When is it reasonable to charge vulnerable customers a penalty fee, for an action they haven’t even take yet?  That is the question that funeral giant InvoCare has been asked to answer this week, in light of a report released by consumer champion Choice – who have been highly critical of the corporation in recent times.

In a statement issued on Friday, Choice slammed InvoCare, which owns brands including White Lady Funerals and Simplicity, for applying a late fee – before the customer is even due to pay – under the guise of an administration fee.

According to Choice, a $352 charge is noted on all invoices from InvoCare’s brands as an administration fee, which is then deducted from the total invoice if the customer pays their bill within the 21-day limit.   The biggest concern raised is the hidden nature of the fee, particularly given the vulnerability of the customer.

Choice campaign director Erin Turner described the practice as “absolutely disgraceful”.

“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,” she said.

Choice was tipped off on the practice by a funeral industry insider, who called it a “complete gouge of customers” in an anonymous quote cited by the consumer body.

Bare Cremation has spoken to a former employee of InvoCare, who also wished to remain nameless, who said the intention of the fee was clearly understood:

“We all knew what was going on.  I would try and tell my personal customers to ensure they asked for an amended invoice if they were able to pay on time, but that was not the broader company policy”

InvoCare, however, strongly rejected any suggestion it sought to take advantage of grieving families.

“We made it clear to Choice 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 company said in a statement provided to Starts at 60.

The practice has received widespread criticism from industry participants, consumer protection organisations, and families who have been impacted by the practice. 

Cale Donovan, co-founder of Bare Cremation, was contacted by various publications for comment.

“The analogy I can make is that it’s like paying a speeding fine before you’ve even gotten in your car, only to be refunded when you complete your journey,” he said. “Charging a pre-emptive late fee and labelling it as an administration is bizarre at best, and predatory at worst.”

“All Australians, particularly when they’re grieving, should be provided an affordable and transparent funeral service.  This opaque pricing and overcharging is exactly this reason that we started Bare.”

Choice has made a complaint to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) about the way InvoCare portrays the fee.

“The description is misleading because the fee does not cover any type of service and therefore operates as a pre-emptive penalty,” the ACCC complaint submitted by Choice read

“For this reason, it is essential an unfair contract term.”

There is more to be written about this, we’re quite sure.  In the meantime we encourage everyone to be thoughtful in their choice of funeral director.  There are many great ones out there, but do your research and ensure they are transparent and honest in the prices they provide.

If you want to see what a fully transparent funeral contract looks like, click the button below to get your free, personalised quote.

Bare Cremation is Australia’s best direct cremation service. We provide simple, elegant cremation services at a fraction of the price of traditional funeral homes. Arrange or prepay online today.