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Public health funerals

Our role in welfare funerals

We have a statutory duty under the provisions of Section 46 of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to arrange the funeral of anyone who dies within the borough, regardless of where they lived, who has no one willing or able to organise their funeral. This is called a public health funeral.

Only in exceptional circumstances will we carry out a public health funeral where there are known family.  


We can recover all the costs incurred in making the funeral arrangements from the estate of the deceased person (usually money or property). We cannot provide any funding for funeral arrangements to families.

Public health funeral staff have statutory authorisation to enter a property, under the provisions of section 61(1)(d) of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, to ascertain the extent of the estate and to remove any items or assets which may assist in funding the funeral.

Assistance with funeral costs

The Department for Work and Pensions offers funeral support for those on low incomes, This should be explored before approaching us.

Details on eligibility and how to apply for this assistance can be found on GOV.UK.

Executors of a will

We will not be able to make funeral arrangements in cases where the deceased made a will and the executor is traced. In these circumstances the executor would be expected to organise the funeral.

If the executor wishes to revoke their duties, they must make a formal renunciation of the will and declare that they wish to have no further involvement in the funeral arrangements.

Referrals and arrangements

Referrals usually come through to via residential and nursing homes and hospitals in the borough.

Once we have accepted a public health funeral referral, we will deal with all aspects of the organisation of a funeral, including registering the death, dealing with the funeral directors to make the arrangements, and paying for the funeral.

The service

Our contracted funeral director will provide everything necessary for a simple yet dignified service including a coffin, transport of the deceased to the crematorium or cemetery in a hearse, and sufficient bearers to transfer the coffin to the chapel.  

Arrangements will be made for a minister of religion or a religious representative of the faith of the deceased to conduct the service in accordance with that faith. If a non-religious service is appropriate, then this will be respected. If we do arrange a funeral and there are family and/or friends, they are welcome to attend the funeral service, however, they will have no choice as to where and when it is held.

Cremation and burial

A cremation service will normally be arranged unless it is established that the deceased would have chosen burial for religious, cultural, or personal reasons. If a burial is required and the deceased did not own a grave, the burial will take place in an unmarked public grave at a cemetery chosen by us.

Following the cremation, cremated remains are usually interred in an unmarked but recorded location in the Garden of Remembrance. In exceptional circumstances cremated remains may be given into the care of a close friend or family member.

Additional information and support

For further advice or information:

Frequently requested information

We are frequently asked for information about public health funerals, people who have died with no known next of kin, bona vacantia estates and estates which have been referred to the Treasury Solicitor, or Duchy of Lancaster or Cornwall. In response to these requests, we are releasing the following information about Public Health funerals:

This information will be updated with information relating to Public health funerals on an annual basis.

Exemption of Updated Information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

There are relatively few public health funerals in the London Borough Richmond Upon Thames and, therefore, we consider that publication of this information at annual intervals is reasonable. The provision of updated information before the next planned update will be exempted under Section 22 of the Act as it is information that we hold with the intention of publishing at some future date, as specified above.

We apply the following exemptions to the release of any further information about public health funerals, people who have died with no known next of kin, bona vacantia estates and estates which have been referred to the Treasury Solicitor, or Duchy of Lancaster or Cornwall:

Section 21- Information Reasonably Accessible to the Applicant by Another Means.

The Council's reason for applying this exemption is that details of all deaths within the Borough are registered. Deaths can be registered at any Registry Office and contact details of all those within the London Borough of Richmond can be found on our registration pages.

Information that the council holds on estates passed, or estates to be passed, to the Treasury Solicitor, is considered to be held on behalf of the Treasury Solicitor's Department. Some details of the estate of those persons who have died and which have been passed to the Treasury Solicitor can be accessed via the Treasury Solicitor's Department or Bona Vacantia.

Section 31 – Law Enforcement

Revealing details of the assets of an estate before the Treasury Solicitor has undertaken their own enquiries would provide an opportunity for criminal acts to be committed (for example, theft or fraud). Similarly, there would be concerns about making the last known address of the deceased public, as the property is likely to be unoccupied and might still contain the deceased’s personal papers and effects. There is also a continuing risk after the estate has been secured of, for example, identity theft. Taking into account the above issues, the council considers that there is no over-riding public interest in releasing the information requested. Any public interest would be best served by upholding the exemption under Section 31 of the Act as disclosure of the information would be likely to prejudice the prevention of crime by enabling or encouraging the commission of offences.

Applicants should be aware that the exemption of additional information under Section 21 and Section 31 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 has been upheld by an Internal Review.

Updated: 29 September 2022

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