Funeral parlours accused of charging ‘exorbitant’ prices for Covid burials

DURBAN, South Africa – Durban families have claimed that they are being ripped off by funeral parlours that are allegedly charging exorbitant fees for basic funerals.

Ravi Govender, a priest at the Sithambaram Alayam Temple, who blew the whistle on the alleged practices on social media at the weekend, said several families had complained that they had paid exorbitant costs for basic funerals and in some cases they had forked out thousands of rand for a funeral despite a funeral policy being in place.

He said the funeral parlours had claimed that the funeral policies did not cover extra expenses incurred to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for a funeral where the person had Covid-19.

“People are being held to ransom to bury their loved ones. They are applying self-gain first before the plight of the people right now. We know there is a virus out there but we don’t have to capitalise on their grief.”

A Durban man, who spoke to The Mercury on condition of anonymity as he fears victimisation, said he had to pay R11 200 for his father’s funeral, although he had been paying a funeral policy at R50 a month for more than 10 years.

He said the parlour told him the amount included, among other fees, the cost of R6 500 for a casket and R2 500 for PPE.

“We just got robbed and it was at the time of death. They just want to make money out of people. They have got no compassion,” he said.

Govender said he had asked DA MP Haniff Hoosen to take up the cudgels on behalf of bereaved families.

Hoosen said there seemed to be “a common thread” among certain undertakers in Durban who allegedly forced families to fork out between R4 000 and R7 000 for funerals despite the fact that funeral policies had been in place.

Hoosen said he suspected the exorbitant prices flouted the Disaster Management Act regulations, which required businesses to charge average prices for goods and services at a rate no higher than three months before lockdown was imposed in 2020.

Hoosen said he was preparing to file a complaint against the funeral parlours with the Competition Commission.

Responding to several allegations levelled against his firm, one funeral parlour owner said Covid-19 had resulted in bona fide additional costs to his business.

“On our funeral policy it is clearly stated we will give you ‘abcd’. These policies started before Covid-19 and when Covid came in we had to incur extra costs. We have to use sanitisers, body bags and no body is going to risk their lives for regular wages,” he said.

He said funeral policies which cost between R20 and R30 a month usually covered items like a coffin, a hearse, a family car, R1 000 for cremation fees, a priest, R200 for a bus, R200 for flowers and R100 towards a marquee and chairs.

“Covid-19 came in and it is costing us in the region of R2 500 and the family has to bear the costs for that. I can’t bear the costs because it is not stipulated in my policy,” he said.

Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs spokesperson Bheki Mbanjwa said while it was understood there would be additional costs related to Covid-19 funerals, the department was concerned about the reports of alleged excessive costs.

“We condemn this and we have tasked our enforcement team to investigate these allegations.

’’Where any non-compliance with the Consumer and Consumer Protection and National Disaster Management regulations, is established, 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,” Mbanjwa said.

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