Following an investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices by Glasnevin Trust, the Commission sought a number of remedial measures
March 25, 2015
Funeral-related services are, by their nature, purchases that consumers have to make in the most difficult and stressful circumstances. In this situation, consumers are often unclear about exactly what they need to do and depend on a service provider, such as a funeral director or provider of cemetery services, to guide them through the process. As such, it is a sector in which transparency and compliance with competition and consumer protection law are of paramount importance.
Following an investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices by Glasnevin Trust, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (the Commission) sought a number of remedial measures from Glasnevin Trust. These measures, relating to the provision of burial plots, headstones and headstone foundations, mitigate the alleged anti-competitive practices and ensure the protection of consumers. The changes being implemented by Glasnevin Trust, as a result of the Commission’s intervention, represent a positive outcome for consumers and for headstone providers who compete with Glasnevin Trust. An important outcome is the agreement by Glasnevin Trust to make its prices more transparent to consumers and, critically, to amend the price list it circulates to funeral directors to reflect this more transparent approach. Funeral directors play a significant role in interacting with bereaved families. For this reason, the Commission also reminds funeral directors of their responsibility to ensure that information on pricing of funeral and related services is communicated in a clear, transparent and timely way to their customers.
This initiative reflects the Commission’s mission: to make markets work better for consumers and businesses in Ireland. All businesses have a responsibility to ensure that the pricing information they provide to consumers is clear, accurate and complete. They should review their own pricing practices and make changes where necessary to ensure their approach is in line with best practice and with their obligations under competition and consumer protection law. The Commission will continue to take action in bringing anti-competitive behaviour and practices that are harmful to consumers to an end, where necessary via the courts. Consumers and businesses can report anti-competitive behaviour to the Commission.
Glasnevin Trust, also known as the Dublin Cemeteries Committee is the largest provider of funeral services in Ireland, operating five cemeteries and two crematoria in Dublin. It also operates Glasnevin Florists Ltd and Glasnevin Cemetery Monument Works Ltd (GCMW) which creates and erects headstones.
In November 2011, the Commission received a complaint in relation to alleged anti-competitive practices by Glasnevin Trust. It was alleged that Glasnevin Trust, and its subsidiary GCMW, were engaging in anti-competitive practices designed to put competing headstone providers at a competitive disadvantage. It was alleged that this amounted to an abuse of dominance by Glasnevin Trust contrary to section 5 of the Competition Act 2002. After a detailed preliminary assessment, the Commission identified a number of concerns and decided in March 2013 to open a formal investigation. In the first instance, there appeared to be a lack of transparency for consumers in terms of the final cost of burial services. For example, in situations where consumers chose to erect a headstone some months after a burial, as is often the case, they were sometimes surprised to discover that a separate foundation fee was also payable, in addition to the funeral director’s costs and the cost of the burial plot and the headstone.
It was also alleged that Glasnevin Trust was waiving, or reducing, this foundation fee if the consumer opted to purchase the headstone from Glasnevin Trust’s subsidiary company, GCMW, potentially putting other competing headstone providers at a competitive disadvantage. It was further alleged that Glasnevin Trust was discriminating against competing headstone providers in terms of waiting times for foundations, access to cemeteries and promotional activities.
The Commission secured agreement from Glasnevin Trust to put a number of remedial measures in place in order to mitigate anti-competitive practices and ensure increased transparency. These include:
• An agreement that Glasnevin Trust will make its prices more transparent to consumers, making it easier for consumers to find a price list for burial plots and foundation fees on Glasnevin Trust website and in Glasnevin Trust’s offices. Critically, Glasnevin Trust has also agreed to inform consumers explicitly that foundation fees are not included in the purchase price of a burial plot and will also provide flexibility to consumers in terms of when these fees are payable.
• Given that many funeral directors often act on behalf of bereaved families, Glasnevin Trust has taken measures to ensure that funeral directors will inform consumers of the separate cost of the foundation fee. For instance, before applying for burial services in Glasnevin Trust cemeteries, funeral directors are required to confirm to Glasnevin Trust that they have informed consumers of the foundation cost.
• Glasnevin Trust has also agreed to treat competing headstone providers in an equal and non-discriminatory manner in terms of waiting times for permits and foundations, access to cemeteries and regulatory requirements.
• Glasnevin Trust has agreed to allow competing headstone providers to advertise in Glasnevin Trust promotional brochures subject to the payment of the same fees payable by GCMW for such advertising.
Based on these measures, the Commission is satisfied to conclude its investigation without any further action. The Commission wishes to acknowledge that Glasnevin Trust co-operated fully and in a timely manner throughout the investigation.
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