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Public funerals

Lancaster City Council is responsible for making funeral arrangements for anybody who dies within their boundary, where no other arrangements are being or are likely to be made (e.g. when the deceased has no family and they haven’t left a will). From 2019 this includes the deceased who die as an in-patient in local NHS hospital where there are no known relatives. The council and coroner’s office coordinate administratively and liaise, as necessary.

Statutory obligation

The council has a statutory duty under S46 (Section 46) of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. S46 of the Act also states that the council may recover all their costs incurred in making the funeral arrangements from the estate of the deceased (i.e. their property and possessions). For that purpose, a case cannot be accepted and/or pursued when it appears that suitable arrangements have been or are being made for burial or cremation of the deceased.

It is incumbent on the council to pursue such matters to fulfil statutory duties and at the same time ensure that the taxpayer is not relied upon inappropriately to fund a public funeral.  Investigations and funeral arrangements will be concluded without undue delay.  It is likely however that investigations and the making of final arrangements will take longer to conclude than some would wish.  

Public funeral arrangements

Where the council arranges a public funeral, it will do so at minimal public expense. This will be a non-attendance cremation unless a specific wish to not be cremated had been made by the deceased and has been recorded.

To minimise cost to the taxpayer, the council’s arrangement with the undertaker will make no allowance for any extra items or services, such as a funeral service, requested by family or friends of the deceased. Throughout the process, the council will exercise tact and diplomacy recognising the sensitivities, the wishes and needs, and the difficulties facing a deceased person’s family and friends.  

Public funeral assessment

The council will engage openly with interested parties including family, the coroner’s office, genealogists, mortuary services, letting agents, care home managers and landlords to conclude matters efficiently. Officers will not discuss individual cases with any other parties. No advance discussion about specific public funeral arrangements will be entered into where the subject is a living person, but general advice can be given. 

To ascertain the existence or likelihood of ‘suitable arrangements’ being made, application of the following tests will confirm whether a notified death constitutes a qualifying case under section 46 of the 1984 Act: 

  • No traceable family members are willing and able to make the funeral arrangements 
  • No will has been made or has been found
  • No fully paid-up funeral plan is in place 
  • The two closest next of kin (where identifiable) are not in receipt of means-tested benefits

Where one or more family members have been notified of the death and it appears to the investigating officer that they may be willing and able to assume responsibility for burial or cremation, the council will normally refer the matter in full to the family without further action.  It is recognised that surviving relatives may in some cases be reluctant to take on the organising and / or financial responsibility.

Relatives of the deceased

If the deceased had family, the nearest surviving traceable relative will be required to sign a form stating that they are willing for the council to make the funeral arrangements, on the understanding that costs will be recovered from the deceased’s estate.  If the family have already removed any possessions from where the deceased lived, these may need to be returned to the council to help offset the funeral costs.  The Landlord may not enter or remove any items from the deceased’s accommodation until after the house search has taken place.

Undue reliance on the taxpayer will not be encouraged. Where the family is unwilling and/or unable to take on responsibility for arranging a funeral, a responsible family member aged 18 or over will be expected to certify that by signature on a form provided before the council accepts it as a qualifying case.  If the deceased died outside of the Lancaster City Council boundary, the funeral arrangements will be the responsibility of the local authority where they died, even if they had lived within Lancaster City Council boundaries.  


To ascertain whether a public funeral should take place, the investigating officer will need to make efficient investigations including any or all of the following: 

  • Physical search of the deceased’s property (where living alone) for presence of: 
    • A will 
    • A funeral plan 
    • Any recoverable assets held on the property or in accounts or shares 
    • Any extant life insurance policies 
  • Ascertaining, on production of the death certificate and proof of investigating officer identity, the assets held in any bank or building society account held by the deceased. 
  • Tracing of family members of the deceased to fulfil duties under section 46 of the 1984 Act 

Council officers will be trained to engage sensitively and diplomatically with those connected with a deceased person, recognising the impacts and implications of their bereavement and grief. 

Initial response to a notified death will be made in line with the service’s prevailing service request standards. Cases will be concluded without delay; however, each duration will depend on the circumstances, entailing checks so far as necessary to justify a public funeral at the taxpayers’ expense.

COVID-19 update

Please note due to the change in working environments and need to assist the NHS during the CV19 pandemic it will not always be possible to fully adhere to the public funeral policy.  

Due to different working arrangements caused by Covid-19, several practices in relation to public funerals and tracing next of kin are not possible. This is caused by added pressures and workloads on NHS staff, registrars, and undertakers. During this period, some decisions will be taken by the Council in good faith regarding what is most appropriate for the deceased at that time, using the council’s powers under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.  

The registering of any death is currently being carried out remotely and the Council’s reliance on genealogists is also compromised, due to limitations caused by amended working arrangements. In addition, the physical signing or verbal agreement of a Public Funeral by the deceased’s NOK will not always be pursued either.  

Following any public funeral during this time every effort will be taken to contact next of kin in order that the ashes of the deceased and any appropriate paperwork found can be forwarded, on where possible. Please note this process will also take longer due to the many logistical issues faced in these unforeseen times.

Last updated: 28 September 2022

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