Ministry aims to curb profiteering in the funeral business

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 December, 2009, 12:00am

The government will clamp down on profiteering in the funeral business by forcing state-owned crematoriums to limit the cost of their services.

New guidelines published by the Ministry of Civil Affairs yesterday promised a push towards free funerals, after a string of scandals.

'Funeral services ... should gradually extend to coverage of free basic services from the poor to every citizen,' the notice said.

State-owned funeral companies have earned a reputation for ripping off vulnerable customers and a lack of any implementation and punishment measures or a timeline suggests that the guidelines would do little to change this. An official of the ministry's department of social affairs, which oversees the funeral industry, said the regulation was a response to public pressure.

'In recent years, there has been a debate on funeral-service reform,' the official said. 'The controversy focused on the quality and cost of funeral services. Top leaders took note and ordered us to do something about it. The ministry believes public services should take the lead to lower the cost of funerals, and government employees should not seek a profit.

'We are working on an amendment to the existing regulation, but there is a lot of resistance in the sector, so I don't think it will be released any time soon.'

The 'basic services' outlined in the regulation include corpse transport, disinfection, storage and cremation. The standard cost for such a service is about 600 yuan (HK$680).

However, funeral companies earn big money from other services.

According to a report by the Beijing Evening News in March, the minimum cost of a funeral was more than 5,000 yuan. On average, people paid more than 15,000 yuan.

Most of the costs were for services, flowers, urns and graves, the report said. One state-owned funeral home charged 180 yuan per day for the body to be draped in the Communist flag, and between 1,880 and 3,280 yuan for it to be clothed.

A report by Wuhan's People's Political Consultative Conference in April said residents complained they could no longer afford to die. 'The price of an urn ranges from 190 to 28,800 yuan, but most low- and mid-priced urns are not available. Vulnerable customers, therefore, have no choice but to spend thousands of yuan on a vase that cost less than 20 yuan to make.'