By Legal Futures’ Associate Finders International
The legislation that gives local authorities the statutory powers to carry out funerals is not fit for purpose.
That’s what council officers told us at the second Finders International Public Health Act Funerals conference, which took place on 2nd May this year, and was attended by representatives of councils from all over England and Wales.
The legislation, which has been in place for more than thirty years, does not consider how attitudes have changed towards funerals in society and how we carry out funerals. Families are more fragmented and don’t necessarily feel obliged to make funeral arrangements for next of kin they may have had little or no contact with. Given recent rises in the amount of funerals undertaken by local authorities, it is only set to increase in the near future.
Council officers at the conference felt that any reform should set out a minimum standard, although they could not agree on how this might be enforced. Some local authorities opt to cremate whilst others bury, but there is no standard practice. Should legislation make sure a deceased person’s wishes are adhered to (if they are known) and how would this be done?
As the Competition and Markets Authority is carrying out a review of the funeral industry in the wake of rising costs and is proposing a funerals regulator, perhaps the role of ensuring standards could be placed with them?
The majority thought that the word ‘paupers’ should not be used, with some officers reporting they found it to be offensive. Officers felt that the word does not show the deceased dignity and respect.
Little to no funding
Another point raised at the conference is that there is little or no funding within authorities for the provision of statutory funerals. Further discussions took place about a national funeral fund, with a radical suggestion that there should be a state grant paid from National Insurance contributions.
Certainly, everyone agreed that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Social Fund is not fit for purpose, and a new way of state assistance needs to be found. The vast majority reported how difficult it is for people to claim and how little they receive to pay towards funerals from the DWP.
Staff have called for better awareness of their role by financial institutions. Once a person dies, GDPR does not apply to the deceased. Many officers reported their experiences where banks and other institutions make it extremely difficult for them to discover if the deceased left any assets.
Access to online accounts
They also said it was difficult to access the deceased’s emails and social media accounts, as sometimes emails and social media accounts can help officers trace families easily and quickly.
David Lockwood, Finders International Public Sector Development Manager and a former Public Health Act Funerals Officer, said: “It’s clear how dedicated council officers are in providing the best service possible despite the severe financial restrictions in place.
“These officers deserve the recognition for the service they provide to their communities and their continued dedication. We at Finders International do everything possible to support them with our free events and the advice we offer on our website, and we will continue to do so.”
Finders International has a funeral fund that can be used by public sector bodies to subsidise public health act funerals in cases that meet the criteria. Find out more about our service here.