Also known as a ‘pauper’s funeral’, a public health funeral is a respectful service solely funded by the local council.
Councils will organise a public health act funeral when someone has passed without friends or family to take care of the funeral service. In some circumstances, they may also step in when family or friends cannot afford to pay for the funeral themselves, or if the person who has died had an estranged relationship with their family.
The public health act 1984
Local councils are duty-bound to organise a funeral under the Public Health Act of 1984, when there aren’t any family or friends to do so. Within three years after the funeral service has taken place, the local council will have the option to retrieve the money spent from the estate of the person who has passed.
How is a public health funeral different?
A public health funeral is fairly simple, with the usual additions of flowers and family transport not included in the arrangements.
Each local council will have its own view on the specific details of public health funerals, so the particulars can vary depending on the area.
It is common for a public health funeral to be a cremation which takes place on an early weekday morning. If the person who has passed would have preferred or was religious, a burial and graveside service is also possible.
Although perhaps simple on the surface, public health funerals ensure full respect is given to the deceased, with a memorial service at the crematorium. Family members do not tend to have much of a say in what happens at a public health funeral, however some funeral homes may give the option of enabling families to organise a minister or celebrant for the service.
Are there any alternatives to a public health funeral?
Some people feel a public health funeral is too simple to pay respect to their loved one. In this circumstance, another option is the government’s Funeral Expenses Payment. This payment equates to a grant of approximately £1500, covering a little less than half the average funeral cost. However, it is usually enough to cover a direct cremation without a ceremony, the thought being that families are then able to save up for a memorial service at a later stage.
Who can attend a public health funeral?
The local council making the funeral arrangements will firstly attempt to contact any family or friends of the person who has passed. Even if the family cannot afford to fund the funeral, the local council will inform them about the time and place in case they should wish to attend. Other guests are also usually welcome.
In a situation whereby it is unlikely either family or friends will attend the funeral, some members of the council may attend instead as a mark of respect.
What happens after a public health service?
After a cremation
If the person who has passed had family, the family will usually be permitted to collect their loved one’s ashes from the crematorium. However, if there isn’t anyone to collect them, staff from the crematorium will often bury or scatter the ashes in their garden of remembrance.
There has previously been controversy with certain councils telling relatives they are unable to claim the ashes. To avoid this happening to you, it is best to check the details with your local council prior to the cremation.
After a burial
Once the public health funeral has taken place, the deceased will be buried in a grave without a marker. As the grave is often communal, other people may also be buried in that spot.
You may be able to add a plaque to the grave, but this is dependent on your local council’s policy. It is worth noting that in many places, you will need to purchase the exclusive right of burial for the plot, as well as paying for the memorial stone. There is usually a wait of approximately six months before you can add a headstone, in order to give the ground time to settle.
What you need to know when considering a public health funeral
Public health funerals are predominantly arranged for those who have passed away without any family or friends. However, it is not uncommon for the family of someone who has died to choose a public health funeral as they are estranged from the deceased or cannot fund the funeral themselves.
If you or your family are considering a public health funeral, here are a few things to note:
Prepare to be asked by your local council if you have explored all other options of funding. Public health funerals are considered a final resort, so they will enquire whether you have discussed the governments Funeral Expenses Payment or Bereavement Support Payment first. Find out more about other funding options here.
The estate of the deceased
The council will attempt to find a relative or friend who can fund the funeral, providing they are willing to do so. If the person who has passed has left a Will, the council will be in touch with the executor to see if they can use funds from the estate for the funeral arrangements.
Any other funeral arrangements
In order to have a public health funeral, you cannot have made any other funeral arrangements. If a funeral has already been panned and arranged, the council will not pay.
Signed written statement
The local council will ask you to provide a written statement, explaining you are unable to arrange the funeral.
Respectful, but simple
A lot of the funeral arrangements will be out of your control and the service will be quite basic. For some families, this is an upsetting concept to come to terms with. However, it is essential to remember that you are doing the best you can for your loved one. There is also an option to save money after the public health funeral so that you can have a more personal memorial service at a later date.