Funeral services in Australia: Moves toward greater clarity at a time of great vulnerability

When you think about funerals, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

It may be a favourite scene from ‘Six Feet Under’ – the cult TV drama series depicting a family-run funeral home in Los Angeles. Or, it might be an iconic image of those prominent funeral companies that can seem to dominate the industry. If, however, you are currently in the throes of organising a funeral – chances are you may not really know what to think, or where to go in terms of navigating this very difficult passage of time.

As a social worker or nurse working in palliative care, you may be unsure of what resources are available to help support families’ decision making during a time of mourning. That’s where a novel funeral home comparison site can be of great assistance – you may find what you are looking for Gathered Here.

Gathered Here is a new initiative founded by Colin Wong. Colin believes in supporting families and fighting for a more transparent funeral industry here in Australia. He kindly agreed to share with us here at Palliverse, the rationale for and benefits of Gathered Here. But first, a little background…

The evolution of funeral homes and funeral directorship as an occupation has been a topic of discussion for some years in the USA and UK. Examples of this can be found in the Sage Handbook of Death and Dying. More recently, funeral practices in the UK were again put under the microscope in an article by Tony Walter, posing the question: is the UK funeral industry still fit for purpose?

By comparison there has been relatively little attention directed towards funeral practices in Australia. But this has begun to change. A critical lens is beginning to shine a spotlight on the funeral industry, if the increasing attention from media outlets and researchers is any indication. And greater transparency is the subject coming into focus.

Just last month in the Sydney Morning Herald, one could read the headline Funeral services and costs ‘shrouded in secrecy’ – referring to recent research published by the University of Sydney Business School. Entitled ‘It’s Your Funeral’ – this study by Professor Sandra van der Laan and Associate Professor Lee Moerman reports on their investigation of death care and the funeral industry in Australia. Greater transparency and competitiveness feature in much of the discussion and recommendations made. The full report can be accessed here.

As an innovative example of a community response to an apparent lack of transparency, Gathered Here was recently featured in an article published by The Guardian; unfortunately reporting that it had become the target of legal threats from funeral homes in Australia.

Why?

Disruption, apparently. ‘Hi-tech funeral disrupter upsets $1.1b industry’ was the headline recently featured in the Financial Review, with the article citing 33 per cent of the funeral industry market held by the ASX-listed InvoCare. Further media coverage has recently been published by the ABC.

So, we here at Palliverse were very interested in hearing the grass roots story of Gathered Here – as well as Colin’s story about how it came to be. But more than this, we wanted to share with everyone how a resource like this could be of benefit to those we encounter in the world of palliative care.

Palliverse: What was your personal motivation behind the creation of Gathered Here?

Colin: It all started when my great aunt passed away. We found it so difficult to get pricing information from funeral directors in the area and, honestly, it felt like we were being taken advantage of a lot of the time. It made a terrible time of grief even worse.

What I learned later was that it’s a general strategy for funeral directors to provide as little information as possible over the phone and convince families to meet in-person. Then, after an emotionally charged 2-hour session planning the funeral, most families don’t feel like they can back out. It’s an old-fashioned sales tactic.

I knew that hundreds of Australian families were experiencing the same thing every single day. So, I decided to make it my mission to bring transparency to the funeral industry.

 

Palliverse: What kind of benefits does the site offer to families and communities?

Colin: Grieving Australians are incredibly vulnerable consumers. In shock, highly emotional, and with only a very limited amount of time, they are required to make one of the biggest purchases of their lives with little or no pricing information on the funeral market.

In addition, families often find it hard to talk about money at such a sensitive time, and so can be pressured into upselling and additional services they don’t want. 

Gathered Here protects families by giving them all the information they need to make informed decisions with the click of a button.

 

Palliverse: How can the site be accessed?

Colin: Families can simply visit our website at www.gatheredhere.com.au

Palliverse: What makes Gathered Here unique in comparison to other comparison websites or funeral brokers?

Colin: Unlike other comparison websites or funeral brokers, we show information on all funeral homes in the market, not just the funeral homes that pay us.

We are 100% independent and we believe that consumers should be able to assess the entire market with complete transparency. 

Palliverse: Why is Gathered Here a useful resource for palliative care professionals?

Colin: For ethical reasons, palliative care professionals may not be permitted to recommend the services of specific funeral directors or be paid for making referrals. 

Gathered Here, on the other hand, is 100% independent and not affiliated with any funeral homes, so can be recommended without being unethically biased. It offers an impartial tool for families to instantly research and assess the different options available to them.


Palliverse:
For those working in hospice or other palliative care settings, what is the best way to let patients and families know about this resource?

Colin: Simply let patients and families know they can visit our website at www.gatheredhere.com.au. All they need to do is enter their location and click “Compare” to get pricing information and customer reviews for the funeral homes around them.

Ed. Gathered Here is planning to make available a suite of brochures, pamphlets and posters so that hospices and palliative care services can print off hard copy resources for their patients/families.

We here at Palliverse would like to thank Colin for sharing the story of Gathered Here, and we encourage you to go check it out!

You might also like to sign the change.org petition aiming to achieve greater transparency in funeral price disclosure.

Apart from visiting the website, you can follow Gathered Here on Twitter

One thought on “Funeral services in Australia: Moves toward greater clarity at a time of great vulnerability

  1. Great story and thanks Colin for setting up this resource. The other benefits I could see in having this information openly available is that it may assist people in the process of planning ahead for their own funeral, and also enable people considering purchasing ‘funeral plans’ to weigh up the financial pros and cons, for themselves and their families. Agree that health and social service professionals need access to sources of their own information, and a trusted, impartial resource which they can refer clients to.

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