Contents

Executive summary

The funeral sector

52Our consultation and research did not reveal evidence of widespread problems of abuses in the funeral services sector. On the contrary, the vast majority of those operating in this industry do so with integrity and to high standards. However, we did encounter concerns in a couple of areas that we consider justify new statutory provisions.

Enhancing the registration system

53We found that consumers of funeral services often have an inaccurate expectation that the legislation provides assurances of high standards in this industry. That expectation, combined with our findings that these consumers can be particularly vulnerable due to their grief and that problems in this sector often cannot be put right or adequately compensated for, provides adequate justification for low-level regulation of this sector.

54While the current system requires no prerequisite conditions to registration as a funeral director, we consider that, in future, the statute should require an applicant for registration to demonstrate the absence of certain serious convictions, the absence of other conditions that would make a person incompetent to provide funeral services and that the applicant is adequately qualified to provide funeral services.

Absence of convictions

55After analysing a range of legislative registration schemes for other industries, we have formulated a list of offences that we consider will disqualify only people with serious and relevant offences and that requires a minimum amount of discretion by the registration authority. That list is:

Absence of other disqualifying conditions

56Similarly, we consider a person should be disqualified from registration as a funeral service provider if they:

Qualifications

57Finally, a person should be able to demonstrate that they are adequately qualified for registration if they hold a relevant qualification prescribed by regulations or pass an examination that tests their knowledge of:

58In addition, the statute should deem that people who have been providing the relevant funeral service for a period of five years are adequately qualified.

Who must be registered?

59The aim of this enhanced registration process is to ensure that unsuitable people are not practising in the industry. Consequently, it should be the people providing funeral services that must be registered, not the businesses.

60The funeral service industry generally operates on the basis that new entrants first gain employment with a funeral service business before going on later to gain qualifications. We consider that this system should be allowed to continue, provided that all unregistered people are supervised by a registered person.

61Finally, we have given some thought to the range of funeral service providers that must be registered. First, it should cover people who provide funeral services as a business, not people who voluntarily provide these services. Second, it should cover funeral services that involve contact with or custody of a deceased body or involve contracting directly with the consumer. It should not cover the mere provision of accessories or equipment nor celebrant or organisational services without those additional elements.

Duties on funeral service providersTop

62In addition to new restrictions on who may be registered to provide funeral services, we recommend that the new statute should impose a number of duties on the managers of funeral service businesses. It is appropriate that the managers of funeral businesses are responsible for these duties because the duties depend upon strong business processes that an individual employee may have limited ability to control. The duties are to ensure that:

Mandatory disclosure of component pricesTop

63Through our consultation, we encountered widespread concern about the communication of the costs of funeral services. Funeral directors generally advise on costs after meeting with consumers and discussing their needs. We heard complaints that the component prices of funeral packages were not itemised, that costs were added to the invoice without further discussion with the consumer and that the “professional services fee” contained costs for services that the consumer neither wanted nor asked for. These problems meant that consumers often felt that it was not clear what was included in the cost of a funeral; it was difficult to compare prices between funeral service providers; and it was difficult to negotiate for only some of the elements of a funeral package.

64We consider that these problems and the vulnerable nature of consumers of funeral services warrant some legislative controls to provide more protection for those consumers. Specifically, funeral service providers should be required to publish and make available a price list of all the funeral goods and services it provides, including:

65Prior to entering an agreement for the supply of funeral goods or services, the funeral service provider should also be required to give the consumer a statement of the costs of the funeral. That statement of costs should set out: