The Soaring Costs of Public Health Act Funerals

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27 February 2018

Finders InternationalSometimes referred to as ‘pauper’s funerals’, the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 confers a statutory duty on councils and health boards to bury or cremate anyone who has died of been found dead in their local area if no suitable arrangements have been made or are being made otherwise.

The numbers of such funerals have soared in recent years, thanks to rising funeral costs and the increase in people dying alone. A Royal London report reported that local authorities spent more than £4 million on public health funerals in the year 2015/16, an increase of 12 percent over the last five years. The cost of public health funerals increased by 36 percent at the same time.

Freedom of Information data requested from 260 councils revealed that 3,784 public health funerals took place in 2015/16. The biggest percentage increase in public health funerals was for councils in the East of England—up 36 percent.

As you might expect, London local authorities saw the most significant increase in costs, with a 51 percent rise in the average funeral cost – £1,004 in 2015/16, compared to £666 in 2011/12. 

Royal London’s funeral cost expert, Louise Eaton-Terry, said: “It is always upsetting when the deceased has no family to arrange a funeral, or when their family simply cannot afford one. In these cases, local councils take on the responsibility of paying for a funeral and it’s evident that councils are facing increasing pressure to accommodate the rising number of public health funerals in the UK.

“With one in six people struggling to pay for funeral costs, urgent action is needed by the Government to tackle rising funeral poverty.”

What does a public health act funeral involve? The service varies between organisations, but it usually a “no-frills” event that includes the collection and storage of a body, a coffin (basic, or standard), burial in a public grave or cremation, and vehicle/bearers to transport and help in the burial of the deceased. The funeral director, date and time are decided by the local authority, and family members can attend if they wish.

A public health funeral might involve direct burial or cremation. This means the body is buried or interred without a service to mark the occasion. Because of the pressure on numbers of burial sites, particularly in England and Wales, increasing numbers of councils opt for cremations rather than burials.

As the issue is so important, Finders International is bringing together public-sector staff on 18th April to discuss Public Health Act Funerals. The event is the first of its kind to take place and is open to any organisation that provides statutory funerals in England and Wales. A wide range of speakers will be at the event to discuss relevant issues.

Finders International runs a funeral fund for local authorities and health boards, which can be used to subsidise the costs of a public health funeral.

The day is being organised by David Lockwood, Finders International’s public sector development manager.

He said: “As an ethical organisation, it’s important for Finders International to give something back to the area in which we work. Finders has pledged to put £10,000 a year into this important fund.

“The conference, which takes place on 18 April at The Studio in Birmingham, will bring together speakers who have extensive experience in this field, and staff members who can network with other councils to look at areas of best practice.”

If you would like to attend this event, please book your place by signing up via our website or by contacting David Lockwood on 020 7490 4935 or 07753 306885 or email:

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