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Local authorities failing on public health funerals, says study

A new study by anti-poverty charity Quaker Social Action has suggested that provision for public health funerals has not improved – despite the UK government’s good practice guidance on public health funerals for England and Wales issued last year – and that for those in need, state support for a funeral is patchy at best and unlawful at worst.

Its Down to Earth study found that some local authorities are not carrying out their legal duties when it comes to the provision of public health funerals.

Contrary to the government’s guidance, only 26 of the 40 local authorities surveyed held information online for people needing a public health funeral. Half had no contact details, and a third contained inaccurate or misleading information about the circumstances in which a local authority is legally required to take responsibility.

These were the key findings:

  • Mystery shopping investigation of 27 local authorities indicates that 10 are not carrying out their legal duty with regard to public health funerals, turning people away when they do not have the funds to pay for a funeral and need their council to take responsibility
     
  • A survey of 40 local authority websites found that at least 65% are not following Government guidelines on public health funerals. 14 had no information available online whatsoever and of the 26 that did, 12 had no contact details for people who need to notify their local authority of a death requiring a public health funeral
     
  • Over half of the websites with information contained incorrect or misleading information. The most common error related to local authorities’ legal duty, with a third misrepresenting the circumstances in which someone can access a public health funeral
     
  • Two local authorities indicate from their website that they could cremate someone against their wishes if there were insufficient funds or the cost was deemed unreasonable, which goes against their legal duty in the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984
     
  • Only six local authorities make clear in their online information that family and/or friends would be able to attend the funeral, but one of those also states that “if there is a refusal to pay” they will be under “no obligation” to inform family and friends of the time and place. Only two clearly state that the cremated remains can be collected if wished, whatever the situation.

More at quakersocialaction.org.uk/taking-social-action/news/abdication-duty

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