AUSTRALIA'S largest funeral home operator, InvoCare, has paid $102,000 to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for allegedly making a false or misleading representation.
In January 2011, InvoCare changed its standard contract to require consumers to also purchase memorials from InvoCare for use at burial sites.
The ACCC had received complaints that InvoCare made false or misleading representations to some consumers who had pre-purchased burial sites prior to January 2011 that they were contractually required to purchase memorial plaques from InvoCare when this was not the case.
"The ACCC was particularly concerned about these alleged misrepresentations about the obligation to purchase memorial plaques, as Invocare was dealing with consumers in circumstances where they were particularly vulnerable" ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
"More generally, it is important that businesses do not represent consumers are required to make an additional purchase when this is not the case under the contractual terms which bind the consumer" Ms Rickard said.
InvoCare is the largest operator of funeral homes, cemeteries and crematoria in Australia, operating 14 cemeteries and crematoria nationally.
Charmaine Crowe, Senior Advisor Research & Advocacy at Combined Pensioner and Superannuants Association welcomed the action against Invocare.
"InvoCare was shifting the goalposts and consumers were being made to pay for goods that they had never agreed to in the first place."
"It's good to see that companies are held to account when they breach consumer law."
"CPSA urges InvoCare customers who think that they may have been misled to contact InvoCare's advice line on 1800 999 275."
The ACCC became aware of potential misconduct through consumer complaints received in late 2013 and early 2014.
It raised these concerns with InvoCare, which cooperated with the ACCC, voluntarily undertook internal investigations, offered compensation to affected customers and has revised its compliance policies and procedures.
As part of the court enforceable undertaking InvoCare has provided to the ACCC, it acknowledges that the representations it made to consumers likely contravened the Australian Consumer Law.
In the undertaking, InvoCare has agreed for a period of three years not to require any customer to purchase a memorial, including customers who are parties to existing contracts which contain such a requirement.
Customers who choose to purchase a bronze plaque memorial may now purchase it from Invocare or another supplier, subject to pre-approval and payment of a placement fee.