Public health funerals on the rise in England
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The number of public health funerals rose by just under a quarter (23 per cent) in almost two-thirds of English councils between 2018 and 2023.

This type of funeral is provided by local authorities when someone dies without funds or next of kin, or when their family is unable or unwilling to pay. They are often very simple arrangements, without a service, flowers or headstone.

The latest figures have been compiled from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests obtained by Sky News. They follow research released earlier this year by insurer SunLife that showed the cost of a straightforward funeral had risen to £4,141.

Lindesay Mace, co-manager of Down to Earth, a service provided by the Quaker Social Action charity that helps people with funeral costs, told Sky News that her organisation was currently dealing with more requests for assistance than it had during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She added that guidelines for public health funerals needed to be updated and aligned across the country so that next of kin did not find themselves in a “postcode lottery” for services.

Ms Mace said: “We want that to include a requirement to hold an attended funeral, because unfortunately, the legislation doesn’t require the funeral to be attended. Research has shown that the denial of those kind of funeral rituals can really have a significant impact on people’s mental health, and their ability to grieve.”

In response a Local Government Association spokesperson said: “When arranging [public health] 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 there is family, councils will often liaise with those family members to organise a funeral service.”

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