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Public Health Funerals

Answers to the questions we are asked most often have been reproduced below.

Why does Cornwall Council deal with Public Health Funerals?

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Cornwall Council deals with Public Health Funerals due to a statutory duty being placed on the local authority to cause to be buried or cremated the body of any person who has died or is found to be dead within Cornwall and where it appears “that no suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body have been or are being made” for e.g. when the Deceased has no family and they haven’t left a will.

If the Deceased died outside of Cornwall, the funeral arrangements will fall within the responsibility of the local authority where they died even if they had lived in Cornwall.

The law governing funerals arranged by local authorities is relatively simple and is contained in Part III, Section 46 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

Section 46 is reproduced in full below:

Section 46(1) (Burial and cremation)

It shall be the duty of a local authority to cause to be buried or cremated the body of any person who has died or been found dead in their area, in any case where it appears to the authority that no suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body have been or are being made otherwise than by the authority

Section 46(3) states further that the local authority must have consideration for the wishes of the deceased when determining the method of disposal (cremation or burial). Reasonable steps must be made by the local authority to establish the deceased’s preferences as regards cremation or burial. A body shall not be cremated where the local authority has reason to believe that cremation would be contrary to the wishes of the deceased. If no preference is made or becomes known then the most cost effective option shall be chosen i.e. cremation.

People who typically require this type of action are those who die intestate and with no next of kin. Public Health Funerals are therefore generally funerals arranged by Local Authorities for those people who have died and have no known relatives to arrange or pay for their funeral, or have relatives who do not want to, or are unable to arrange their funeral. Local Authorities then have a legal responsibility to arrange such funerals.

The purpose of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 is to ensure that no deceased body goes unburied or cremated for want of suitable arrangements, including absence or refusal on the part of the Next of Kin.

Section 46 of the Act also states that the Council may recover all their costs involved in making the funeral arrangements from the estate of the Deceased (i.e. their property and possessions)

It is not the objective of this Act to oblige Cornwall Council to fund the funeral costs due to section 46 of the Act being formulated in the interests of public health and not as a vehicle for funding funeral costs.

It is also important to note in this background information provided that Officers within Cornwall Council administering and dealing with Public Health Funerals must not ‘intermeddle’. This is a legal term which means managing the estate of the deceased or dealing with creditors without lawful authority. Cornwall Council’s involvement extends only to arranging the funeral of the deceased and recovering the expenses that have been incurred.

Under no circumstances will money or property from the estate of the Deceased be given to any family member without proper lawful authority.

Exclusions from the Public Health Funeral process:

Cornwall Council will not become involved in arranging a Public Health Funeral if any funeral arrangements have already been made, or retrospectively in the funding of a funeral if for e.g. the funeral has already taken place.

Cornwall Council will not part fund a funeral or contribute to the cost of a funeral which has already been organised by someone else.

Cornwall Council 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 offer assistance and pay most, if not all, of the funeral costs through the Social Fund held by the DWP.

Following a formal procurement process, Cornwall Council uses a nominated Funeral Director to deliver Public Health Funerals on its behalf and this Funeral Director is used to deliver all Public Health Funerals for the Council. There are no exceptions to this contractual requirement.

This is important as if anyone other than this contracted Funeral Director is asked to make the funeral arrangements then the Council cannot be responsible for any costs that have been incurred up to that point.

Contract for delivery of Public Health Funerals and what is involved and included.

The service for Public Health Funerals that is provided through the contracted Funeral Director is a basic service. This is to ensure that whilst Cornwall Council is conforming to the requirements of the applicable legislation that the incurred costs are also kept to a minimum.

The service provided comprises of the following:-

  • Collection of the deceased
  • A basic coffin
  • Fees for the crematorium/burial
  • One suitable vehicle to transport the deceased
  • A basic service at the crematorium

There is a useful fact sheet leaflet about the Public Health Funeral service available and the service which is provided by Cornwall Council. 

Following the funeral taking place, the ashes of the deceased are scattered in the garden of remembrance at the crematorium which is used by Cornwall Council.

The releasing of the ashes of the deceased to for e.g. family members is not permitted so as to prevent any possible conflict arising over claims to the ashes.

There may be cases dealt with where for e.g. a family member requests changes and additions to be made to the funeral service that is provided by the Council. Under no circumstances are changes made to the agreed service provided by the Council’s contracted Funeral Director.

Cases may be referred from a variety of sources. These can include family or friends of the deceased, the Coroner’s Office or the Police, a residential or care home where the deceased was residing or the Royal Cornwall Hospital NHS Trust or internally from a department within Cornwall Council i.e. Adult Social Care.

Please note that if the initial referral has come via a residential or care home where the deceased had been a resident, enquiries by the case officer take place at this stage to determine how the deceased’s care was being funded. This is important as if the deceased was in receipt of any social services benefits, Cornwall Council’s Adult Social Care Service are liable for their funeral costs under Part 3 of the National Assistance Act 1948.

When a referral is received, Officers seek to attain as much information as possible from the informant. This will allow the Officer to determine whether the case can be considered to be a Public Health Funeral.

