Shropshire Council

Public Health Act funerals

There are occasions when people die and there are no relatives or friends available to arrange their funeral. In such cases we're responsible for arranging the funeral of any person who has died within our boundary, other than in hospital, where it appears that no other agency or persons are making suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body. These are known as Public Health Act funerals.

Legal requirement

We have a duty under Section 46 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to "cause to be buried or cremated the body of any person who has died or is found to be dead" within Shropshire, and where it appears "that no suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body have been or are being made". People who typically require this type of action are those who die intestate and with no next of kin.

We'll only take responsibility for arranging funerals and estates in extreme circumstances.

We'll first try to locate living relatives or friends of the deceased, and in some cases pass the responsibility on to them. If it's found that there is no one either willing or able to undertake this responsibility, we'll deal with all aspects of arranging the funeral. We're then entitled to recover the funeral costs from the estate of the deceased.

In cases where there are assets that exceed the cost of the funeral, and where there are no other bills outstanding, any money left will go to the Estates Group within the Bona Vacantia (small receipts) Division of the Treasury Solicitor, in accordance with the rules set down by the secretary of state. For more information, and to view the Treasury Solicitor's Estates register, please visit the Bona Vacantia website.

When does a Public Health Act funeral take place?

We normally act on instructions received from the local coroner's office. In some instances the managers of residential homes and sheltered accommodation advise us of circumstances where a death has occurred within their accommodation and, as far as they know, there are no living relatives.

What happens next?

Where the coroner has notified us of a death the first thing we do is to collect the deceased's personal effects from the police.

Where known, or where the death has been notified by the manager of a residential home or sheltered accommodation, the residence of the deceased will be searched to try to find a will or any other documents that will indicate the existence of any relatives, religious beliefs or funeral preferences, and to locate funds to pay for the funeral.

Exclusions

We won't become involved if any funeral arrangements have already been made, or the funeral has already taken place. We won't part-fund a funeral or contribute to the cost of a funeral which has already been organised by someone else.

We would not normally undertake funeral arrangements if the deceased died in hospital. Under these circumstances the hospital authorities would take responsibility. It's also understood that the hospital authorities would require reimbursement should any money later become available to enable this.

We would not normally undertake funeral arrangements if the next of kin were in receipt of benefits, as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would pay most, if not all, of the funeral bill, although this would of course be dependent on what was requested of the funeral director. It's sensible to inform a funeral director straight away of all or any financial limitation so that they can remain within a client's means.

Burial or cremation?

Unless it appears that the deceased would have been against a cremation, we'll make arrangements with a funeral director for the deceased to be cremated at Emstrey Crematorium.

The cremated remains of the deceased would be scattered in the gardens of remembrance unless other specific instructions are found amongst the deceased's possessions, or in a will. However, any costs associated with specific instructions must first be met through the deceased's estate, or by family members. Where a family member wishes to retain the remains then they must be collected from the crematorium or funeral director by that person.

If the deceased person has left any paperwork, or had previously advised someone with whom we have made contact, that they specifically wanted to be buried, suitable arrangements for a burial will be made.

In either case an appropriate ceremony would be arranged (as far as possible) in accordance with the deceased's known beliefs and wishes.

Getting help to pay for a funeral

If you're the person responsible for arranging a funeral and are on a low income, a funeral payment can be claimed from the DWP Social Fund if either you or your partner are in receipt of:

  • income support
  • income-based jobseeker's allowance
  • employment and support allowance (income-related)
  • pension credit
  • housing benefit
  • council tax benefit (or the council taxpayer where you live gets a second-adult rebate because you are on a low income)
  • working tax credit, which includes a disability or severe disability element
  • child tax credit at a rate higher than the family element

You can apply for this at any time from the date of death up to three months after the date of the funeral. You should receive the necessary cost of specified items or services, plus up to £700 for other funeral expenses.

For more information visit the DWP Bereavement Service or call 0845 606 0265. 

Where appropriate, they can take your funeral payment claim over the phone.

Alternatively, you can make a written claim by completing form SF200 'Funeral Payments from the Social Fund', which is available from Jobcentre Plus.

In addition, if your husband, wife or civil partner has died as a result of an industrial accident, or died when under retirement age, you may be entitled to a bereavement payment; a one-off tax-free lump-sum payment of £2,000.

For further information about funeral payments, bereavement payments and bereavement allowances, follow the DWP Bereavement Service link above. 

Requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

We're frequently asked for information about public health funerals, people who have died with no known next of kin, bona vacantia estates and estates which have been referred to the Government Legal Department. In response to these requests, we've compiled some information about Public Health Act Funerals which have taken place recently.

This information will be updated with information relating to public health funerals on a quarterly basis.

Exemption of updated information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

There are relatively few public health funerals in Shropshire and, therefore, we consider that publication of this information at quarterly intervals is reasonable. The provision of updated information before the next planned update will be exempted under section 22 of the act as it is information that we hold with the intention of publishing at some future date, as specified above.

Exemption of additional information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

We apply the following exemptions to the release of any further information about public health funerals, people who have died with no known next of kin, bona vacantia estates and estates which have been referred to the Treasury Solicitor, or Duchy of Lancaster or Cornwall:

Section 21- information reasonably accessible to the applicant by another means

Our reason for applying this exemption is that details of all deaths within the borough are registered. Deaths can be registered at any register office, and contact details of all those within Shropshire, can be found on our Bereavement Services pages.

Information that we hold on estates passed, or estates to be passed, to the Treasury Solicitor, is considered to be held on behalf of the Treasury Solicitor’s Department. Some details of the estate of those persons who have died and which have been passed to the Treasury Solicitor can be accessed via the Treasury Solicitor’s website, or via the Bona Vacantia website.

Section 31 – law enforcement

Revealing details of the assets of an estate before the Treasury Solicitor has undertaken their own enquiries would provide an opportunity for criminal acts to be committed (for example, theft or fraud). Similarly, there would be concerns about making the last known address of the deceased public, as the property is likely to be unoccupied and might still contain the deceased’s personal papers and effects. There's also a continuing risk after the estate has been secured of, for example, identity theft. Taking into account the above issues, we consider that there is no overriding public interest in releasing the information requested. Any public interest would be best served by upholding the exemption under section 31 of the act as disclosure of the information would be likely to prejudice the prevention of crime by enabling or encouraging the commission of offences.