What is a public health funeral?

When someone dies within a local authority area and there are no surviving relatives, or there is no-one willing or able to arrange a funeral, the local authority may be able to arrange a funeral at public expense - a public health funeral.

Huntingdonshire District Council doesn't provide a funeral service. However, under the Section 46(1) of the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984, we have a duty to arrange the funeral if someone dies within the district boundary.

We are not responsible for funeral arrangements if the deceased lived in Huntingdonshire but died within another council's district boundary. 

Help with funeral costs

Sometimes, during these often very painful and difficult times there are serious concerns about how you will pay for a funeral because of insufficient funds or low income.

If you are on any benefits and are concerned about paying for a funeral you may be eligible for a funeral grant. More details and advice can be found on the GOV.UK website.

If you don't have access to a computer please go to your nearest JobCentre Plus or call into the council offices for more help.

What we do when we receive a request

After we receive a request for a public health public health funeral, a council officer will usually visit the property of the deceased. To protect against accusations of theft or misconduct, two officers will search the property. One officer will always be a council officer and the second may be, for example, a housing association or police officer. 

The purpose of the visit is to:

  • look for things such as details of next-of-kin, a will or testament, a passport or driving licence 
  • find details of, for example, bank and savings accounts
  • take an inventory and photographs
  • remove valuables and
  • ensure the property is secure.

A written inventory of assets will be recorded and any property that is removed will be kept under secure conditions. These may be disposed of at a later date and the proceeds will be used towards recovering the cost of the funeral, passed on to next-of-kin or passed to the Government Legal Department. 

If an executor refuses to arrange the funeral they must formally renounce (that is, give up) their rights. If the executor has removed items or valuables from the deceased's property they may be required to return these to the council.

Locate family

If the next-of-kin are not known we may use the services of a company that specialises in locating heirs and beneficiaries.

The funeral

If the next-of-kin, partner or  family of the deceased are unwilling, or unable, to arrange the funeral we will ask them to sign a document stating that they:

  • acknowledge that we are to make the funeral arrangements and
  • understand that all our costs will be recovered from the deceased's estate.

In these instances friends may be prepared to take on the responsibility of arranging the funeral. In the case of ex-military personnel there are many charities that may be prepared to help, for example Royal British Legion branches or other military charities. 

The funeral will be arranged in accordance with our Public Health Guidance as follows:

  • we will organise the most economical funeral 
  • we won't part-fund a funeral or pay for flowers or memorials and will not accept contributions for such items
  • the body won't be cremated if we have reason to believe that the deceased didn't wish it
  • if the body is cremated the ashes may be scattered in the crematorium grounds three months after the funeral 
  • no memorial or headstone will be permitted
  • if it is clear that the deceased person wanted another type of funeral we will try to carry out those wishes. If we consider the cost to be unreasonable we will produce a report explaining why we couldn't carry out the wishes of the deceased.
  • a minister of religion or a representative of faith won't be at the funeral unless we are certain that the deceased would have wanted it. 

While we will usually notify family and friends of the date, time and place of the funeral we are not obliged to do so. A visit to the Chapel of Rest may not permitted.

Recovery of costs

We are legally allowed to recover all the costs we incur from the estate of the deceased.

If family members are found after a public health funeral, the property and effects will be held until Letters of Administration from a Court or a Statutory Declaration from a Commissioner for Oaths (usually done via a solicitor) are presented.

We will deal with personal possessions in accordance with our Public Health Funeral Guidance.

If next-of-kin are found they will be provided with a detailed account regarding costs recovered from the estate and the disposal/retention of any personal possessions.

Public health funeral data

 Our Public Health Funerals Policy sets out that we will publish public health funeral data at the end of March, June, September and December.

View the public health funeral data (1 April 2015 - 11 August 2017)

Need more information?

If you need any further information about public health funerals please call us on 01480 388302 or email envhealth@huntingdonshire.gov.uk.