An internal audit committee has taken action to help improve Cornwall Council’s provision of public health funerals.
Following concerns from council members of staff, the auditors discovered that cash and valuables belonging to deceased people had been kept in officers’ cars and homes. This was partly because of a lack of available storage facilities.
Councils carry out public health funerals when people die with no next of kin, or their relatives and friends are unable to arrange a burial or cremation. The council then needs to cover the costs, which can involve the recovery of the deceased’s bank details and officers sorting through their belongings.
The audit committee found that, in Cornwall’s case, existing processes had become “inadequate and inconsistent” following a rise in the number of public health funerals.
Holly Sykes, the Council’s chief internal auditor, said: “There was no audit trail regarding handover of cash and valuables to the officer responsible for banking.
“Receipts were not issued and reconcilliations for banking were not undertaken. The audit further identified a lack of management oversight and control of, and involvement in, operational procedures, in particular with regards to banking.”
Warning of potential reputational risk to the local authority, Ms Sykes added: “The council is in a position of trust and has a public duty to ensure beyond doubt that its systems and procedures protect residents’ assets. However, the current systems in operation do not provide this level of assurance.”
She told councillors that the audit didn’t find any incidents of fraud or inappropriate behaviour by staff. “We’re very comfortable that everything we found can be acted upon,” she added.
Following the investigation, the council said it will not be retrieving cash and valuables from homes until suitable measures are in place. In addition, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), officers will now wear bodycams when they are present at properties to record any cash or valuables found.
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