A recent survey of 70% of local authorities revealed that almost £5.5m was spent on Public Health Funerals in the year ending April 2018.  During this period in excess of 3,800 people received a Public Health Act (PHA) funeral from a local authority.

Almost a third of these funerals were arranged as a result of bereaved families not being able to afford the cost of the funeral.

275 of 390 authorities responded to the survey, conducted by Royal London, meaning that a further 30% of local authorities, and therefore their expenditure on public health funerals, are not accounted for in these figure.

The cost of PHA funerals has also risen by 3.5% compared to 2017. This comes at a time of decreased central government funding for local authorities – forcing them to seek alternative ways of funding the increase.

The average cost for the local authority is reported at £1,403.00, though costs can be higher or lower depending on the authority.

David Lockwood, public sector development manager for Finders International and former local government officer responsible for PHA funerals said that the rise in costs did not surprise him.

“Having spoken to many former colleagues, I knew that the number of funerals is on the rise. It’s not surprising given how difficult it is to get any state aid from the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions)”.

It’s over 30 years since the law in England and Wales was changed and legislation in Scotland dates back to 1948.  “Local authorities need more clarity on their role – what they can and cannot do.”

“Practice varies across the country with some authorities allegedly banning relatives from funerals while others strive to ensure they are inclusive. Staff undertaking these funerals are under pressure to keep costs down, but they all care and are committed to providing the deceased with a service that is respectful and dignified.”

Mr Lockwood is calling on central government to look at the problem and find solutions as quickly as possible.

While local authorities are entitled to recover costs under legislation; some struggle to do so with their workloads. Many local authority staff report difficulties in obtaining funds from banks that hold cash belonging to the deceased.

Danny Curran, Managing Director of Finders International, said: “Local authorities can turn to companies like us, Finders International, for help in tracing next of kin. We offer a free and efficient service to try and trace next of kin so that hard pressed local authorities don’t have to take on the financial burden.”

Finders International has a record of assisting local authorities. All local authorities are eligible to access the Finders International Funeral Fund, a charitable fund that supports councils when a deceased has no estate and no known next of kin. Finders also offers free conferences and website support to local authorities undertaking Public Health Act Funerals.