Wealden council praised for review over providing public health funerals

Wealden District Council has been praised by an anti-poverty charity.

Quaker Social Action’s Down to Earth scheme, which offers practical support for people struggling with funeral costs, said Wealden council’s service and its informative and sensitively written website had reached the gold standard.

Under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, councils in England and Wales are required to provide public health funerals – often referred to as pauper’s funerals – to bury or cremate the body of anyone who has died alone in poverty, or whose relatives cannot afford a funeral.

Wealden carried out 11 public health funerals in 2020 and four so far this year – a higher number than many neighbouring authorities – and the service and the website the authority provides is enabling bereaved people to receive the right support when they need it.

Council officers undertook a review after a report from the QSA showed many local authorities did not carry out their legal duty to provide public health funerals and did not follow government guidelines.

In addition, some councils’ websites had no information on public health funerals on their website, while more than half of those that did offered incorrect or misleading information.

Council officers at Wealden had reviewed the service against the government good practice guidelines during the height of Covid-19 and when the QSA study was released, they contacted the charity to ensure its website was meeting the criteria.

The QSA said Wealden’s website was sensitively written and included much key information. The charity praised the work of officers saying it was encouraging to work with people who care so much about the service.

Wealden District Council’s community and public health portfolio holder Councillor Philip Lunn said, “Our officers contacted QSA after the study came out to quality check our website, worked on it with them until it met their standards and were praised for our approach to this area of work.

“Two thirds of local councils are not following good practice guidance but Wealden is among the top performing authorities and we are pleased with the endorsement from the Quaker Social Action.

“We reviewed our service at the height of Covid-19 to ensure that it met with the government best practice guidance. We found that it met all recommendations and we continue to review our standards in line with changing times.”

Councillor Lunn said that providing public health funerals is more than a statutory duty and it is a measure of our duty to community and society.

He said, “The council has a duty to arrange for the burial or cremation of any person who dies or is found dead in its area, where it appears that no funeral arrangements are being made or are likely to be made.

“The council is usually called upon where people have died either without family or without family who are willing or able to make the necessary arrangements.

“A council arranged funeral will comprise of a simple service. We will provide a celebrant or representative of the deceased’s faith, a coffin, transport of the deceased to the crematorium or cemetery in a hearse, and sufficient bearers to transfer the coffin to the chapel.”

People needing help with public health funerals should visit https://www.wealden.gov.uk/environment-and-pollution/public-health-funerals/