Newspaper investigation reveals rise in public health funerals

The Mirror newspaper has revealed massive rises in the number of people requiring a public health funeral in 2020, often referred to as a pauper’s funeral.

A public health funeral is a basic, no-frills service that is paid for by the local authority in cases where someone dies in poverty and their next of kin cannot be found or don’t come forward.

The paper’s Freedom of Information investigation compare data from 362 out of 371 councils in Britain and found there were 5,875 public health funerals last year, with the true total likely to be not far off 6,000 – or one in 100 deaths.

Twenty-six percent increase

The figures mark a 26 percent increase on 2019. The increase is thought to be due to several factors – rising funeral costs, the increase in the numbers of people living and dying alone, and poverty.

Among those who ended up having a public health funeral in 2020 were “Baby Ruja”, who died on the same day she was born in Doncaster and whose body was cremated four months later. The oldest people were 101-year-old Frances Oldridge from Southampton and 103-year-old Maximo Andreo in North London.

Christina Martin who works for Wealden Council’s environmental health department in East Sussex organised and attended 11 public health funerals last year, up from four the previous year. She does not think the pandemic is responsible for most of the increase in numbers.

Funding a big issue

While she attended a couple of Covid funerals, she told The Mirror, the overall contributor seemed to be the ageing population and people not having a traditional family set up. Funding was another big issue, as basic funerals can cost as much as £4,000.

The Department for Work and Pensions has means-tested support for some cases, such as the death of a child or if a family claims certain benefits.

Christina explained that public health funeral were needed for bodies that hadn’t been dealt with. Her job was to go in after the police and ambulance services have left and do a more thorough search, looking for any documentation in houses that might help her find relatives. She also looks for valuables so that they can be added to a person’s estate and used to offset the funeral costs.

Council responsibility

Wealden Council was able to reclaim its costs in full from the deceased’s estate in seven out of last year’s 11 cases. Public health funerals are the responsibility of the council where the person dies.

Danny Curran, Finders International’s CEO and founder, said: “Thanks to our experience searching for next of kin when people die intestate, we can find the relatives of almost anyone very quickly.

“Local authorities and NHS trusts can apply to our funeral fund for a subsidy payment that can go towards the cost of public health funerals. These will be cases where there genuinely are no known next of kin (rather than next of kin simply refusing to pay) and Finders will carry out research to confirm this. For more information or to apply for a subsidy, simply contact us at [email protected] or call Freephone 0800 085 8796.”


The Public Health Funerals Information Service (PHFIS) is a free resource for those dealing with Public Health Act Funerals. Click through to our homepage here: to find out more about our news, resources and events.