PHA Funerals - "Unfit for purpose"

The legislation that gives local authorities the statutory powers to carry out funerals is not fit for purpose.

That’s what council officers told us at the second Finders International Public Health Act Funerals conference, which took place on 2nd May this year, and was attended by representatives of councils from all over England and Wales.

The legislation, which has been in place for more than thirty years, does not consider how attitudes have changed towards funerals in society and how we carry out funerals. Families are more fragmented and don’t necessarily feel obliged to make funeral arrangements for next of kin they may have had little or no contact with. Given recent rises in the amount of funerals undertaken by local authorities, it is only set to increase in the near future.

Minimum standards

Council officers at the conference felt that any reform should set out a minimum standard, although they could not agree on how this might be enforced. Some local authorities opt to cremate whilst others bury, but there is no standard practice. Should legislation make sure a deceased person’s wishes are adhered to (if they are known) and how would this be done?

As the Competition and Markets Authority is carrying out a review of the funeral industry in the wake of rising costs and is proposing a funerals regulator, perhaps the role of ensuring standards could be placed with them?

The majority thought that the word ‘paupers’ should not be used, with some officers reporting they found it to be offensive. Officers felt that the word does not show the deceased dignity and respect.

Little to no funding

Another point raised at the conference is that there is little or no funding within authorities for the provision of statutory funerals. Further discussions took place about a national funeral fund, with a radical suggestion that there should be a state grant paid from National Insurance contributions.

Certainly, everyone agreed that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Social Fund is not fit for purpose, and a new way of state assistance needs to be found. The vast majority reported how difficult it is for people to claim and how little they receive to pay towards funerals from the DWP.

Staff have called for better awareness of their role by financial institutions. Once a person dies, GDPR does not apply to the deceased. Many officers reported their experiences where banks and other institutions make it extremely difficult for them to discover if the deceased left any assets.

Access to online accounts

They also said it was difficult to access the deceased’s emails and social media accounts, as sometimes emails and social media accounts can help officers trace families easily and quickly.

David Lockwood, Finders International Public Sector Development Manager and a former Public Health Act Funerals Officer, said: “It’s clear how dedicated council officers are in providing the best service possible despite the severe financial restrictions in place.

“These officers deserve the recognition for the service they provide to their communities and their continued dedication. We at Finders International do everything possible to support them with our free events and the advice we offer on our website, and we will continue to do so.”

Finders International has a funeral fund that can be used by public sector bodies to subsidise public health act funerals in cases that meet the criteria. Find out more about our service here.


Rise in Public Health Funerals puts even greater pressure on hard pressed local authorities

A recent survey of 70% of local authorities revealed that almost £5.5m was spent on Public Health Funerals in the year ending April 2018.  During this period in excess of 3,800 people received a Public Health Act (PHA) funeral from a local authority.

Almost a third of these funerals were arranged as a result of bereaved families not being able to afford the cost of the funeral.

275 of 390 authorities responded to the survey, conducted by Royal London, meaning that a further 30% of local authorities, and therefore their expenditure on public health funerals, are not accounted for in these figure.

The cost of PHA funerals has also risen by 3.5% compared to 2017. This comes at a time of decreased central government funding for local authorities - forcing them to seek alternative ways of funding the increase.

The average cost for the local authority is reported at £1,403.00, though costs can be higher or lower depending on the authority.

David Lockwood, public sector development manager for Finders International and former local government officer responsible for PHA funerals said that the rise in costs did not surprise him.

“Having spoken to many former colleagues, I knew that the number of funerals is on the rise. It’s not surprising given how difficult it is to get any state aid from the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions)”.

It’s over 30 years since the law in England and Wales was changed and legislation in Scotland dates back to 1948.  “Local authorities need more clarity on their role - what they can and cannot do.”

“Practice varies across the country with some authorities allegedly banning relatives from funerals while others strive to ensure they are inclusive. Staff undertaking these funerals are under pressure to keep costs down, but they all care and are committed to providing the deceased with a service that is respectful and dignified.”

Mr Lockwood is calling on central government to look at the problem and find solutions as quickly as possible.

While local authorities are entitled to recover costs under legislation; some struggle to do so with their workloads. Many local authority staff report difficulties in obtaining funds from banks that hold cash belonging to the deceased.

Danny Curran, Managing Director of Finders International, said: “Local authorities can turn to companies like us, Finders International, for help in tracing next of kin. We offer a free and efficient service to try and trace next of kin so that hard pressed local authorities don’t have to take on the financial burden.”

Finders International has a record of assisting local authorities. All local authorities are eligible to access the Finders International Funeral Fund, a charitable fund that supports councils when a deceased has no estate and no known next of kin. Finders also offers free conferences and website support to local authorities undertaking Public Health Act Funerals.


ICCM Public Health Act Funerals Policy Statement

Following recent media reports on provision of PHA funerals the ICCM has published a policy statement on their website outlining the duties of each local authority providing PHA Funerals.

The statement calls for all local authorities with the statutory responsibility for providing a service to publish their policies on their website, setting out clear guidelines to the public and calling for the words "paupers" and "destitute" to be avoided due to their insensative nature.

You can read the Policy Statement here:

ICCM POLICY STATEMENT


ITN highlight rise in “Paupers” Funerals

ITN highlighted the rise of funerals undertaken by Local Authorities and the difference in services provided by Authorities on their main news bulletins on Friday 15th June.

Watch the report and read more about it on the ITV news website.

ITV News Report