Grieving families look set to be guaranteed price transparency and minimum standards from funeral directors.
David Moger, chief executive of the Funeral Directors Association, said the Ministry of Health had signalled it now supported proposals to regulate the funeral industry.
The ministry has been conducting public consultation on reform of burials and cremation laws, but had flagged its opposition to ending self-regulation by the funeral industry.
“From the outset the ministry were for the status quo, but they appear to be saying they are moving their view to having a central registration with a set of standards, which we are delighted to hear,” Moger said.
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The Law Commission called for licencing and minimum standards for funeral directors in a report in 2015, saying there was public support for price transparency in the industry.
The commission reported some funeral buyers experienced “price shocks” after funerals, and found it hard to shop around because many funeral directors did not publish prices online.
A funeral was often the third largest purchase people made in their lives, it said.
But the commission’s recommendations were rebuffed by Sir John Key’s National government, which felt there was a lack of evidence showing harm to the public.
But pressure to reform outdated burials and cremations laws led to fresh consultations in 2019 and 2020, in which the issue of pricing transparency was raised again.
There was no requirement for funeral directors to disclose pricing information before a contract was entered into, the ministry said in its 2019 consultation report.
“Funeral directors did not always advertise funeral prices,” the ministry said.
“Instead, they will provide a quote, with the full cost only being disclosed after the funeral.”
While the Funeral Directors Association had favoured continued self-regulation in 2015, Moger said it now supported a licencing regime to ensure only people with competence and good character could become funeral directors.
The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages would be the most appropriate licencing body and funeral directors should have to abide by a set of rules, or risk losing their licences, Moger said.
These should include putting grieving families first, treating the deceased with respect, not discriminating, as well as being transparent about their pricing, he said.
“There must be written contractual agreements, so people have got confirmation of what they were expecting, and agreeing to pay.”
When the Law Commission issued its report, it said half the nearly 40 submissions from the funeral industry supported mandatory price transparency, and there was overwhelming support from community groups.
The commission concluded the market had unique characteristics that made consumers particularly vulnerable.
“That vulnerability means that the balance of power and information is tilted away from the consumer and warrants some form of legislative control,” it reported.
“Grief makes it particularly difficult to research funeral options, to ask questions, to make informed decisions and to complain if necessary.
“Also, it is sometimes considered to be culturally inappropriate to discuss costs at a time of death.”
Moger said since then there had been growing concerns about the number of new entrants to the industry.
“We are seeing an increase in new start ups, and new people joining the industry thinking funeral directors wear nice suits, drive nice cars, and saying, ‘how hard can it be’.” Moger said.Rob Stock