KZN funeral parlours refund 'Covid-19 handling fees' after complaints

29 March 2021 - 17:46
By nivashni nair AND Nivashni Nair
KZN economic development, tourism and environmental affairs MEC Ravi Pillay embarked on inspections in Esikhaleni, outside Richards Bay, where expired food items were found.
Image: supplied KZN economic development, tourism and environmental affairs MEC Ravi Pillay embarked on inspections in Esikhaleni, outside Richards Bay, where expired food items were found.

Three funeral parlours have refunded grieving families who had gone to the KwaZulu-Natal department of economic development, tourism and environmental affairs (EDTEA) with complaints that they were charged exorbitant “handling fees” when their loved ones succumbed to Covid-19.   

Speaking at a consumer rights awareness campaign in Esikhaleni, outside Richards Bay, on Sunday, MEC Ravi Pillay said his department had investigated 13 complaints against three Durban-based funeral parlours.

Nine of the complaints were against one of the three funeral parlours.

The main allegation was that the businesses had inflated prices of funeral products and charged exorbitant Covid-19 “handling fees”. Funeral policies were also disregarded and families were made  to pay unexplained additional fees.  

“Following our investigation and mediation processes there has been progress on these cases. The funeral parlour facing nine complaints has since made offers to the complainants. These offers included discounts and refunds on Covid handling costs,” said Pillay.

“The second funeral parlour, which had been facing three complaints, refunded one complainant in full and resolved the other two complaints.

“The third business also resolved the matter with the sole complainant against the business and the complaint was withdrawn.”

The investigation's findings and recommendations were shared with the National Consumer Commission.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and call on anyone who may have fallen victim to this to come forward with information.

“We also warn funeral businesses not to engage in unscrupulous conduct as they may suffer reputational damage,” said Pillay.

Department spokesperson Bheki Mbanjwa said the names of the funeral parlours would not be released as there was an agreement that the matters would be settled without prejudice.

Two stores closed over health and safety compliance

Meanwhile, Pillay and uMhlathuze mayor Mdu Mhlongo inspected three supermarkets and a hardware store in Esikhaleni township, where two businesses had to be closed due to serious concerns over health and safety.

“Compliance notices were also issued to all four businesses for transgressions including the sale of prohibited skin-lightening creams and selling expired food items. Owners and employees in some of the shops also failed to produce documentation to prove they were in the country legally.

“About R6,000 worth of prohibited skin-lightening creams were seized by officials in one shop alone. These creams contain harmful substances and may cause skin cancer. Expired food items seized include concentrated juices, chips and packets of instant maize meal porridge,” Mbanjwa said.

He said the total value of prohibited creams confiscated was R48,000 while expired food items worth R18,000 were condemned.

Pillay said enforcement would continue on a daily basis.

“In this area here we have seen the issue of goods not being labelled properly and also the goods that have expired being sold. We cannot play with the health and safety of our people. We want to boost the township and rural economy but we want people to comply with the laws of our country. There has to be consequence management, whether in the form of fines or deportation,” he said.

An inspection was also held in the Durban city centre on Friday and three people, including an owner of a nightclub, were arrested on suspicion of being undocumented foreign nationals as they failed to produce documentation proving they are in the country illegally.

The department’s business regulation unit, the SAPS, metro police, the KwaZulu-Natal Liquor Authority and the Gaming and Betting Board were part of the team that conducted the inspections.