Australia's Biggest Funeral Operator Accused Of Tricking Families Into Paying Fees They Don't Owe
Australia's largest funeral operator has been accused of charging hidden fees and issuing misleading invoices, taking advantage of grieving families and potentially leaving them hundreds of dollars out of pocket.
InvoCare -- which conducts more than a fifth of funerals around the country, with brands such as White Lady and Simplicity Funerals -- has been accused of slugging families late fees for services regardless of whether they pay on time, consumer group Choice claimed on Friday.
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A Choice analysis of funeral bills has found InvoCare has been applying an unnecessary late fee of $352 ($320+GST) by default to all funeral bills.
The $352 amount is noted on invoices as an 'administration fee', but acts as a late fee and is applied upfront.
While the Terms and Conditions state the fee is refundable if the entire bill is paid within 21 days of a funeral service, it is often unclear, particularly for mourning and distracted customers.
In it's submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Choice claim the term 'administration fee' was "misleading because the fee does not cover any type of service, and therefore operates as a preemptive penalty".
It is unlawful for a company to make a statement that is likely to create a false or misleading impression.
Choice alleges that by preempting a late fee, InvoCare appeared to be in breach of consumer law.
InvoCare's PR manager Jacinta Gale said the point of listing the late fee on invoices was "so all families are aware of the fee and also the balance payable if paid within 21 days".
She said that the sum was labelled an 'administration fee' because it "covers the administration needed to follow up accounts outside of the 21-day terms".
However, Geoff, who claimed to have used InvoCare's Simplicity Funerals said he assumed the fee was added for administration purposes, as the listing implies.
"I assume that it covers the office services such as photocopying, typing documents, phone calls etc., but now that you draw my attention to it I wonder why these charges aren't included in the first item, 'Professional Fees, Package'," he said.
Andrew, a customer who claims to have used InvoCare's White Lady Funerals after the death of his father said he was "too shocked and frozen to do anything for the first month to even manage issues like the payment and feeling normal again".
By the time he got around to paying the bill, he said he asked why he was being charged $20,654 instead of the original $20,302, unaware of the late fee. The funeral home reportedly allowed him to pay the quoted amount.
"This practice is absolutely disgraceful,” Choice's Director of Campaigns Erin Turner said.
“Many Australians would see the administration fee and not realise that it’s actually a late payment fee, particularly when they have just lost a loved one.
"InvoCare is profiteering from grieving families with this practice. We know from other markets that excessive late fees most impact people on low incomes,” Turner alleged.
She has called on the company to make immediate changes.
"InvoCare must scrap this disgraceful practice and be fair to grieving families".
In a statement to 10 daily, InvoCare said it had worked closely with Choice throughout the review and were "very transparent" regarding the fee, making it clear that it is waved should the bill be paid on time.
"We are fully aware of the vulnerability of the families who come into our care," the statement read.
"We made it clear to Choice.com.au that the administration fee is discussed with the families at the time of the funeral arrangement and identified and clearly explained in the Funeral Services Agreement provided to the family and again shown on the final invoice. The invoice also shows the amount payable if it is paid within 21 days.
"InvoCare’s policy is to refund any administration fee that may have been inadvertently paid. InvoCare strongly rejects any suggestion it seeks to take advantage of grieving families through these payment terms," it concluded.
The company did not confirm whether it would be making changes to how it displays its fees to customers.
Meanwhile Choice has urged Australian customers of the following funeral services to check their bills.
- White Lady Funerals
- Simplicity Funerals
- Value Cremations
New South Wales & Australian Capital Territory
- Allan Drew Funerals
- Ann Wilson Funerals
- Boland Funerals a Guardian Funeral Provider
- David Lloyd a Guardian Funeral Provider
- Grafton & District Funerals
- Guardian Funerals
- Hansen & Cole a Guardian Funeral Provider
- Hastings District Funeral & Cremation Service
- Lester & Son Funeral Directors
- Liberty Funerals
- Southern Highlands Funerals
- Tobin Brothers a Guardian Funeral Provider
- Universal Chung Wah Funeral Directors
- WN Bull Funerals
- Burkin Svendsens Funerals
- City Funerals
- Drysdale Funerals
- Gatton Laidley Lowood Funeral Services
- George Hartnett Metropolitan Funerals
- Hiram Philp Funerals
- Mackay Funerals
- Somerville Funerals
- Blackwell Funerals
- English Rose Funerals
- J.A. Dunn Funeral Directors
- Turnbull Funerals
- Charles Crawford & Sons
- Le Pine Funerals
- Lester & Son Funeral Directors
- Southern Cross Funerals
- Tuckers Funeral & Bereavement Service
- The W.D. Rose Funerals group of funeral homes includes Joseph Allison Funerals, Giannarelli Funerals and Werribee Funerals.
- Archer & Sons Funeral Homes
- Christian Funerals
- Green Endings by Oakwood Funerals
- Mareena Purslowe Funerals
- Oakwood Funerals
- Purslowe & Chipper Funerals