The funeral industry in the UK is facing a major inquiry from the competition watchdog after findings by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found the price of funerals has risen by three times the rate of inflation in just 10 years.
What issues did the Funeral Consumer Watchdog find?
Issues found by the CMA during its six-month review include:
The price of the essential elements of a funeral has increased by more than two thirds in the last 10 years. The CMA says that today, people generally spend between £3,000 ($5,200 AU) and £5,000 ($8,700 AU) organising a funeral. It says for those on the lowest incomes, this amounts to nearly 40% of their annual outgoings, more than they spend on food, clothing and energy combined.
Customers could save over £1,000 ($1,700 AU) by looking at a range of choices in their local area. Despite choice being available, the CMA says that people organising a funeral are usually distressed and often not in a position to do this – making it easier for some funeral directors to charge higher prices.The CMA has also found that prices are often not available online, making it difficult to compare options.
Some larger chains have implemented policies of consistently high year-on-year price increases. The CMA says that a number of these have now introduced lower cost funeral options, but this doesn’t go far enough to make up for years of above inflation price hikes.The CMA’s evidence also indicates most people who organise a funeral remain extremely vulnerable to exploitation and future rises in charges.
Fees charged by crematoria have increased by 84% on average in the past 10 years. The CMA says that cremations account for 77% of funerals, yet there are limited choices for most people in their local area.It says the cost increase amounts to more than three times the rate of inflation.
Other findings from the review include how funeral directors are:
- Failing to inform customers about cheaper options unless they specifically raise concerns about cost;
- Not providing a clear breakdown of prices online so families can compare like‑for-like funeral packages;
- Luring in customers with low-cost deals and then selling more expensive options once they are in the branch;
- Using family names to give the impression branches are independent when they are, in fact, owned by the same group.
What are the lessons for the funeral industry in Australia?
eziFunerals, Founder, Peter Erceg believes that the issues found by the CMA raises similar concerns about funeral prices in Australia. “People organising a funeral can be exploited at one of the most emotional and stressful times in their lives. Huge upfront costs and unclear fees are far too common, with thousands of dollars of ‘extras’ regularly added for items not wanted or needed by unwary consumers.”
Here in Australia, the funeral service industry is dominated by two publicly listed companies, being InvoCare Limited (ASX: IVC) and Propel Funeral Partners Ltd (ASX: PFP). InvoCare owns well known brands such as White Lady Funerals, Simplicity Funerals and Value Funerals. Between them they likely account for more than 40% of the Australian funeral industry, following aggressive acquisitions to grow market share and profits for shareholders
However, unlike the UK Competition and Markets Authority, ASIC and the ACCC have been silent in looking at issues in the way the funeral industry operates nationally, including the rate at which the large corporate brands have raised prices in recent years.
“It’s time for the funeral industry to be reviewed here as well. Most funeral homes in the industry do the right thing, but government regulators in Australia need to act in the interests of consumers, even when there are marketplace reasons not to do so, says Erceg.
Only time will tell if the fallout from the UK funeral inquiry will have serious flow on effects for the corporate funeral industry in Australia.
eziFunerals is a free consumer advocate and funeral planner that supports individuals and families cope with end of life decisions, death and funerals. We are an independent, Australian-owned and operated company, and are not a subsidiary of any other corporation. We are not part of any other funeral company. Founded by consumers frustrated by how difficult it was to get independent information, eziFunerals supports consumers plan a funeral, compare prices and find a trusted funeral director anywhere, anytime.