Public Health Act funerals in Sandwell
Making funeral arrangements when a person dies
When someone dies it can be a very distressing time for those who will be making the funeral arrangements, especially if there are concerns about how the funeral will be paid for.
It is normally a partner, executor or other family member who would be responsible for making funeral arrangements for a deceased person, and they would also be responsible for the costs.
If there are concerns about how you are going to pay for a funeral, it is important that you discuss this with your chosen funeral director as soon as possible, as once you have appointed a funeral director, and have entered into a contract with one; you are responsible for their costs.
Help with paying for a funeral
You may be entitled to a funeral payment from the Social Fund, if you or a partner is receiving certain benefits, such as Income Support, Income based Jobseeker's Allowance, Income related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credits, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, Working Tax Credits or Child Tax credit.
Further information about Funeral Payments, including an application form, can be found on the Government's website.
Public Health Act Funerals
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council is responsible for making funeral arrangements for anybody who dies within the borough, when no other arrangements are being or are likely to be made for example, when the deceased has no family and the deceased hasn't left a will. The responsibility is placed upon the Council by Section 46 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. This Act also states that Council may recover all costs incurred in making the funeral arrangements from the estate of the deceased (i.e. their property and possessions).
If the deceased died outside of the borough of Sandwell, the funeral arrangements will then be the responsibility of the local authority where the death occurred, even if the deceased had been a resident of Sandwell.
The Council will not be able to become involved if funeral arrangements have already been made, or if the funeral has already taken place. We cannot provide any funding for funeral arrangements to families, whether the funeral has taken place or not.
If there is nobody willing or able to make the funeral arrangements, the case may be referred to the Council and if accepted the Council will then be responsible for making the arrangements.
Once the Council has received and accepted the referral, we will then deal with all aspects of trying to locate a next of kin. If family are found and they choose not to make funeral arrangements, they will be required to sign a form stating that they are relinquishing responsibility for the funeral arrangements and where appropriate, they understand that costs will be recovered from the deceased's estate which will include a property search.
If the family have already removed any possessions from where the deceased lived, these are to be returned to help offset the funeral costs.
Landlords should not enter or remove any items from the deceased's accommodation until after the property search has taken place.
Prior to making the funeral arrangements we (minimum two officers) will search the last known address of the deceased. The purpose of the search is to find a will, evidence of family or friends, and to find any items that may be used to offset the funeral costs. This may include removing personal possessions from the property, including address books, correspondence, legal documents, financial paperwork and possessions such as jewellery that may be sold to raise money.
An inventory of any items removed from the property will be created with those items retained securely by the Council for a minimum of three months.
The Council are not routinely responsible for clearing or cleaning the property this will be the responsibility of the landlord or where appropriate, family members.
Following the completion of the search, the property will be secured, and the keys returned to the landlord if rented. If the property was owned by the deceased, the case will be referred to the Treasure Solicitors and then any instructions regarding the property will be followed. This will only be referred if there is no living relative or executor of a Will
Disposal of personal possessions
If the deceased has left furniture or other personal effects, arrangements will be made to dispose of these items to simply offset the cost of the funeral.
If the property is rented from the Council, we will enter the property to complete a full inventory, including comprehensive photos, to determine the value of the furniture and/or personal effects. If any of the items are considered to be valuable, arrangements will be made for a professional removal company to pack and store them securely for 6 months before disposal. This will allow time for family members the opportunity to pursue any legal measures they wish to undertake to deal with the deceased estate.
Executors of a will
The Council will not make funeral arrangements in cases where the deceased has left a will and the executor is traced; in these circumstances the executor would be expected to make the funeral arrangements. If an executor wishes to revoke their duties, they must make a formal renunciation of the will and declare that they wish to have no further involvement in the funeral arrangements.
Locating estate heirs
Where next-of-kin cannot be expeditiously discovered, and a will cannot be established, the Council may use the services of companies who specialise in locating heirs and beneficiaries.
If the responsibility is placed upon the Council, our Bereavement Services team will deal with all aspects of organising a dignified funeral as expeditiously as possible. This will include registering the death and making arrangements with our contracted funeral director who will take the deceased into their care before the funeral takes place.
A cremation service will be arranged to take place at either Rowley Regis Crematorium or Sandwell Valley Crematorium. A coffin will be provided along with an officiant to conduct the funeral service. Music, prayer, hymns, etc. may also be included. However, flowers and memorials will not.
If there was an expressed wish by the deceased for any other type of funeral such as burial, the Council will endeavour to carry out those wishes. If the cost is deemed to be unreasonable, officers will produce a report, to be validated by a Senior Manager, as to the reasons why the wishes of the deceased cannot be agreed to.
Family and friends may attend the funeral service but will have no choice as to where and when it is held. Following the cremation, the cremated remains will be scattered within the Garden of Remembrance on the same site as where the cremation took place.
If there is a refusal to pay for the funeral, there will be no obligation on the Council to inform family and friends of the time and place of the funeral
A visit to the Chapel of Rest will also not be permitted.
The Council is entitled to cover costs when making funeral arrangements under section 46 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. They are not however empowered to administer the estate. Where there is a surplus of over £500 and once all costs incurred in making the funeral arrangements have been reimbursed, the Council will refer the case to the Treasury Solicitor under Bona Vacantia. Where there are known family members the case cannot be referred to the Treasury Solicitor. Under such circumstances, the Council will hold all monies until a legally entitled person demonstrates their suitability to administer the estate through the holding of letters of administration from the courts. Under no circumstances will money or property from the estate be given to any family member without proper lawful authority.
Death in hospital
If the deceased dies as an in-patient in a hospital managed by an NHS Trust and there are no relatives, the NHS Trust may assume responsibility for funeral arrangements and recover their expenses from the deceased’s estate.
Freedom of information
In accordance with Decision Notices FS50584670 and FS50583220 issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) the Council does not publish the personal details of the deceased relating to Public Health Funerals. The Council applies an exemption under Section 31(1)(a) FOIA (law enforcement - prevention and detection of crime). When tracing relatives it may take several months to complete our enquiries. During this time the property of the deceased can remain unoccupied and fully furnished with all their household possessions, papers and personal effects. Even when relatives have been found a property can remain unoccupied for a considerable time afterwards. Disclosing this information to the public would leave the property vulnerable to crime; including anti-social behaviour, criminal damage, arson, identity fraud and the crimes that can be committed using false documents.
However, the Council recognises that there is a public interest in understanding the volume of Public Health Funerals and the impact upon the Council’s resources, therefore statutory data in respect of Public Health Funerals will be published quarterly on the Council’s website at the end of June, September, December and March.