Chapter 11
A unique market for services

Preliminary observations

11.33In the course of research, we have been alerted to some structural issues in the funeral sector, which may suggest this market has some attributes that call for a targeted regulatory response. In particular, there is some evidence that the lack of controls around standards does not meet public expectations, and that it is difficult for consumers to assess the quality of goods and services to be provided in this sector. Consumers may also struggle to compare prices if these are not itemised in promotional materials.

11.34The nature of the market and the purchase also makes it difficult to compare different providers ahead of purchase, and there appears to be a common sentiment that it is not reasonable to expect bereaved families to do extensive research about different service providers. We seek submissions from those with experience in the sector, both as providers and consumers, to give us a more complete picture of current practice.

11.35We also acknowledge that many people consider a relative lack of regulation is a positive feature of New Zealand’s funeral sector.488  It allows for a wide range of culturally sensitive approaches to dealing with the deceased, and it avoids imposing barriers to entry. For example, the entry into the market of alternative funeral directors providing natural preparation or facilitated home funerals would be more difficult if funeral service providers were required to have embalming qualifications.

11.36We have therefore developed reform options that seek to address the particular features of this market, and better equip consumers to make the choices that meet their needs. In chapter 12, we present options that have been designed to retain a high level of flexibility and openness in the sector, while providing increased transparency and consumer protection. We will also consider the advantages and disadvantages of various options for regulatory intervention and the extent to which these options are suitable for the particular market conditions identified.

488See for example Sally Raudon: Contemporary funerals and mourning practices: An investigation of five secular countries” (paper reporting on research undertaken with the support of a 2010 Churchill Fellowship, New Zealand, December 2011). We also received a submission from Sally Raudon on our earlier Issues Paper in which she states:
New Zealanders benefit greatly from the country’s light regulatory environment around death and body disposal, because it gives them great flexibility in the care and rituals they wish to use with their loved one. In each of the countries I visited, the New Zealand practice of minimising bureaucracy’s intrusion into death was seen as admirable.
Submission from Sally Raudon (1 July 2011) on Law Commission Final Words: Death and Cremation Certification in New Zealand (NZLC IP23, 2011).