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Public Health Act Funeral Procedure

1 Introduction

1.1 We have a duty under the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984, section 46 to cause to be buried or cremated the body of any person who has died or been found dead in our area where it appears to us that no suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body have, or are, being made, by reason of the following:

  • there being no relatives or friends willing to take responsibility (financial or otherwise) for the funeral arrangements. This may also include executors named in a will who renounce their responsibility

1.2 In exercising the above provided power, we are not ‘dealing’ with the estate for the purpose of its distribution by virtue of a will or, in the absence of a will, letters of administration.

1.3 The Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984, section 46 states that we may recover all our costs incurred in making the funeral arrangements from the estate of the deceased (that is their property and possessions).

1.4 If the deceased dies outside of our area, the funeral arrangements will be the responsibility of the local authority where they died.

1.5 We will not be able to be involved if funeral arrangements have already been made, or if the funeral has already taken place. We cannot provide any funding for funeral arrangements to families, whether the funeral has taken place or not.

1.6 It is normally a partner, executor or other family member who would be responsible for making funeral arrangements for a deceased person, and they would also be responsible for the costs. Help is available from the Social Fund for those who are in receipt of certain benefits. If you or a partner are receiving certain benefits, such as Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, Working Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit, you may be entitled to a funeral payment from the Social Fund. Further information about Funeral Payments, including an application form, can be found at Gov UK.

1.7 If there is nobody willing or able to make the funeral arrangements, the case may be referred to us, and we will then be responsible for making the arrangements under S46 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. If the deceased had a family, the nearest surviving relative(s) will be required to sign a form stating that they are willing for us to make the funeral arrangements and understand that costs will be recovered from the deceased’s estate. If the family have already removed any possessions from where the deceased lived, these may need to be returned to us to help offset the funeral costs.

1.8 Once we have accepted a case, the Environmental Protection team will deal with all aspects of the organisation of a funeral, including registering the death, dealing with the funeral directors to make the arrangements, and paying for the funeral.

1.9 If the deceased died as an in-patient in a hospital managed by an NHS Trust, the NHS Trust will assume responsibility for the funeral arrangements and recover their expenses from the deceased’s estate where:

  • relatives cannot be traced; or
  • relatives cannot afford to pay for the funeral and do not qualify for Social Fund Funeral Payment

If the hospital requires a property search to assist them with their enquiries, we can provide this support.

Where there are relatives who have the necessary finances but are unwilling to make the arrangements, the case is normally referred to us.

There may be exceptions to this depending on individual circumstances.

1.10 We have published our procedure so that you know what to expect from us.

2.1 Notification is normally received by the Coroner’s Office, but occasionally a Police Officer or a relative may contact us. It is essential to establish at this stage whether or not we are the correct body to deal with the funeral arrangements.

2.2 We will not take responsibility if the:

  • family have already entered into a contract with the funeral director
  • person dies in a nursing home then funeral arrangements are normally made by relatives or social services, as they will often be managing the finances of the deceased (this may not be the case if there is no estate or limited funds)
  • deceased was having their money managed by social services
  • responsible relatives of the deceased cannot afford to pay for the funeral. Relatives should be referred to the local Jobcentre plus or social security office, as they may qualify for financial assistance under The Social Fund (April 2004) Regulations (if they do not qualify then we have a duty to deal with the burial/cremation).

3.1 If a family referral, explain to the family about possible funeral payments and if possible hand over arrangements to them (if the referral is from any other source, follow step 4 onwards).

3.2 If the family refuse to accept the arrangements, open a case file and complete the Referral Form as fully as possible.

3.3 Send the family a Next of Kin Consent Form.

3.4 Complete the details in the Case Register.

3.5 Complete a Record of Decision and Authorisation Form.

3.6 Start notes to list what has been done and what needs to be done – be as comprehensive as possible.

3.7 Start to complete other forms, especially the Case Progress form and the Administration Expenses form.

3.8 Where a referral is received from the Coroner, an acknowledgement via email will be sent within two working days. Updates shall be provided to the Coroner’s Office via email on the 7th and 14th day following that acknowledgement. Details should include such things as, likely timescales for completing further investigations. After the second update, discussions should take place as to the method of funeral and which funeral director will be used, this will act as confirmation for the Coroner’s Office to agree to the release of the body and a formal instruction to the funeral director will be issued. It would be expected at this stage that the date and time of the funeral will be organised. Cases where timescales cannot be met should be considered on an individual basis.

3.9 The Coroner’s referral will state whether there will be an Inquest or an investigation. An investigation may or may not lead to an Inquest. On either of these scenarios the Coroner will issue an interim death certificate.

4.1 Contact any of the people that the referring person has given details for example GP, landlord, nursing home manager, neighbour to see if they have any details of family members.

