Funeral parlours facing backlash over excessive pricing claims

Sello Headbush, the owner of a Funeral Parlour adjusts Venetian blinds, inside the showroom where coffins are on display in Port Elizabeth on July 11, 2020. - "People were not taking this seriously" said the owner of the family run business, as numbers in South Africa of COVID-19 related deaths soars. Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP (This picture is for illustrative purposes only.)

According to a client, their grieving family was charged an additional R6,700 in additional costs for the funeral of their deceased mother.

As the Covid-19 pandemic generated an immediate boom within the undertaker industry, community and religious bodies have slammed the funeral parlour industry after numerous claims of clients being overcharged for their services.

This comes after resident priest at the Sithambaram Alayam Temple in Bayview, Ravi Govender, sounded the alarm with a statement that received considerable traction on social media.

Govender, who has been conducting numerous funerals nearly everyday since the second wave, attested that funeral parlours were allegedly taking advantage of vulnerable people by making up excuses in order to charge them additional costs.

“Two days before the funeral, families are being told that they must pay another four or five thousand rand because the bodies are not fitting into caskets and other far fetched excuses,” he said.

According to Govender, this is sometimes the case with non-Covid related funerals.

As backlash from community and religious bodies mounted, numerous individuals have come forward with their grievances towards the undertaker industry.

ALSO READ: Funeral parlours feel the sting of the pandemic

According to a client, who wished to remain anonymous, their grieving family was charged an additional R6,700 in additional costs for the funeral of their deceased mother.

“My mother had a policy that was up-to-date. She made payments every month upon receiving her grant. Despite this, there was up to R6,700 extra costs.

“We had to pay for a Covid test, for a doctor to pronounce her dead because she passed away at home and R3, 000 for a coffin. From my knowledge, a coffin was supposed to be provided as per the policy,” they revealed.

According to national MP, Hannif Hoosen, the two common complaints that he received related to excessive pricing which is against the law under the lockdown regulations and carries a fine of R1 million.

The second common complaint relates to funeral complaints refusing to honour the conditions of funeral policies even though the deceased had paid premiums in some cases for over 15 years.

“Funeral companies claim that these policies never covered Covid-related deaths and for that reason they have to pay the full price.

“This practice by funeral companies is illegal and immoral. Our community have kept these funeral businesses alive for many decades and at a time like Covid when so many families are experiencing hardship.

READ MORE: Funeral parlours appeal for weekend shifts at Home Affairs as Covid-19 deaths surge

“I believe that it is time to give back and not take advantage of vulnerable families. I have received dozens of complaints where families have paid up to R15,000 for funerals even though there was a valid funeral policy in place,” said Hoosen.

Spokesman, Bheki Mbanjwa, of the Consumer Protection Services, stated that not only do they condemn these unscrupulous practices but an enforcement team has been tasked to investigate the allegations.

“While we understand that there would be additional costs related to Covid-19 funerals, we are concerned about the reports that there has been excessive gouging of prices.

“This will be dealt with in accordance with the prevailing regulations and directions, and will be reported to the Competition Commission and other relevant organs of state for investigation and prosecution where appropriate,” said Mbanjwa.

“I appeal to families, who have funeral policies to contact their funeral service providers and get a written undertaking from them that they will cover Covid funerals with no cost, or reconsider their policies with these companies.

“It is simply unacceptable that people have paid their monthly premiums for decades and are still expected to pay for their funeral upon their death,” concluded Hoosen.

This article first appeared on Risingsun Chatsworth and was republished with permission.

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