Welfare funerals

East Staffordshire Borough Council’s role in the undertaking of public health funerals

Under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 Section 46, when a person passes away in the Borough of East Staffordshire and there are no known relatives the Council has a statutory duty to make the necessary arrangements for a public health funeral.

If living relatives are unable to pay for the funeral, money is available through the Social Fund which is administered by Jobcentre Plus for those on income related benefits. After a recent review of the social fund (April 2013) we can confirm that it has not been stopped for the use in Funeral Expenses. Only in extreme circumstances will the Council carry out a welfare funeral for someone with living relatives.

If the deceased has passed away outside East Staffordshire it is the responsibility of the Local Authority where they have died to arrange the welfare funeral even though they may have lived in the Borough.

The council cannot become involved if funeral arrangements have already been made for the funeral to take place. Anyone giving instructions to a funeral director will be responsible for any costs incurred.

Under their obligation East Staffordshire Borough Council’s Commercial Team will deal with all aspects of the organisation of a public health funeral, including registering the death, dealing with the undertakers and organising the details of the funeral and paying for the funeral.

East Staffordshire Borough Council’s appointed funeral director will provide a dignified funeral with a coffin taken in a hearse and attended by bearers. A minister of religion or a religious representative of the faith of the deceased will be present to conduct the service in accordance with that faith. If a non-religious service is appropriate, then this will be respected. If a will is traced for the deceased their wishes for a cremation or burial will be followed. East Staffordshire will provide a burial, unless living relatives have been traced and a cremation will be offered.

A simple service will take place followed by a burial in a shared public grave (It is not possible for these graves to be marked with a headstone) or cremation.

However, prior to any involvement by East Staffordshire Borough Council, the following needs to be considered.

A death in hospital

If the deceased person died in a hospital managed by a NHS Hospital Trust and no relatives can be traced or relatives are unable to afford the cost of the funeral themselves or they do not qualify for a Social Fund Funeral Payment, then the bereavement Officer of the hospital in which the person died should be contacted.

Relatives not able to arrange a funeral

If there are relatives, as next of kin they should undertake the funeral without the council’s involvement.

If a public health funeral is requested for reasons such as no known living relatives, relatives are unable to arrange the funeral the council are the first creditors to the estate of the deceased person. This gives the opportunities to the council to recoup any debt outstanding after a funeral has been carried out.

The nearest family member will be required to sign a disclaimer, acknowledging and agreeing that the council will collect any funds which become available to offset their costs in undertaking the funeral arrangements.

Executors of the deceased

If the deceased made a will, the council cannot become involved in the undertaking of the funeral arrangements unless the executor revokes the will.

In order to establish who will be responsible for undertaking the funeral arrangements, a full search of the premises where the deceased person formerly resided, if appropriate, will need to be made to establish whether there are any next-of-kin.

If the deceased resided in a hospital, care or nursing home, prior to the death and without a private address, then there may be no property to search. However, any retained personal papers will require careful examination to establish whether next-of-kin are able to arrange the funeral.

Whilst the majority of people may be organised in the retention of legal papers, correspondence, bills, diaries etc., others are not. In many cases important documentation is put aside for safekeeping in unconventional places and a full search of the property, therefore, needs to be made.

Property belonging to the deceased

ESBC Commercial Team have the statutory authorisation to enter a property, under the provisions of section 61(1)(d) of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, to ascertain the extent of the estate and to remove any items or assets which may assist in funding the funeral.

If the Coroner is involved, then a Coroners Officer should have previously removed any valuables, money, benefit books and official documents whilst undertaking their initial investigations into the person’s death.

Keys to the deceased's property should not be left with neighbours or any other person but handed either to a Coroner's Officer or a Police Officer.

The premises must always be made secure. In the case of properties rented from a housing association, then a call to the relevant office should be made to ensure a temporary secure door to the premises is provided.

We have a legal right to recover the funeral costs from the deceased's estate. This is the first charge on the estate. The remaining estate will be sent to the Treasury Solicitor (Bona Vacantia) if relatives can't be found.

If relatives are found they will need to apply to the Probate office for a Grant of Probate and Letters of Administration in order to access the residual estate. You can find more information by contacting the Probate office.

Property owners

Landlords must not enter the premises or remove any items from the property until the Commercial Team have completed enquiries. In normal circumstances, this will be undertaken without delay and the keys subsequently returned to the property owner.

There is also further information on bereavement allowance and funeral payments or you can contact East Staffordshire Borough Council Commercial Team

01283 508633


East Staffordshire Borough Council Commercial Team, The Town Hall, King Edward Place Burton upon Trent, DE14 2EB