Protect Grieving Australian Families: Require Online Funeral Price Disclosure
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We are writing to request that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (“ACCC”) or each of the state fair trading bodies enact a regulation that requires funeral directors to disclose their itemised price lists on the internet.
Funerals are not optional activities. This year, over 160,000 deaths are expected in Australia and consumers will spend approximately $1.1 billion on funeral services.
Greater price transparency is absolutely critical to protect consumers of funeral services. Until the proposed regulations are enacted, Australian families will continue to be unnecessarily harmed in the course of planning funerals for their loved ones.
Australian families planning funerals are one of the most vulnerable consumers in the marketplace. Funerals are organised by consumers that are highly emotional or in shock, have limited time, and do not have access to the information they need to make informed decisions. Further, due to the nature of the service, it is something that most consumers are not willing to dispute, bargain or negotiate over as they may feel ashamed if they are perceived as caring more about the price than their loved one.
For many Australians, the average funeral is not affordable, and for many more, it will be one of the biggest expenses in their lives.
In almost every other market, pricing information is instantly accessible online which eliminates opportunistic price increases, ensures increased competition, helps to bring down inflated prices, and improves service. For such a major purchase and often with only hours available to make a decision, quick access to reliable funeral pricing information is vital for consumers.
The current lack of transparency in the funeral industry is alarming. In 2017, consumers expect to have access to pricing information online, and they know that online research is the best way to secure a fair deal. However, in the absence of regulation, the funeral industry has been able to keep the great majority of consumers in the dark.
While we acknowledge that some states have enacted regulations requiring the provision of pricing information if requested or if services are to be engaged, requiring consumers to telephone or meet in person, or take a number of steps towards engaging a funeral director before being able to access information, is an antiquated notion in the internet age. The existing regulations no longer reflect how Australian’s access information and make major purchasing decisions.
I am writing this petition as the founder of Gathered Here, a website that lets consumers compare funeral director prices and reviews, quickly and easily. We populated our website with 9,000+ funeral director prices by calling over 600 funeral homes in Australia within a 3 month period. While our coverage of Australia is extensive, it is not yet complete (particularly in regional areas).
Going through this exercise, we can confirm that despite the existing regulations, 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.
The advantage of the proposed regulations - that require price lists be disclosed online - is that compliance can easily be monitored in the open. This stands in contrast to the existing regulations which are impossible to police, and which funeral directors are able to ignore in their private conversations with consumers.
Through the prior enactment of the existing regulations, the federal and state governments of Australia acknowledged that consumers of funeral services need protection. As the world changes, and simple measures avail themselves as practical solutions to reduce harm to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Australians, so too must the ACCC and state fair trading bodies change.
We note this petition is similar to the petition made by the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America to the Federal Trade Commission in the United States on 12 July 2016.
For all the reasons stated above, we respectfully request funeral directors be required to disclose their itemised price lists on the internet.
Founder, Gathered Here
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