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        Public health funerals

        The council has a statutory duty under the provisions of Section 46 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to undertake the funeral of a deceased person, who died in the District of Thanet and where no other arrangements have been made or are about to be made. Deaths that occur outside the District of Thanet and where the criterion is met, will need to contact the appropriate Local Authority of the area where the death occurred.

        The council cannot become involved if funeral arrangements have already been made or the funeral has taken place. Anyone giving instructions to a funeral director will be responsible for any costs incurred. If there are any financial limitations, then it is sensible to inform the funeral director, at an early stage, when arranging a funeral.

        It is the Council’s policy to cremate persons unless it would be contrary to their wishes. A cremation will be arranged by the council with the ashes being dispersed at the Gardens of Remembrance at Margate Cemetery.  The Council will arrange a burial where there is a legal requirement, the verified religious beliefs of the deceased forbids cremation or the deceased expressed a wish to be buried either in a will or written statement.

        Arrangements will be made for a minister of religion or a religious representative of the faith of the deceased to be present to conduct a simple service in accordance with that faith. If a non-religious service is appropriate, then this will be respected.

        The council’s appointed funeral director will provide a dignified funeral with a coffin taken to the crematorium or cemetery in a hearse attended by bearers. The council will provide a season wreath for placing on the coffin.

        However, prior to any involvement by Thanet District Council, please consider the following information:

        If the deceased person died in a hospital managed by a NHS Hospital Trust and no relatives can be traced or relatives are unable to afford the cost of the funeral themselves or they do not qualify for a Social Fund Funeral Payment, then the Bereavement Officer of the hospital in which the person died will assume responsibility for the funeral.

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        If the deceased person died in a care or nursing home managed on behalf of Kent County Council’s Adult Social Care Department, then they will assume responsibility for the funeral, if no other arrangements have been made.

        If the deceased died in a privately owned care or nursing home, it should be established initially by the home that there are no relatives to undertake the funeral and that no arrangements have been made. Contact should then be made with the Environmental Protection Team.

        The care or nursing home will need to make initial arrangements for storage of the deceased if a referral is made for a Public Health Act funeral.

        Investigations to locate next of kin typically take between 2-4 weeks. The council cannot accept liability nor costs for storage before it has been established that our functions under the Public Health Act will be enacted.

        Provision should be made within the patient’s care package or by the home in these situations. The care home should ensure that the deceased has been removed prior to officer visits to undertake searches or collect belongings.

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        If there are relatives who are supported by benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), then financial assistance is available for the funeral. The relatives can apply for a DWP Funeral Payment or by visiting the Jobcentre Plus website download form SF200 ‘Assistance with funeral payments’.

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        If there are relatives who are not prepared or able to accept responsibility for the funeral arrangements, then the council has a duty to arrange the funeral of the deceased person and to recover their costs in making the arrangements.

        Any family member referring cases to the local authority will be required to sign an authorisation form to allow the council to undertake the funeral arrangements. The council will seek to recover any expenditure incurred in administering the funeral arrangements from the estate of the deceased. Assets recovered from a deceased person’s property may be sold to assist in the funding of the funeral arrangements.

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        If the deceased made a will, the council may not become involved in the undertaking of the funeral arrangements unless the executor revokes the will. The will would most likely direct that the executor undertakes the funeral. In cases where there is a will and the local authority conduct the funeral they would seek expenses from the estate and possible from the executor. This would depending on the solvency of the estate and weather the executor had taken any action on the estate.

        If a will is found the Local Authority may contact the executor to ascertain their intentions.

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        In order to establish who will be responsible for undertaking the funeral arrangements, a full search of the premises where the deceased person formerly resided, if appropriate, will need to be made to establish whether there are any next-of-kin.

        If the deceased resided in a hospital, care or nursing home, prior to death and without a private address, then there may be no property to search. However, any retained personal papers will require careful examination to establish whether next-of-kin are able to arrange the funeral.

