58Any proposal to increase the regulatory oversight of the funeral sector must be based on an analysis of the risks and benefits of the current arrangements. On one level the lack of legal prescription can be viewed as positive because it allows considerable freedom in how we deal with and respond to a death. On the other hand, it affords few specific protections for those dealing with the funeral sector.
59In chapter 11 we discuss the unique characteristics of the market in which funeral directors operate. The purchasing decisions we make at the time of a loved one’s death are unlike other purchasing decisions. Arranging a funeral, burial or cremation is not an everyday occurrence and the need for speed and easy access to services may lessen the likelihood of shopping around. The trend towards vertical integration (where a funeral director may also provide cremation services and ash interment options) also increases the risk of consumer capture at the point of sale. Those making such arrangements may be dealing with shock and grief, making them uniquely vulnerable.
60Often, too, there is a strong desire to honour the deceased and pay tribute to their lives with a “fitting send-off”. What this requires can vary greatly depending on ethnicity, customs, and the beliefs and values of the bereaved. Often it will involve significant expense. The most basic funeral and cremation cost an estimated $6,500 and while for some the financial burden may be shared among the extended family and the wider community of mourners, for others it will rest entirely with the immediate family or be covered by the deceased’s estate.
61Funeral directors perform a vital public service in our community and the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand informs us that complaints are uncommon. However our preliminary view is that the potential for serious emotional distress arising from unethical or inappropriate behaviour over the handling of the dead combined with the unique vulnerabilities of the clients may justify stronger regulatory oversight.
62Ideally, the public would continue to be able to opt out of using a funeral director, especially when operating under cultural norms or personal values that differ from mainstream practice but with real choice and accountability for those who engage professional services. Given this objective we are mindful of the risk of creating barriers to alternative styles of funeral preparation; nor do we wish to add unnecessary compliance costs to the sector, resulting in higher charges.
63The objectives of these reform options are to help consumers make more informed and meaningful choices when engaging with the funeral sector and to provide greater transparency around the qualifications, costs and standards pertaining to the range of services provided by the sector. In chapter 12 we outline a number of options for consideration. Here we seek feedback on our currently preferred options which include:
64In addition to these consumer protections, at this point we also favour strengthening the regulatory requirements that apply to those providing commercial funeral services to the public. Specifically we suggest that:
Consultation questions for Part 3: Funeral Services Sector
Q11 Do you think those providing funeral services to the public should be required to proactively disclose the costs of the different components of their services? Please give your reasons. (see chapter 12, Option 1 at [12.13] – [12.28]).
Q12 Should those providing funeral services to the public be required to disclose their qualifications and whether or not they are accountable to an industry body responsible for enforcing standards and considering complaints? (see chapter 12, Option 1 at [12.13] – [12.28]).
Q13 Do you think those providing funeral services to the public should have to demonstrate they understand the laws and regulations which apply to handling human remains and have access to suitable premises and transportation methods before being allowed to operate commercially? (see chapter 12, Option 2 at [12.29] – [12.40]).
Q14 Do you have any other views about the way the funeral sector currently operates including whether there is a case for a mandatory code of conduct and complaints mechanism? (see chapter 12, Option 3 at [12.41] – [12.52])
Q15 Do you think there is a case for requiring local authorities to provide a basic funeral service for those who wish to deal directly with a cemetery or crematorium? (see chapter 12 at [12.53] – [12.54]).