13 January 2020

Public health funerals in the UK - Time to end the postcode lottery

6 min read

 

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Royal London has been campaigning to improve support for bereaved families who struggle to cover the cost of a funeral for a number of years.  As part of this, we have been looking at how many public health funerals are carried out each year, and how the arrangements compare across the UK. 

A public health funeral is undertaken by a local council when somebody dies and doesn’t have any family or if the family is unwilling to pay, maybe because of estrangement.   They can also be the last resort for those who can’t afford the cost themselves.

High funeral costs mean that in some cases bereaved families have no choice but to seek a public health funeral from their local council. The majority of councils allow family members to attend a public health funeral and, if it is a cremation funeral, return the ashes free of charge.

However, our Freedom of Information request revealed that, there are no minimum standards for public health funerals, with each council setting their own policy.

Shockingly, we found:

  • 21 councils in the UK do not return ashes to families;
  • 18 councils charge families for ashes to be returned; and
  • 14 councils do not allow families to attend a public health funeral

UK local authorities that do not return ashes after a public health funeral

UK local authorities that charge to return ashes after a public health funeral

UK local authorities that do not allow family to attend a public health funeral

It’s heart-breaking enough when bereaved families have no choice but to seek a public health funeral. But the fact that some councils refuse families the ashes of their loved or charge for the return of ashes shows the system is disjointed and needs to be overhauled.

Royal London is calling for legislation on minimum requirements for public health funerals to make sure that everyone can, at the very least, attend the funeral and collect the ashes of their loved one’s ashes free of charge.

If these minimum standards are put in place and safeguarded by legalisation, then everyone - including those with no family – can be guaranteed a dignified send-off.