        Whilst the majority of people may be organised in the retention of legal papers, correspondence, bills, diaries etc., others are not. In many cases important documentation is put aside for safekeeping in unconventional places and a full search of the property, therefore, needs to be made.

        Environmental Protection staff can be given authorisation to enter a property, under the provisions of section 61(1)(d) of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, to ascertain the extent of the estate; find or ascertain the location of a will and to remove any items or assets which may assist in funding the funeral.

        If the Coroner is involved, then a Coroners Officer should have previously removed any valuables, money, benefit books and official documents whilst undertaking their initial investigations into the person’s death.

        Keys to the deceased’s property should not be left with neighbours or any other person but handed either to a Coroner’s Officer or a Police Officer. If personal belongings of the deceased are misplaced, then the key holder may be liable.

        If it appears that the Thanet District Council will become involved in undertaking the funeral arrangements, then any items removed from the property, together with keys will need to be handed into Thanet District Council Environmental Protection Team.  If relatives have taken items of the estate following a death the local authority can pursue these items when recovering costs.

        The premises must always be made secure. In the case of properties rented from East Kent Housing, a call to the relevant office will ensure a temporary secure door to the premises is provided.

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        Landlords should not enter the premises or remove any items from the property until the Environmental Protection Team have completed their enquiries. In normal circumstances, this will be undertaken as soon as practicable and the keys subsequently returned to the property owner. The property owner is ultimately responsible for clearing the premises, previously occupied by the deceased unless there are relatives who are willing to undertake the task. Expenses incurred by the Landlord/property owner can either be claimed through the retention of any tenant deposit held for the premises or through a claim to the treasury solicitors if an estate exists.

        The Environmental Protection Team needs to be advised of the condition of the property (i.e. if the occupant was a known drug user, general cleanliness etc.) in order that appropriate arrangements may be made for the safety of persons that may enter the property.

        Background information for landlords can be obtained through tenancy agreements: a guide for landlords (England and Wales). We would advise any landlord to seek their own legal advice where a tenant passes away.

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        List of Public health funerals

        The Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984 places a statutory duty on Thanet District Council for registering the death and arranging the funeral of any person who has died within the district of Thanet in cases where there are no known relatives or friends able to make the necessary arrangements.

        As part of our investigatory process the local authority uses a genealogy company to search for direct relatives. This has vastly reduced the cases that are being referred to the treasury solicitors. This has also meant that where there is an available estate the local authority is able to inform that relative of the existence of that estate. Relatives can then consider whether they wish to administer the estate.

        The Council, along with many other local authorities, has been experiencing a huge rise in Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from companies offering to trace the next of kin of persons being buried under the Public Health Act 1948.  In response to the volume of FOI requests on this subject the Council has created this page to make public all of its cases. In this way the Council has fulfilled its obligation under section 22 of the FOI Act (future publication) and will from this point forward refuse all such requests and refer applicants to this web page.

        In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 addresses have been redacted or withheld under the following two exemptions:

        Section 21 – Information accessible to applicant by other means.

        Although I can confirm that Thanet District Council (TDC) holds some of the information requested, TDC does not accept that it holds the information in its own right, but on behalf of the Treasury Solicitor’s’ department where relevant.   Some details of the estate of those persons who have died have been passed onto the Treasury Solicitors’ Department can be accessed via the Treasury Solicitors’ website or at the Bona Vacantia website.

        Section 31(1)(a) – law enforcement (prevention and detection of crime).

        Thanet District Council will not disclose address details into the public domain where they relate to deceased’s empty properties as the property is likely to be unoccupied and might still contain the deceased’s personal papers and effects. The Council does not believe it to be in the public interest to disclose information relating to empty properties prior to a full and thorough securing of the assets of the estate as undertaken by Treasury Solicitors.  Additionally, giving out the names of the deceased taken with other information easily available i.e. the electoral roll, telephone directory entry, 192.com etc would make identifying properties fairly easy.

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