InvoCare’s PR manager Jacinta Gale said the point of the late fee was “so all families are aware of the fee and also the balance payable in 21 days.”
CHOICE has submitted to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that the term “administration fee” was misleading because the fee does not cover any type of service, and instead acts as a pre-emptive penalty.
Andrew, a customer who used White Lady Funerals, owned by InvoCare, after the death of his father, said: “It was a large sum of money and I was too shocked and frozen to do anything for the first month to even manage issues like the payment and feeling normal again.”
After he asked the funeral company why he was being charged $20,654 instead of $20,302, they allowed him to pay the original amount.
“This practice is absolutely disgraceful,” CHOICE Director of Campaigns Erin Turner said. “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.
“InvoCare is profiteering from grieving families with this practice. We know from other markets that excessive late fees most impact people on low incomes.”
Another customer said they paid $10,000 of a $11,749 bill up front, only to be slugged with the full late fee on the $1749 remainder. They said they paid the original cost, excluding the fee entirely, without issue.
“These fees are incredibly misleading and are akin to fees for no service and pay-on-time discounts. InvoCare must scrap this disgraceful practice and be fair to grieving families,” Ms Turner said.
Investigative journalist Saimi Jeong said during the investigation she spoke with families who were “completely unaware of the nature of this fee”.
“InvoCare is hiding its late payment fee, making it hard for grieving families to determine if they’re paying a fair price,” she said.
“If you pay within three weeks, the onus is on you or your funeral director to subtract the administration fee from the total – and to pick up on an overpayment if it happens.”
InvoCare’s umbrella encapsulates two national funeral brands: White Lady Funerals and Simplicity Funerals, as well as nearly 40 other state-specific brands. In 2018, it sold 36,000 funerals around the country, earning nearly $290 million.
Matt Bungard is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.