Death waits for no one except IPART

Article published 28 May 2019

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IN the United Kingdom, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is set to investigate the funeral sector. The competition watchdog says relatives and friends of someone who has died are often too overcome by grief to research funeral prices, leaving them open to being exploited. People also tend to feel under social pressure to put on a lavish and therefore expensive funeral.

The concerns mentioned by the CMA are the same concerns CPSA has about the way the Australian funeral industry operates.

The CMA worked out that the cost of a funeral had risen by 6 per cent a year for the last 14 years. That’s double the inflation rate over that period. In Australia, no information of this nature is available, but the stories you hear suggest similar increases here.

Understandably, the industry (in the UK but also in Australia) is reluctant to publish clear prices or to provide comprehensive information on quality and range. This makes comparison difficult and exploitation easy.

The NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) is investigating cemetery and crematorium pricing, promising to move on to funeral pricing once they have completed the cemetery and crematorium pricing review.

This is odd.

IPART is looking at the pricing of interment and cremation when the real action is in the overall pricing of funerals. That’s what matters to people who buy funerals.

It’s not just odd, it also isn’t in strict compliance with the NSW Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2013. Section 145 of that Act requires IPART “to conduct an investigation of interment costs and the pricing of interment rights within the interment industry …” and requires that “investigation [..] to include a review of competition, cost and pricing factors within the funeral industry”.

Splitting up the “investigation” is not sanctioned, but CPSA understands that IPART’s workload is such that funerals had to wait. Once IPART gets around to funerals, it will be interesting to see if it uses the same pricing principles for funerals as a whole as it is using for cemetery and crematorium pricing, to wit: (1) affordability; (2) sustainability; (3) simplicity and transparency.

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