The funeral industry is under the spotlight, thanks to a NSW state parliamentary inquiry that’s turning up grizzly practices like the use of cardboard coffins, bodies being stored unregistered and soaring prices for even the most basic funeral, if this story in the SMH is anything to go by.

But according to Megan Lee, general manager of the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW, the number of horror stories emerging from the industry is actually very few – it’s just that they’re always saved up for a “media moment.”

What’s of more concern, says Lee, is the rampant price-fixing and anti-competitive measures that dominate the industry. She tells the story of one woman from regional NSW who requested the cheapest, most basic funeral on offer when her husband died suddenly. For the service of removing his body in a body bag – no coffin – and cremating it at a time convenient to the crematorium, the woman paid $3,200.

Her enquiries found this to be the standard price for the service in her small town, which indicates that there might be “some sort of arrangement going on in that town,” says Lee.

Both Lee, and NCOSS Director Gary Moore point the finger at Invocare. With a finger in numerous funeral-related pies (they operate funeral homes, crematoria and cemeteries around Australia) the company made $17.1 million profit after tax in the year to 2004, up from $11.6 million in the previous year.

This is a very big company that’s bought up an enormous number of smaller companies, says Lee, “and they’re making money hand over fist.”

“Basically they’re coming in at every angle in the industry and going from strength to strength,” she says.

Any Crikey readers who’ve had personal experience of shoddy funeral industry practices are invited to share their stories at [email protected]