Public Health Funeral Guide: Pauper’s Funeral in the UK

Public Health Funeral Guide: Pauper’s Funeral in the UK

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This simple 7-step guide explains what happens when a deceased person’s estate or family can’t afford a funeral, and the local council arranges a ceremony. 



Public Health Funeral Guide: Pauper’s Funeral in the UK

 A public health funeral is a minimal, cheap funeral that is provided by a local council authority when a person dies. The local council is obligated to carry out this ‘Pauper’s Funeral’ when the deceased’s estate, or next of kin, are unable to pay for a burial. 



What is a Pauper’s Funeral?


Pauper’s Funeral’ was the historic term used to describe the free funeral provided for a very poor person who had died. In the UK, this kind of funeral is now known as a ‘Public Health Funeral’. 


In 1984 the Public Health Act was passed. As part of a disease control measure, the act was aimed at ensuring the disposal of human remains. It was also deemed important to recognise the dignity of the deceased, regardless of their financial position in life. The act requires the local council authority to provide a free funeral to any destitute person who dies within their boundaries.


 A Public health funeral is generally as simple a funeral service as possible, whilst maintaining the dignity of the deceased. 


At council arranged funerals, there are usually no extra details like:

  • flowers
  • transport for the family
  • viewings of the deceased
  • obituaries 


Family members are not able to choose the funeral home, the time or date of the funeral service, or the gravesite. If the deceased is buried, they will be buried in an unmarked grave, shared with others. If they are cremated, the family can receive the cremated remains if requested.



What Happens at a Public Health Funeral?


Local councils are free to organise public welfare funerals in whichever manner they wish. When a council provides a free funeral, they usually include a simple coffin and engage a funeral director to store and transport the body. 


A few common features of public health funerals are:

  • the council will appoint a funeral home
  • the funeral home will plan a ‘pauper’s funeral’ at a time convenient to them
  • the deceased is usually placed in a very simple coffin, or a ‘pauper’s coffin’
  • there may be a brief memorial service at the crematorium or graveside
  • if no family or friends are present, a council member will attend
  • the deceased is either cremated, or committed to a common grave


Next of kin, or friends, do not have much say in the proceedings:

  • they cannot choose a time or date for the funeral
  • they are not allowed to plan the funeral service
  • they cannot choose a specific gravesite
  • there is no viewing or wake 


In certain instances, the family may request:

  • a burial rather than cremation, if the deceased had strong beliefs against cremation
  • they might be able to appoint a minister for the service, but at their own expense


The family may choose to hold a more personal memorial service at a later date, when they have the financial means to do so.



Who Can Be Given a Public Health funeral?


A public health funeral should be arranged by the local council for any destitute or unclaimed deceased person who dies within their boundaries. The council are responsible for the funeral whether or not the deceased lived in the area before passing away.


Examples of situations where a person might be eligible for a public health funeral, include when:

  • the body remains unclaimed
  • the deceased was homeless, without paperwork or next of kin 
  • the deceased had lived alone, without next of kin, and had no provision for funeral costs


The local authorities must also arrange a council funeral if the deceased’s family: 


  • cannot be found


  • are unable to afford a funeral service
  • are estranged or unwilling to pay for a funeral service


In cases such as these, the family is asked to sign a written statement explaining that they are unable to pay for the funeral service. If there is an estate left behind by the deceased, the council authorities have up to three years to claim funeral expenses back from it. 



Who Can Attend a Public Health Funeral?


The council should attempt to trace family members of the deceased, and inform them of the date, location and time of the funeral service date. Family, friends and guests should be given welcome to attend the funeral service at the crematorium chapel or graveside. If no family or friends are available to attend the service, a council member usually attends as a mark of respect.



What Happens After a Public Health Funeral?


After a very simple service, the deceased is either cremated or buried.




Most Public health funerals end with the deceased being cremated. After the cremation, some crematoria will allow family members to collect the deceased’s ashes. Keep in mind that local councils are not obliged to retain cremated remains for collection after a public health funeral. It is a good idea to check with your local council’s policy before the cremation takes place. If the deceased has no next of kin, the ashes may be scattered in a garden of remembrance. They may also be buried with other ashes in an unmarked plot in the cemetery.




If it is made clear that the deceased would have preferred a burial, the local council should have a pauper burial policy in place. After a simple graveside ceremony and a committal, the deceased should then be buried in a pauper’s grave. This is a public gravesite that may be shared with other people. This grave will not have a tombstone nor a marker for the deceased. If the family choose to add a plaque to the gravesite, they must buy the exclusive right of burial for the plot.



Who Pays For a Public Health Funeral?


The District Council Authority is responsible for providing public health funerals for any destitute person who dies within their boundaries. The council will first try and contact any family or friends who are able to pay for the funeral service. If no next of kin are able or willing to pay, the council will ask the family to sign a document relinquishing responsibility for the deceased. The council are then obliged to appoint a funeral director and provide a simple funeral. The council have three years to claim back expenses from the deceased’s estate.



How Can You Get Help with Funeral Costs?


If you or your family are receiving benefits from the state, it is possible to apply for a Funeral Expenses Payment to cover the costs for a loved one’s funeral. This payment is a loan from the UK government, which will need to be paid back once the deceased’s estate is settled.


This payment covers certain basic expenses, such as:

  • a doctor’s certificate, death certificates and other essential paperwork
  • burial fees for a plot OR cremation fees
  • transport for the deceased
  • travel to and from the funeral for family members
  • other expenses like: flowers, funeral director’s fees, a simple coffin.


A Fenix Funeral Directors (insert hyperlink), our caring advisors are always available to help you through this application process. We also have a number of tasteful yet cheap funeral plans available that are designed to work for a tighter budget. 





What is a pauper’s grave?

A ‘pauper’s grave’ is a public gravesite that may be shared by a number of deceased people over time. It is not marked with personalised gravestones for any individuals buried there. These common graves are not burial pits: the deceased are still buried with dignity inside simple coffins. 



Do you get the cremation ashes after a public health funeral?

Local councils may have different policies for the collection of a family member’s cremated remains. It is important to understand your local council’s policies before the cremation takes place, to avoid disappointment. 



Can you attend a pauper’s funeral? 

Yes. Family, friends or guests are allowed to attend a public health funeral. If no loved ones are able to attend, a council member usually attends as a mark of respect for the deceased.



How much do pauper’s funerals cost the UK every year? 

Council authorities across the UK spend over £5million on public health funerals each year.



What happens when a family can’t afford a funeral? 

If a family are unable to pay for a funeral for their loved one, the local council is responsible for providing a public health funeral. A public health funeral is a very simple service, and the family do not have much say in when or where the funeral is held. Families who do not have a lot of money available to spend on a funeral, might prefer to arrange something simple themselves. This could be something like a direct cremation, or cremation without a funeral. At Fenix Funeral Directors, we have a range of tasteful yet affordable funeral plans available, so that you can honour your loved one in the way that is meaningful to you.