4.2 Follow up any leads regarding family members to see if they may be prepared to take on the funeral arrangements. If so, hand over arrangements to them. If not, follow Step 3 above. We may use a probate and genealogy research company to assist us with our enquiries.

4.3 Notify the contracted funeral director and ask them to collect the body pending the making of funeral arrangements.

5.1 Ascertain from the informant if the deceased had any possessions on them, for example cash, jewellery, watch, and/or cards. If so make arrangements to collect the possessions, or have them delivered and make a record of the possessions. Any such possessions must then be securely stored. Make notes and enter details of any cash received on the Income and Expenditure Form. All possessions need to be handled with gloves.

5.2 Ascertain if the deceased had an address that will need to be searched and find out as much about the property as possible (for example if there is evidence of drug taking, if it is dirty or contaminated).

5.3 Undertake a risk assessment based on the information received and update the search kit accordingly. If in doubt about contamination, seek advice from the team manager.

5.4 Contact the key holder, landlord, or home manager as relevant to arrange a date and time for the search. Emphasise that they must not remove any items from the property, nor allow anybody else to do so.

5.5 Allow 72 hours from when the property was last accessed. This information can be obtained from the key holder. If you are suspicious that others may have a key based on information provided to you at the time, discuss the possibility of having the locks changed with the team manager. If the locks are changed, allow 72 hours from this point before access. The cost of this will be taken out of the estate. If the locks are changed leave a note on the door stating that we are holding the keys and provide officer contact details.

5.6 Ensure that a minimum of 2 people attend the search on every occasion. The 2nd officer is there only to witness the search so limit what hard surfaces are touched. Ideally this officer should take photographs of each room before the other officer enters. This minimises the risk of transference to work cameras/mobile phones. Refer to the risk assessment and the decide the role of the officer prior to entering.

5.7 If it is in a nursing home and the manager or other senior staff member is willing to be present and observe, it would be acceptable for one officer only to conduct the search. Where practicable keep a minimum distance of 2 meters from the staff member. If it is in a private property and a Coroner’s officer is willing to attend and observe, one officer could conduct the search. In all other circumstances a minimum of 2 officers should attend and conduct the search together.

5.8 Before starting the search take digital photographs of the outside of the property, including any boarding up undertaken by the police.

5.9 Remember that the purpose of the search is to find a will; to find any information about possible relatives; to recover cash, bank and other financial details for safe keeping; and to recover any items which may be sold to offset the funeral costs.

5.10 Consider health and safety at all stages and do not put yourself at risk. If a room is too dangerous to search, do not search it.

5.11 Take photographs of each room prior to searching.

5.12 Search each room in pairs to ensure health and safety and prevent accusations of theft. See 5.5.

5.13 Only recover items that are going to be of use – do not recover everything. For example, only take the latest bank statements rather than all of them.

5.14 It is not your responsibility to tidy or clean the premises, but you should report any public health concerns (for example evidence of rats) to the team manager. Following the completion of the search the property will be secured and the keys returned to the landlord (where appropriate). However, the return of the keys to a landlord does not mean the council is anyway acting as the property title holder or as the deceased’s estate other than for purpose of arranging the funeral. Neither does the return of keys to a landlord imply the surrender of a tenancy of a leased property. A landlord does not have an automatic right to possession of property upon the death of a tenant, as the death of a tenant does not automatically terminate a lease.

5.15 Record anything that you remove from the property on the Record of Items Removed from Property form. Get the form countersigned by an appropriate person, for example, landlord/ nursing home manager. If there is nobody else, the second officer can witness the signature. Give a copy to the counter-signatory, if appropriate.

5.16 It may not be possible to complete the search in one visit. If this is the case, ensure the property is secure and make arrangements to return as soon as possible.

5.17 When you are satisfied that no further search is required, return the keys to the appropriate person and advise them that you have concluded your searches. If a landlord has provided officers with keys to gain temporary access to the property, upon accepting/ returning the keys to the landlord it must be made clear that we are dealing with the property only for the purposes of a section 46 funeral; we are not acting in place of the deceased’s estate or the title holder to the property and accepting and returning of the keys for section 46 purposes does not imply the surrender of the tenancy. Should the landlord raise questions of the officers in this regard, it should be suggested that they seek independent legal advice.

6.1 Search through the items recovered from the property to ascertain if there are any contact details for family. If so, attempt to make contact, or ask the police or Coroner’s Officer for assistance with this. Be aware that you may have to break the news of the death, so prepare for the telephone conversation and ensure that you ring from a room where privacy can be assured.

