceptable for funeral providers to make incorrect or misleading statements, offer unfair contract terms or engage in unconscionable conduct.
Funeral providers might also act like other businesses. For example, their staff may have sales targets as an incentive to sell more expensive funeral products. But that doesn’t mean they’re allowed to pressure you into buying something that isn’t right for you.
Before choosing a provider
Ask a relative or trusted friend to help you do your research, if you need it.
- Get recommendations from someone you trust.
- Research funeral providers in your area.
- Compare services, products, and online pricing information if it’s available.
When you contact a funeral provider
Remember, you have the right to ask questions about the service. You shouldn’t feel pressured into buying a product or service that isn’t right for you.
- Ask for all information about your options in writing
- Ask if all legal requirements for the funeral are included in the price
- Get an itemised quote with each price listed in writing, and ask whether it includes GST
- Ask if the price quoted is the total price, with no additional fees or charges to follow
- If you aren’t sure what a fee is for, like a professional service fee or an estate fee, ask for an explanation
- Review the contract terms carefully before signing. If you can, ask someone else to review them as well
After the funeral
- Review your invoice carefully and question anything that doesn’t look right
- Keep copies of your contracts and invoices
- Raise any issues with the funeral provider as soon as possible
If you think your funeral provider has failed to meet their obligations under the Australian Consumer Law you can contact your local state or territory fair trading agency or the ACCC.
Funeral providers supply products and services to consumers for cremation and burials. This includes:
- funeral homes and funeral directors
- suppliers of funeral products e.g. coffins, urns
- memorial parks, cemeteries and crematoria
Information to help your business comply with the Australian Consumer Law
When a friend or family member dies, it’s a time of considerable distress. For those arranging a funeral, these circumstances can make it harder for them to make good decisions.
As a funeral provider, you have an important role in guiding people through this process. You should be aware of your obligations under the Australian Consumer Law.
Our role and how we work with you
The ACCC is responsible for enforcing the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 and the Australian Consumer Law.
We have recently investigated competition and consumer issues in the funeral services sector and issued a report on our findings
We’ve identified six main issues of concern within the sector. Each of these issues is identified below, together with the ACCC’s expectations about how businesses should address these concerns.
1. Unclear pricing may mislead consumers
Review your promotional materials, internal processes and templates to make sure that pricing information is clear and transparent. In particular, you should check that:
- advertisements with pricing include all applicable fees and taxes including GST, and all promotions identify the geographic areas in which relevant offers apply
- consumers are informed of what is – and is not – legally required to provide a funeral service and ensure that consumers are provided with itemised price lists, itemised quotes and contractual materials as soon as possible.
2. Standard form consumer contracts must not contain unfair contract terms
Make sure that your contract and invoice terms and conditions are fair and reasonable. You should not require:
- excessive interest or fees for late payment of an invoice
- charges for costs that your customer hasn’t agreed to, or
- full payment in advance of a funeral service being provided in certain circumstances, such as where this limits the ability of consumers to recover their costs or other losses if performance of the contract is disputed.
3. Be upfront about ownership
Make sure that any of your ownership claims are accurate. Subsidiaries of publicly listed companies should avoid any inaccurate descriptions such as ‘family owned’ or ‘independent small business’.
4. Ensure systems are in place to fulfil prepaid commitments
You should have systems in place to document, verify and honour long-term consumer contracts. These are often because of prepaid funeral services. When consumers provide evidence of pre-existing agreements, we expect businesses will provide services in accordance with those contracts.
5. Disclose third-party endorsements
Paying commissions in return for third-party recommendations can affect fair competition. Consider disclosing any commercial relationships you have with other businesses, such as comparison websites, nursing homes, or hospitals.
6. Bundling or tying that limits consumers’ access to funeral products or services
Funeral businesses should be mindful of the competitive effects of any bundling or tying of funeral-related products or services. For example:
- ‘bundling’ might occur where a funeral director offers a lower price if multiple products or services are acquired together as a package
- ‘tying’ might happen where a funeral director makes their services conditional on consumers also acquiring headstones, plaques or coffins from particular providers
Businesses should ensure that any bundling or tying of funeral related products or services is not anti-competitive. Bundling and tying is of particular concern when it:
- restricts competitors from entering or expanding into relevant markets
- prevents consumers from getting a lower price for products or services, such as from third party providers
The ACCC has taken action against a number of businesses in the funeral services sector. We will continue to enforce the law to target a range of conduct highlighted in the report.
We actively review reports to us about potentially anti-competitive conduct in the sector to determine whether further action is required.
If you want additional advice on how to comply, or if you’re worried that your business may not be complying, you should ask for independent advice from a legal practitioner.