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Deaths and funerals

Last updated on: 02-Dec-2020

5. Public health burials

Public health funerals are also known as national assistance, welfare or paupers’ funerals.

Under the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984, when a person passes away the local authority has a duty to make arrangements, where it is established that no other agency or persons are making suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body.

Those with next of kin, who are in receipt of certain benefits or tax credits, and struggling to afford funeral arrangements, may be entitled to a funeral payment from the Social Fund. You can find more information about funeral payments on the GOV.UK website.

The Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984 places a duty on local authorities to have cremated or buried the body of any person:

  • Who has died, or been found dead, in their area
  • Where it appears to the authority that no suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body have been, or are being, made otherwise than by the authority

Both of these important criteria have to be satisfied for the local authority to become involved.

The majority of Gravesham Borough Council’s cases are referred from the Coroners’ office and residential care homes when they have made suitable checks with regard to the individual’s arrangements and/ or next of kin and no suitable arrangements have been identified. All information is supplied to the local authority and assessed prior to accepting the case.

If there are next of kin who are unable to arrange and pay for the funeral (for example, where there are insufficient funds in the estate) they will be asked to make a written statement to confirm that they are not able to do this.
If a person died in hospital, it is the Health Authority’s responsibility.

If a person died outside of the Borough of Gravesham then the public health funeral responsibility will lie with the local authority where the person died.

The funeral

If no one is prepared to arrange the funeral, Gravesham Borough Council’s Cemeteries Department will take responsibility for making the arrangements. This includes:

  • Registering the death
  • Instructing a funeral director to collect the body
  • Providing a coffin
  • Transporting the deceased to Northfleet Cemetery or Thames View Crematorium by hearse
  • Carrying out the funeral including a simple service performed by a minister of religion or a life celebrant
  • Scattering the remains within the grounds of Thames View Crematorium – unless other arrangements have been made

We aim to ensure all public health funerals are carried out in a dignified and respectful manner. Should there be any family or friends of the deceased they are permitted to attend the funeral service should they wish to.

The cremated remains of the deceased will normally be scattered within the grounds of Thames View Crematorium unless other specific instructions are found amongst the deceased’s possessions or in a will.

Any costs associated with specific instructions must be met through the deceased's estate or by family members or friends.

Where we have a request from a family member or anyone who can evidence a relationship then the ashes will be released into their care. Arrangements for this should be made directly with Gravesham Borough Council’s Cemeteries Office.

As we are responsible and accountable for public health funeral costs, it is paramount the costs of these arrangements are kept to a minimum. Hence, there is little flexibility afforded to the Cemeteries Office in the arrangements and timings of these funerals.

Payment

If the next of kin is unable to arrange and pay for the funeral (for example, where there are insufficient funds in the estate) they will be asked to make a written statement to confirm that they are not able to do this.

For these public health funerals the Local Authority has the powers under the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984 to recover from the estate of the deceased any items or money that can be put towards the costs incurred for the funeral expenses.

The Cemeteries Office will carry out suitable checks, for each case, to establish if the deceased estate has any such funds available. If the costs of the funeral are unable to be paid for by the deceased estate then any outstanding money will be met by the Local Authority – public funds.

We will not become involved if any funeral arrangements have already been made or the funeral has already taken place. We will not part-fund a funeral or contribute to the cost of a funeral that has already been organised by someone else.

Where there is no will

'Bona vacantia' is a legal term relating to the situation in which a person dies without leaving a will and there is no known next of kin to take ownership of the property and possessions (“the Estate”) belonging to that person. This is also known as dying intestate.

If we have information relating to such cases we inform the Treasury Solicitor under rules set down by the Secretary of State, if this is not being reported by another organisation / service. Although bona vacantia referrals are not a frequent occurrence, they do happen from time to time.

For information about cases referred to the Treasury Solicitor please see GOV.UK - Bona Vacantia.

Data

To aid transparency, we publish information relating to the public health funerals we have carried out. This information is only available for funerals carried out since 2013/14. The information is updated quarterly.

View our Public health burials Freedom of Information data

Please note that not all details will be disclosed. This is because they are exempt under Section 31 (1) (a) (law enforcement – the prevention or detection of crime), Section 21 (information already reasonably accessible by other means) and Section 40(2) (personal data of third parties) of the Freedom of Information Act.

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