Burials at public expense

Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984

The council has a duty to arrange for the funeral of persons who die within the district where no suitable arrangements for disposal of the body have been made. The council is usually called upon where people have died without family or friends to make the necessary arrangements. The council arranges the registration of the death and the funeral and endeavours to recover the cost from pensions, insurance companies, sale of items etc. All monies remaining after the deduction of funeral and administration fees are forwarded to the Duchy of Lancaster with whom close liaison is maintained.

Normally notifications to the council are from the coroner’s office who will have done all necessary investigations into the circumstances requiring this service.

Relatives looking for help to arrange a funeral should visit GOV.uk

A register of Public Health Funerals is available to download (see Downloads).

Natural burial

There is now a move towards a more ‘green’ type of burial which promotes bio-degradable coffins and gives the option of a woodland burial.

The Natural Death Centre is a charitable project launched in Britain in 1991. It provides information to help people arrange inexpensive, family-organised, and environmentally-friendly funerals. It has a more general aim of helping to improve the quality of dying.

Taking a body out of England or Wales

Some countries require a Cadaver Certificate before they will allow a body into the country for burial. The certificate, if issued, confirms that no epidemic of infectious disease occurred in the borough for some three months preceding the death.

Cadaver Certificate:
This formality of obtaining the cadaver certificate is usually handled by the undertaker, making the arrangements on behalf of the relatives. However, anyone can apply to the Coroner for the certificate. The funeral directors will also help with anything requested by the Coroner and with requirements of the authorities in the overseas country to which the deceased is going. Some of these requirements may apply for burial in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, as well as abroad.

Repatriation of a body to England or Wales

If a death occurs abroad, the death should be registered according to the local regulations of that country and a Death Certificate should be obtained. To bring a body back to England or Wales you will need either the Death Certificate or an authorisation for the removal of the body from the country of death by someone authorised to do so.

To arrange a funeral in England or Wales you will need:

  • an authenticated translation of a Death Certificate showing the cause of death and
  • a Certificate of No Liability to Register from the registrar in England and Wales. This certificate must be obtained from the Burnley and Pendle Registrar.

To arrange a cremation, a cremation order from the Home Office or a form E from the coroner will be required. If the death was from natural causes, the Home Office will require the following documentation;

  • application for cremation (form A)
  • all original documentation from the country where death occurred translation of documents if necessary

Further guidance can be found in the Home Office leaflet Cremation Where Death Occurs Abroad

If the death was not natural it will be referred to the coroner who will open an inquest to investigate the cause and circumstances of death. 

Charter for the Bereaved

The Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management has developed a national standard of service for the burial and cremation industry.

The Charter:

  • seeks to generate interest in and educate people about bereavement
  • is a commitment to improving the service by confronting rather than disguising or ignoring death
  • sets standards of service related to burial, cremation and funerals
  • seeks to increase the range of choice and options available to the bereaved.
  • seeks to enable the bereaved to arrange a meaningful funeral service with a content that meets with their own specific needs and requirements

Further information can be found on the Institute’s website iccm-uk.com

Exhumation of a body

Exhumations are generally rare and tend to be traumatic for the family involved. They can take a long time to arrange and are usually expensive. For these reasons, it is always best to consult with all the relatives before proceeding.

Exhumations occur for a number of reasons, including:

  • movement from the original grave to a subsequently acquired family plot in the same or other cemetery;
  • repatriation overseas to be buried along with other family;
  • transfer from one cemetery scheduled for development to another; or
  • court orders requiring further forensic examination.

However, it is an offence to exhume any human remains without first obtaining the necessary lawful permissions. Funeral directors can help in obtaining these. Exhumation of both buried and cremated remains generally requires a Home Office licence.

Exhumation licences will also contain certain conditions that have to be observed.

  • if the person is buried in Consecrated grounds, permission from the church must also be obtained
  • an Environmental Health Officer must be present at the exhumation of a body to ensure that there is no threat to public health
  • occasionally cadaver certificates are required in addition to exhumation licences

Decency and safety

An Environmental Health Officer must be present at the exhumation and supervises the event to ensure that respect for the deceased person is maintained and that public health is protected. The Officer will also ensure that:

  •  the correct grave is opened,
  •  the exhumation commences as early as possible in the morning to ensure maximum privacy,
  • the plot is screened as appropriate for privacy,
  •  health and safety of all workers is maintained e.g. protective clothing including masks and gloves, task lights and all other necessary equipment,
  • everyone present shows due respect to the deceased person and to adjoining graves,
  •  the nameplate on the casket corresponds to that on the licence,
  •  the new casket has been approved by the Environmental Health Officer,
  • all human remains and all the pieces of casket are placed in the new casket,
  • the new casket is properly sealed,
  •  the area of exhumation is properly disinfected, and
  • satisfactory arrangements are in place for the onward transmission of the remains.

If the conditions of the licence cannot be met, or there are public health or decency concerns, the exhumation may not proceed.