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The Council's role in the undertaking of 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, the following needs to be considered:

A death in a hospital

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. 

A death in a care or nursing home

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. If the care or nursing home make any initial arrangements for the funeral they may be liable for these costs.

Department for Work and Pensions

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'.

Relatives not able to arrange a funeral

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.

Executors of the deceased

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.

Property belonging to the deceased

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.

Property owners

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.