If you have no source of funds, or if you do not want to take responsibility for the funeral for other reasons, the council where the person died can provide a simple, respectful funeral.
If someone died in hospital, speak to the bereavement office there first. Sometimes they will carry out a hospital funeral, but they have no obligation to so they might refer you to the council.
What are my rights?
Councils are obliged to carry out a funeral ‘where it appears to the authority that no suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body have been or are being made’, regardless of whether there is any family. If you are told you are legally responsible for the funeral, this is not true.
Councils have limited budgets for public health funerals so they are likely to check that there is nobody who can pay and ask if you have tried other sources, such as the Social Fund Funeral Expenses Payment / Funeral Support Payment, first.
However, if you are told you are not entitled to a public health funeral simply because you are eligible for one of these benefits, this is not true. If you are uncertain your application will be successful or unable to pay the shortfall then the council should still consider a public health funeral.
In law, the council is only obliged to carry out the ‘disposal of the body’, which means they are not required to provide an attended funeral service, but most do.
The council must not cremate someone if they have reason to believe it would go against the wishes of the deceased. Often they will need evidence of religious reasons or a written statement of their wishes, but it is worth making your case.
What is a public health / hospital funeral like?
Each council or hospital will have their own policy and they can differ widely, but most will provide a short, attended service early in the day.
It is good practice for councils and hospitals to take on the wishes of the deceased and their family. Many will allow you to speak with the minister/celebrant about the person who has died and to indicate whether the ceremony should be religious or not. You may also be able to give preferences for music and readings.
It is very unlikely they will provide a limousine or flowers and you would not be able to add these on.
Some councils and hospitals prevent the family from attending or receiving ashes back, so it is best to check this in advance if it is important to you.
You can find out more details of how a public health or hospital funeral is carried out in your area by contacting the coroner, if they have been involved, or calling your council or hospital direct.
Be aware that the council or hospital will have the right to take charge of the deceased’s estate if there is one (any money or assets they have) and to recover from it the cost of the funeral may. They may also visit their property to look for evidence of this.
There is no law to say that councils and hospitals cannot carry out the funeral if you have registered the death, but they may try to use it to reject your request.
It can also become very difficult if the deceased is also already in the care of a funeral director.
If you are having problems and need help getting a public health funeral or hospital funeral please contact Down to Earth and speak with one of our expert staff.
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