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Public health funerals

Under the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984, local authorities are responsible for organising public health funerals.

This type of funeral arrangement happens when a person dies within the borough and:

  1. no funeral arrangements have been made
  2. no relatives of the deceased can be found, or
  3. the relatives of the deceased cannot or will not arrange a funeral

A public health funeral cannot be ‘applied for’ as an alternative funeral arrangement choice by members of the public.

Our primary duty when arranging a public health funeral is to the person who has passed away. They will be buried or cremated as soon as is practically possible, simply but with dignity.

How is a public health funeral arranged?

In the majority of cases, the person’s details are referred by the Coroner’s Department. Previous attempts to trace a family member to arrange a funeral will have failed. The Council will then, wherever possible, try to find details of the person's next of kin and any other relevant information, such as a Will, by searching their property. Where no details of a next of kin can be located, a public health funeral will be arranged. Friends and family members can also notify the Council when someone has passed away.

What happens next?

In most cases we will organise a cremation, unless during the search of the property, we uncover instructions to the contrary. The Council will undertake reasonable endeavours to follow the wishes of the deceased including;

  • Where the deceased has left instructions or has known religious beliefs that mean they do not wish to be cremated, then a burial can be arranged;
  • Looking for any indication of the individual’s wishes, religion or beliefs if searching the property of the deceased;
  • Discussing the deceased’s wishes with the next of kin, close family or friends;
  • Reviewing any instructions in the last will and testament of the deceased that they may have made (where the executor has formally renounced their role).

If the person is to be buried, this will be in an unmarked, sometimes public grave* unless it is found that they have made financial arrangements for a private grave.

Attending a public health funeral

Relatives and / or friends, if known to us, will be advised of the date, time and place of the service. If a cremation is organised and friends or relatives wish to keep the ashes this can be arranged. Alternatively, if they wish to scatter the deceased person’s ashes, for example in the cemetery’s garden of remembrance, this can also be arranged.

How is a public health funeral funded?

If the deceased has no next of kin or relative who is able to arrange the funeral, the Council will do so. The Council's contracted funeral directors will provide everything necessary for a simple but dignified service. This includes:

  • A coffin;
  • The transport of the person who has died to the crematorium or cemetery in a hearse and pallbearers to transfer the coffin to the chapel;

Respecting any known religious beliefs, or none, an appropriate simple service will be conducted.

If the deceased has a next of kin or relative who is prepared to arrange the funeral but needs some financial support, they can apply to the Department for Work and Pension for a funeral expenses payment if they receive certain benefits. Other information which may be helpful can be accessed by using the links below for details.


Lewisham Council - Paying for a funeral

If the next of kin or relative is not prepared to pay for the funeral, the Council will go ahead and arrange a public health funeral.

In any case where the Council has funded the fee and administration costs for a funeral, the Council has a duty to reclaim the cost from the deceased’s estate** and will have first call on the Estate to ensure that its costs are refunded.

You can also get free help from Down to Earth a helpline run by the independent charity Quaker Social Action, which offers practical support to those struggling with funeral costs and assistance with applying to the DWP.” They have also produced a guide to planning an affordable and meaningful funeral

Parents who suffer the loss of a child or baby can apply for support in paying for a grave from the Children’s Funeral Fund.

For any enquires directly related to a public funeral, please contact us either by telephone on 0208 314 6000 or by e-mail using the address below:

* A public grave will have no more than two people buried in it.

** The Estate of a person is everything they have including savings / capital and any assets of value eg house, car etc.

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