Guiding consumers since 2009

How to avoid funeral rip offs

By Jessica Anne Wood

The death of a loved one is difficult time, and while you expect the funeral home to be a helping, professional hand to guide you through this some of these companies are the direct opposite of that. Stories have emerged of bodies being held for ransom, jewellery and other belongings being stolen from the deceased.

Some even charge over and above what they should and it appears that now consumers have to be vigilant over the companies they hire to bury their loved ones.

How to avoid being ripped off

Chris Ogden, MD of RubiBlue, a company that provides tech and IT for the funeral insurance offers the following tips that you should bear in mind when planning a funeral:

  • Always go with a trusted establishment. Pick funeral services that don’t have a tarnished name, it may be more expensive, but often a good, reliable service comes at a slightly inflated price.
  • Shop around. It’s not an ideal dinner conversation to have but you should pick a moment to talk to your family members about which funeral parlours they’ve used before and choose one that you would approach should the worst happen.
  • When a family member dies make a note on what was on the body when it was collected by a burial parlour. If something is missing afterwards, at least you have something to go on when discrepancies arrive.
  • Ensure the services detailed during the collection and consultation process, are delivered, if not, take this to the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud. This includes during burial time. Try make note of the coffin used, and ensure it’s the same as the one offered during consultation.
  • In the event of abnormalities, contact the Funeral Industry Regulatory Authority (FIRA) or the SA Police Service to ensure the establishment is brought to task. Use the media to inform others of the irregularities, don’t keep it to yourself.

Holding the industry to account

If you want to lodge a complaint against a funeral service provider you can contact the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud, as well as the FIRA.

The FIRA “is mandated to regulate relations between persons conducting business within the funeral industry and to provide for a scheme of alternative dispute resolution between consumers and participants, and between participants in the funeral industry.”

However, in addition to having these two regulatory bodies, the FIRA is proposing the establishment of a Funeral Industry Ombudsman. The legislation which is currently up for public comment, proposes a code of conduct which focuses on “consumer protection, fair and equitable business practices that encourages fair play and open communication between industry participants and consumers as a means of avoiding disputes.”

An article published on Times Live noted: “Bodies held for ransom, rats in mortuaries, inflated prices and fly-by-night undertakers will be in the spotlight if a funerals ombudsman is appointed by the government.”

If an ombudsman for the funeral industry is introduced, it will hopefully help to eliminate the ‘cowboys’ operating within the funeral industry. With the greater chance of being held to account for their behaviour, some funeral parlours will need to do more to clearn up their act.

*The FIRA had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

 Handy tip: You can apply for funeral cover on Justmoney, click here.

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