Some councils are charging families for ‘paupers' funerals’

8 January 2020

A Freedom of Information Act (FOI) has revealed that some local authorities do not automatically return ashes and are charging bereaved families


Some councils in Britain are charging bereaved families to return ashes from a public health funeral, while others are not even allowing relatives to attend.

A ‘paupers' funeral’ is a simple cremation or burial arranged by the local authority for people who have died alone or in poverty. They tend to be very basic and do not have flowers or a wake.

Insurer Royal London sent a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to 400 UK local authorities and received 383 responses.

It found that 14 councils do not allow family members to attend a public health funeral. 

Some councils explained that they were unable to do this as no service is provided for a family to attend.

The FOI also revealed that 21 councils in the UK did return ashes to the family after a cremation, while 18 councils charge bereaved families for the ashes to be returned.

Reasons for charging for ashes included the cost of the urn to the council or a collection cost.

What is a paupers’ funeral?

Local authorities are required by law to arrange public health funerals for people when no suitable arrangements have been made.

They carry out thousands of ‘pauper’s funerals’ every year for people who have died alone, in poverty or do not have family.

The funeral services are very basic do not include flowers or transport for the family, while some burials may also take place in an unmarked shared grave.

It is possible to attend the funeral, but the local authority will decide the time and date.

Rising costs

With funeral costs rising to well over £4,000, many people are unable to afford a basic funeral.

In the 2018/19 financial year, more than 4,000 public health funerals took place at a cost of £6.3 million.

Nearly a third (29%) of these funerals were undertaken by local councils because bereaved families were unable to afford the cost.

Royal London is calling for minimum standards for public health funerals.

Louise Eaton-Terry, funeral cost expert at Royal London, says: “It’s incredibly sad when bereaved families have no choice but to seek a public health funeral. But when some families are refused the ashes of their loved ones or are not even allowed to attend the funeral, it is clear that they are being treated unfairly.

“It’s about time the system was overhauled, and we’re calling for legislation on minimum standards for public health funerals to ensure everyone can, at the very least, attend a funeral and collect their loved one’s ashes.”

A spokesman for the Local Government Association says: “Public health funerals are a last resort for those cases where family or friends cannot be identified to arrange a funeral, or no-one is willing to do so.

“When arranging these funerals, councils will seek to ensure the religious beliefs or wishes of the deceased are respected and they are provided with a dignified funeral, while keeping the costs to local taxpayers to a minimum.

“In many cases the deceased has no family to arrange their funeral, so there is no-one to attend a service if one is held or to collect the ashes.

“Where family members are unable to afford the cost of the funeral those who receive income related benefits can apply for a funeral payment, and last year the government announced an uplift in the grants made available, though these may not cover the full costs of a funeral.

“With local authorities facing challenging funding pressures the increase in the number of public health funerals is putting further pressure on council budgets and driving them to limit the costs they incur in arranging these funerals.”

What to do if there isn’t enough money for a funeral

The government’s Funeral Expenses Payment helps certain individuals who are on a low income to pay for a funeral they are responsible for organising.

The fund covers the full cost of burial or cremation and up to £700 in funeral directors’ fees.

To be able to claim you will need to be a partner of the deceased when they died or a close relative of the friend. It is available to those claiming benefits, including Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits.

You can apply for it by completing an SF200 form on website

You can also apply for Bereavement Support Benefit if your husband, wife, or civil partner dies.

If you are pregnant or have a child you will receive a monthly payment of £350 for 18 months following the death, or a one-off payment of £3,500 during the first month.

Everyone else will get a monthly payment of £100 for 18 months, or a one-off payment of £2,500 during the first month.


Bereavement Support Payment

I want to highlight the Bereavement Support Payment mentioned above.

It is a benefit available to most people in the UK whose partner dies before state pension age, but nobody tells you about it! To get the full benefit you must apply within 3 months of your partner’s death, or you will lose some of the monthly payments. It’s a horrible time to have to get your head together to apply for this (I know - I’ve been there), but it is really worth doing, particularly if you have dependent children. Just enter’Bereavement Support Payment’ into any search engine.

Also, please note that the benefit amounts are correct in the article above, but you will receive both the applicable lump sum and the monthly payments, not one or the other as stated.


As a priest I have had, on occasions, arranged for a "what can you afford" funeral for poor families.

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