Council cemetery operators should report publicly on the operating performance of their cemeteries, a draft recommendation by the independent pricing regulator says.
The IPART report also recommends that all cemetery operators, including councils, should be responsible for the perpetual maintenance of graves and should set up a dedicated fund to do it.
The draft report on the costs and pricing of internment in NSW released last week, IPART says councils should provide costs and performance statistics on the Office of Local Government’s Your Council website as part of their annual reporting cycle.
The information should include the number of cemeteries they operate, the number of burials per year, remaining cemetery capacity, total operating costs and revenue, and the funds they have set aside for perpetual maintenance of the facility.
The move would increase transparency and allow comparison with other councils, IPART says.
“Requiring councils to report transparency on their cemetery operations would encourage efficiency and provide a useful benchmark for council cemetery operators,” report says.
IPART also recommends that the NSW Government puts a legal obligation on all cemetery operators to be responsible for perpetual maintenance of perpetual interment sites and the cemetery.
“We maintain our view that a legal obligation is needed to provide for the perpetual maintenance of cemeteries,” IPART says.
“This is because the current arrangements for reserving funds for perpetual maintenance lack accountability and transparency.”
The draft report also calls for a centralised approach to sourcing and acquiring new cemetery land.
It says given the looming shortage of burial space in Sydney and difficulties finding land, the NSW government should be responsible for finding and funding land for new cemeteries in Metropolitan Sydney.
Pushback from councils
Councils manage more than 1,000 cemeteries across the state, according to the state’s peak body for local government, and provide most of the interments in regional areas outside of Sydney.
However, more than 80 per cent of council-operated cemeteries are closed or conduct fewer than 10 burials per year.
In a submission to IPART dated April 7 LGNSW warned councils would not support “prescriptive legal obligations for council owned cemeteries where these obligations are duplicative, unnecessary and potentially burdensome with no appreciable benefit”.
But IPART Tribunal member Ms Deborah Cope said consumers who are burying a loved often face high prices, confusing information and minimal options at a time when they are particularly vulnerable.
“To provide greater transperancy in cemetery pricing, we are recommending … that the NSW government set up a website to allow people to easily compare prices across all cemeteries in NSW.”
The draft report also found significant opportunities for increased efficiency at Sydney cemeteries, especially in administration and overheads.
A guide for cemetery maintenance
It comes as the NSW government said it had developed a new guide to help cemetery operators keep their estates in top condition.
Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey said Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW has developed the maintenance guide to provide a best practice blueprint for cemetery operators.
“The voluntary Cemetery Maintenance Guide is designed to highlight best-practice to help operators of all sizes maintain and improve their cemeteries over time to the best of their ability,” she said.
“It provides a range of advice, tips and case study examples of how cemeteries can be at their best through a combination of cemetery design and layout, great customer service, and smart maintenance practices.”
Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW chairman Stepan Kerkyasharian said the maintenance guide would be a valuable resource to help cemetery operators abide by the industry code of practice.
The Cemetery Maintenance Guide is available on the CCNSW website.
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