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'Massive Mark Ups': Funeral Industry's Trickery And Hidden Costs Unearthed

A covert investigation has revealed funeral homes are often adding "massive markups" and have a "lack of price transparency" when it comes to what they charge grieving loved ones.

The mystery shopping investigation -- detailed in a report from consumer group Choice, released Thursday -- found cremation with no ceremony could cost between $1200 or $3600, depending on the provider.

Choice also discovered the price of a body viewing among 36 providers across five capital cities ranged from $110 to $1600.

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"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," Choice investigative journalist Saimi Jeong said.

The two biggest funeral providers in Australia are both ASX-listed companies which account for around one-third of the entire market.

IMAGE: Getty Images

In addition to mystery shopping, 548 people who had recently arranged a funeral were also interviewed.

"About half of our mystery shoppers reported difficulty getting pricing information from a funeral parlour over the phone, especially when it came to basic options or cost reduction," Jeong said.

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The funeral homes investigation revealed high prices and often unexplained charges. For example, one person who sought a cremation and no service, was charged $3000 for “professional services”.

The investigation found the information given was often unclear, with some encouraged to meet face-to-face if they wanted more details.

The range of fees charged for 'Professional Services'. IMAGE: Choice

Funeral providers are regulated on a state-by-state basis.

Victoria is the only state which requires providers to publish the price of their minimum offering, but what that includes can vary from parlour to parlour.

Providers are required to provide a “clear and legible price list”, and they must offer the option of a basic funeral service.  NSW is considering  a similar move.

Choice's findings come as Australians voice growing fears over the cost of funerals.

The Cost of Death Report released in June, revealed it can cost on average nearly $10,000 for a burial.

IMAGE: Getty Images

According to its findings Australians are paying $9403 for a burial, but in some parts of NSW people are spending close to $20,000 for one burial ceremony.

The area with the cheapest burial costs is regional Queensland at just under $7000, while metro South Australia had the most affordable cremation fees at $3646.

Jessie Williams, CEO of the GroundSwell Project, an Australian not-for-profit organisation aiming to create social change surrounding death and dying, told 10 daily Australians are uncomfortable talking about death.

"We avoid the conversation about death and dying - to die is to separate and to separate is uncomfortable and often we  use humor to diffuse that and avoid it," Williams said.

Williams said Dying to Know Day on August 8th is a good starting place.

There will be 140 community events around the country "to help you  get informed about things like funeral options, and there are mortuaries to the public that day too," she said.

"We want Australians to learn about funeral options, because when we plan a wedding we ask a lot of questions, we plan but we don't do that with death."