Grave concerns over fees

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Local grave-diggers have already lost thousands of dollars and are struggling to attract new business due to a change in the rate structures set by Penrith City Council.

Dale Neale owns Personal Services Australia, which operates in cemeteries owned by a dozen different local councils.

But Mr Neale says ever since Penrith changed its cemetery fees and charges in July last year, his business has suffered immensely.

“It is literally thousands that we’ve lost and the potential fees are quite a bit too,” he said.

The Council have a tender appointed grave-digging contractor to undertake digging at Council-owned cemeteries but the contract does not allow for exclusivity, which means other businesses can offer the same service.

Before last year, a funeral director paid a burial permit fee of $207, before choosing the Council contractor or a private operator, which would bring the fees to $1,372 or $1,207 respectively.

Mr Neale said in reality, the Council contractor carried out about 90 per cent of all burials, but some funeral directors would choose their own grave-digging companies, which worked until the new rate structure was brought in.

Under the new rates, Council decided to combine the burial permit and grave-digging fees at a cost of $1,465.

“The only problem with this is that funeral directors who still wish to use their own contractor still have to pay the full $1,465… and then have to pay their own contractor to do the actual work,” Mr Neale said.

“They are now slugged an extra $1,000 for Council to perform no work and supply nothing.”

Mr Neale was forced to contact the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Division of Local Government (DLG) after he failed to receive a response from the Council.

“Both their investigations concluded that, although not actually breaching any anticompetitive laws, the new fees and charges were not in the best interests of the ratepayers of Penrith,” he said.

While the DLG wrote to Council about reassessing its pricing policy, a Council spokesman said the new rates better reflect the fee structure of other local government organisations and private industry.

“Council officers believe its fee structure and control over the cemeteries provides the community with assurance that interment services are sensitively managed,” he said.

“Council’s fee structure enables Council’s cemeteries staff to manage grave digging operations… but also gives cemeteries staff control over the timing of grave-digging so that grave is not being dug at the same time as a funeral service.”

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