If a will is found, contact the Executor of the will. If the Executor is not interested or has ceased trading, then the Executor will need to formally renounce the will through a solicitor and declare that they wish to have no further involvement in the funeral arrangements. If the Executor is happy to proceed ensure that a receipt is gained for everything handed over and keep this as part of the case file. Once everything has been handed over, close the case and update the case file. File the case file for 7 years.

6.2 If no will is found but during the search family is identified, follow step 3.

7.1 If necessary, make an appointment to register the death as soon as possible. If an Interim Death Certificate has been issued by the Coroner then purchase of a death certificate is not necessary unless considering recovering costs from other sources apart from the deceased’s bank.

7.2 It is normally the responsibility of the person/Authority arranging the funeral to register the death in the area in which the death has occurred. In the case of funerals arranged by us, the Coroner’s Office will usually advise when registration can take place, because in the majority of cases a post-mortem is involved, and the Registrar must await the pathologist’s findings. If found during the search, the birth certificate of the deceased should be handed to the Registrar, who will ask the following information:

  • Full names and surname of the deceased (also maiden name if the deceased is female)
  • The place of death and usual address of the deceased
  • Date and place of birth
  • Occupation
  • Marital status; and
  • Whether the deceased was in receipt of a pension or other state benefits

7.3 Providing that the information given is to the satisfaction of the Registrar, a Certificate of Registration of Death will be issued together with a Certificate for Burial or Cremation. It is crucial that these documents are delivered to the nominated Funeral Director without delay otherwise the funeral cannot take place.

7.4 In circumstances when the Coroner has ordered a post-mortem and where cremation is required, the Registrar will issue a yellow Form E, which should also be delivered to the nominated Funeral Director.

7.5 In the event of an Inquest, permission will need to be given from the Coroner to conduct the burial or cremation. An Interim Death Certificate will be issued by the Coroner which can be used to contact the deceased’s bank/s. Following an Inquest, Form 99 Certificate after Inquest, is completed by the Coroner, incorporating the details within the Record of Inquest, and other statutory details required by the registrar, to whom it is sent, in order to register the death. Once the inquest has taken place a copy of the death certificate can be purchased should this be necessary.

7.6 Contact the contracted funeral director to make the funeral arrangements. In general terms we will only be arranging direct cremations unless it is established by the deceased’s will that they have chosen burial for religious, cultural or personal reasons, or if there are any other specific requests detailed in the will or under individual specific circumstances. If a burial is required and the deceased did not own a grave, burial will take place in an unmarked public grave in a designated cemetery.

7.7 In general terms following the cremation, the cremated remains will be scattered in an unmarked but recorded location in the memorial gardens, unless specified in the deceased’s will, or under individual specific circumstances.

7.8 If there is clearly a significant estate but no family nor a will, contact the Government Legal Department for advice at an early stage in the proceedings.

7.9 If it is not clear what the value of the estate is, ascertain if there are any bank, building society or other accounts that are solvent and contact the organisations concerned for a statement as to the amount in the account.

7.10 If it is clear that the surplus following payment of the funeral and administration expenses is going to be under £500.00, ask the banks/building societies for payment out of the deceased’s account. Include a copy of the paid funeral bill and a receipt for payment, next of kin referral form, death certificate, and include an amount for your administration expenses. If the surplus is under £500.00, the authority may be permitted to keep it, but must follow any instructions of the Public Trustee or the Government Legal Department.

7.11 Where applicable make arrangements for any property to be sold to achieve the highest possible price to offset funeral costs. Under no circumstances should officers distribute any part of the estate, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.

7.12 If bank statements/cards or details are found at the property send a letter with a copy of the interim death certificate or death certificate and a copy of the funeral directors paid invoice.

7.13 We are entitled to recover our costs when making funeral arrangements under Section 46 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. We are not, however, empowered to administer the estate. Where there is a surplus of over £500.00 once all costs incurred in making the funeral arrangements have been reimbursed, we will refer the case to the Government Legal Department under Bona Vacantia. Where there are known family, however, the case cannot be referred to the Government Legal Department. Under such circumstances, the Council may hold all monies until a legally entitled person demonstrates their suitability to administer the estate through the holding of letters of administration from the courts. Under no circumstances will money or property from the estate be given to any family member, or other person without proper lawful authority.

7.14 Once all responses from banks and other parties have been received and no further action is required, complete all forms and the case register as fully as possible, close the case and file the case file for 7 years.

8.1 Recovery of expenses would normally be pursued as a civil debt on the deceased estate.

8.2 Section 61 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 permits access provided 24 hours’ notice has been given to the owner/occupier. If access is denied or it is a case of urgency the officer may apply to a Justice of the Peace for a warrant to enter the premises by force if necessary.

Last updated 12 February 2024