The Case Officer accompanied by another officer is required to carry out a property inspection of the last known address of the deceased. The purpose of this is to look for and locate any will and also any next of kin details. The Case Officers undertaking this property inspection will also look for any money, bank statements, funeral plans, life insurance documents etc. in order to assist with cost recovery for the expenses that will be incurred by Cornwall Council in carrying out the Public Health Funeral.

The Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 allows Cornwall Council to have legal powers to undertake cost recovery from the estate of the deceased for the expenses that have been incurred by the Council in carrying out the Public Health Funeral before passing on any details of the deceased and their available estate to the Duchy of Cornwall.

Details of the current fees and charges applicable to a Public Health Funeral being undertaken by Cornwall Council

Where there is a surplus of over £500.00 in the estate of the Deceased, once all the costs that have been incurred in making the funeral arrangements have been reimbursed, Cornwall Council are required to refer the case to the Duchy of Cornwall. This also applies if the Deceased owned their own property.

Where the above applies and once all of the funeral costs have been paid from the estate of the deceased to Cornwall Council and where there is remaining residual money, Cornwall Council will pass the details of the deceased and their estate to Farrer & Co who are the solicitors acting on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall.

Below are details for Farrer & Co Solicitors:-

  • Legal Executive, Farrer & Co, 66 Lincolns Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3LH. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 3375 7351

Fax: +44 (0) 33 75 7556


Cornwall Council do not publish details of Public Health Funerals in newspapers and public notice sections, however, information is forwarded to the Duchy of Cornwall where there is residue estate following full cost recovery by Cornwall Council for the Public Health Funeral which has been undertaken. Cornwall Council will then send the information of the deceased to Farrer & Co Solicitors (as detailed above). Farrer & Co solicitors in turn will advertise estates which are being administered by themselves and where searches are being made  for any next of kin of the deceased. Such notices are usually published in the Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Western Morning News.

Section 31(1) (a) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) is a qualified exemption and therefore subject to the Public Interest Test. Section 31(1)(a) of this legislation provides an exemption where prejudice could be caused to other investigations and to general steps taken in relation to law enforcement in that disclosure of this information would be likely to prejudice the prevention of crime by enabling or encouraging the commission of offences, for instance fraud. 

In applying this exemption Cornwall Council has had to balance the public interest in withholding the information against the public interest in disclosure. Cornwall Council has concluded that the public interest test favours non-disclosure because although disclosure of this information could ultimately lead to the next of kin becoming aware of the estate of a deceased person and promote general openness of information by the Council, this is not outweighed by the harm which could be caused by increasing the incidence of crime through disclosure of personal information such as names, dates of birth and last known address. Releasing this information could lead to identity theft and/ or fraud or alternatively, through releasing the last known property address which is quite likely to be empty, could ultimately lead to crime such as burglary and squatting. 

Therefore, in conclusion, Cornwall Council is of the opinion that the balance of public interest favours non-disclosure of this information in all circumstances of the case at this time.

As no Public Health funeral undertaken and paid for by Cornwall Council costs less than £500, this information can be located on Cornwall Council’s Payments to Suppliers page.  You can find out how much has been spent on Public Health Funerals in the Monthly Reports spreadsheets.  The information can be filtered but pressing "CTRL and F" on your keyboard and searching for "funeral costs" or use the following codes below:

  • 1700B
  • 17300C
  • 173202
  • 57005

The following statistics and information held by Cornwall Council relates to Public Health Funerals that have been undertaken by Cornwall Council’s procured Funeral Director and which is not subject to the Section 31 (1) (a) qualified exemption of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984and which is disclosable and in the public domain in regards to Freedom of Information requests received.

Due to the unification of Cornwall’s local authorities, the following recorded and historic statistics are only able to be provided from the financial year period 2013-2014 onwards. Please note that all data that has been provided is on a financial year basis only.

Please note, not all referrals received let to funerals being undertaken by Cornwall Council

Informant type for all referrals received 

2013 - 2014

2014 - 2015

2015 - 2016

2016 - 2017

Coroner’s 27 22 33 46
Family member 9 14 15 22
Friend of deceased 3 7 2 4
Police 1 1 1 0
Care/Residential Home/Hospice 5 8 6 9
Funeral Director 7 4 2 10
Other e.g. Social Services 6 11 10 2
Royal Cornwall Hospital NHS Trust 0 0 11 21
Total number of referrals received 58 67 80 114


Financial Year

Number of actual Public Health Funerals undertaken by Cornwall Council

2013-2014 34
2014-2015 39
2015-2016 54
2016-2017 81


Sex of Deceased relating to Public Health Funerals undertaken by Cornwall Council

2013-2014 25 9
2014-2015 29 10
2015-2016 37 17
2016-2017 64 17


Age of Deceased Not known 18-24 25-39 years 40-60 years 60 years plus
2013-2014 0 0 1 11 22
2014-2015 1 0 1 12 25
2015-2016 1 0 0 15 38
2016-2017 2 0 1 18 60


From the 1 April 2017 all data is published quarterly (within 4 weeks of the end each quarter). 

* Please note that NOK means next of kin.