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ACCC Slams Funeral Homes for Misinforming Customers about their True Ownership

The ACCC have issued civil penalties totalling $25,200 to two funeral homes, WT Howard Funeral Services and Coventry Funeral Homes. The civil penalties are for allegedly making false or misleading representations about their ownership.

WT Howard and Coventry found themselves in trouble after making representations of being “locally owned”, “proudly local” and “independently owned”. These representations were made despite both WT Howard and Coventry being owned by a publicly listed company, Propel Funeral Partners. Propel is a substantial company and in 2017 and 2020 boasted as being the second largest provider of death care services in Australia and New Zealand. To put it into perspective, Propel comprises of 130 funeral home locations, 31 cremation facilities and 9 cemeteries. It is clearly not a small operation.

So how did this happen? It appears that the representations failed to be taken off the websites of WT Howard and Coventry after they were acquired by Propel.

Under the Australian Consumer Law, it is illegal for businesses supplying goods or services to make a false or misleading representation about their characteristics. This may now be said to include the origin or ownership of the company providing those goods or services.

The parties reached an agreement without court proceedings being issued. This means that there was no formal determination as to whether the ACCC was correct. However, we would tend to agree with their finding and recognise that the success of this outcome for the ACCC may stem from the type of services involved and the reliance placed on consumers. Undoubtedly, consumers looking for a funeral service provider may be more vulnerable and may place more weight on providers who are local to the area and run by members of the community.

The penalty notices issued by the ACCC serve as a reminder for businesses to check that their website information is up-to-date and accurate. Any information about the ownership of a business ought to reflect the true ownership and not mislead customers about the existence of a holding company.

Our experienced commercial lawyers at Taurus Legal Management have achieved successful outcomes in the area of consumer law. If you need assistance, please contact us on (03) 9481 2000 or at info@tauruslawyers.com.au.

Posted by Taurus Legal Management