In the second of its four-part investigation into the funeral industry, CHOICE.COM.AU takes on funerals cost, suggesting (funeral) businesses control the way we grieve.
The first part of our funerals series reveals how decades of outsourcing what happens after a death to for-profit businesses – which are promoted as our protectors and built into the grieving process accordingly – has instead left mourners vulnerable.
In this instalment, we investigate how that vulnerability can be exploited by an industry that dictates how we say farewell to our loved ones, and builds its profits on massive markups and a lack of price transparency.
Some of CHOICE's observations
Funerals become big business in Australia
In the early 2000s, SCI Australia morphed into InvoCare and was listed on Australia's stock exchange.
InvoCare is the Asia-Pacific's largest provider of funeral products and owns the national chains White Lady Funerals and Simplicity Funerals, as well as chains in most states, including Guardian Funerals in NSW, Le Pine in Victoria, and George Hartnett Funerals in Queensland.
It currently enjoys a third of the metropolitan market and has its sights set on expanding to 40% over the next 10 years, as well as increasing its presence in regional areas.
Along with Australia's second-largest funeral company, Propel Funeral Partners, InvoCare's appetite for other funeral businesses shows no sign of abating, and concentration of the industry is increasing.
Both companies have also been buying cemeteries and crematoriums, traditionally the domain of councils and nonprofit trusts.
Together, InvoCare and Propel account for a third of the Australian funeral market.
Cashing in on consumer confusion
Most people have no idea about funeral options outside of what's suggested by a funeral parlour.
A major area of uncertainty is pricing:
- almost half our survey participants had no idea how much a funeral should cost when they had to organise one
- two-thirds didn't think to negotiate on price
- one in five didn't believe they had options to reduce costs.
An information booklet for the bereaved, provided by a NSW health district as part of a series produced for hospitals and other organisations throughout Australia, says funerals "can range from $7000 to $10,000".
It neglects to mention that, in most cases, you don't need a funeral director to arrange a funeral at all, which can bring down the cost of essential services to as little as $1200.