The ACCC has accepted a court-enforceable undertaking from Tasmanian funeral services provider Gerren Pty Ltd, trading as Parkside Funerals, in which it admits that it made false and misleading representations in its invoices about the price of its funeral and cremation services, and acknowledges that it entered into contracts containing unfair contract terms.
Parkside Funerals has also paid a penalty of $13,320 after the ACCC issued it with an infringement notice for an alleged false and misleading representation about the price of its services.
From at least February 2020 to April 2021, Parkside Funerals included a $500 ‘Estate Fee’ in its invoices to consumers and represented that this fee was associated with the delivery of its funeral and cremation services. In fact, the ‘Estate Fee’ was a penalty that Parkside Funerals charged if the customer did not pay the invoice by the due date.
“We are concerned that ‘Estate Fee’ is a widely used term in the funeral industry to describe a penalty for late payment of an invoice and that this may mislead consumers,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
“Funeral businesses must clearly describe the purpose of all fees included in their invoices, and if a penalty applies for late payment, this must be clearly stated.”
Parkside Funerals has now amended its invoices to no longer refer to an ‘Estate Fee’, and instead charges a ‘late payment fee’ when applicable.
Parkside Funerals had previously provided refunds to some consumers who had paid the fee in error, and has now undertaken to provide refunds to all other consumers who have paid the ‘Estate Fee’ since 3 February 2020.
In relation to the unfair contract terms, the ACCC was concerned Parkside Funerals’ contract terms permitted it to charge excessive interest for late payments and to increase the upfront price for additional services without giving the consumer prior notice or a right to terminate the contract.
The ACCC was also concerned Parkside Funerals’ contracts included a term for pre-paid funerals which allowed it to require consumers to agree to pay additional costs for services requested by others who were not a party to the contract, such as family members of the deceased, without a requirement to provide the consumer who had entered into the contract the opportunity to refuse these additional services and their costs.
“All funeral businesses should ensure their contracts are fair and reasonable, particularly given consumers may have limited experience arranging a funeral and will likely be emotionally vulnerable and under considerable pressure at the time they are doing so,” Ms Rickard said.
Parkside Funerals has undertaken to remove these terms from its contracts and to establish and maintain a consumer law compliance program.
A copy of the undertaking is available on the public register: Gerren Pty Ltd trading as Parkside Funerals
Parkside Funerals operates two funeral homes across North West Tasmania, with locations in Burnie and Ulverstone. It provides burial and cremation funeral services and supplies coffins, plaques and urns.
The ACCC has previously taken action against funeral services providers Coventry Funeral Homes, WT Howard Funeral Services, Alex Gow Funerals and Bare Cremation.
The payment of a penalty specified in an infringement notice is not an admission of a contravention of the Australian Consumer Law, which also sets the penalty amount.
The ACCC can issue an infringement notice when it has reasonable grounds to believe a person or business has contravened certain consumer protection provisions in the Australian Consumer Law.