If a person dies anywhere in Somerset, without family or funeral instructions, we will arrange and pay for a funeral arrangements.

We will also arrange a funeral if a family refuses to do so. In this case, the family will have no say in any funeral arrangements.

These funerals are known as public health funerals.

Funeral arrangements

If no one is able to arrange the funeral, we will do the following:

  • register the death
  • instruct a funeral director
  • provide a coffin
  • arrange transport for a direct cremation

The cremated remains will be available on request to friends or family members wishing to make their own arrangements for scattering or interment. If no requests are made, the cremated remains will be interred.

How we pay for the funeral

We recover the cost of all public health funerals from the person’s estate. If there is not enough money or no money, the cost is covered by the public purse.

How we recover the cost

To help pay for the funeral, we can remove items from the person’s home, such as jewellery, and sell them six months after the funeral. If the family has already removed items from the home, we will ask them to return them.

Help towards the cost may be available from charities or the Department of Works and Pension Social Fund. We would always encourage family or friends to seek alternative arrangements for financing a funeral. A referral to Somerset Council should be a last resort.

Property and personal effects

We will make sure that property is secured and any keys or belonging are handed to the police or housing provider.

If there is furniture or other personal belongings, the estate or the owner of the property will normally meet the cost of clearing the property. Property should not be removed from the house unless legal authority says they can do so.

If, after the funeral costs, there is still some money left (over £500); we will tell the Treasury Solicitor.

Freedom of information (FOI) requests 

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 Government Legal Department, or Duchy of Lancaster or Cornwall. In response to these requests, we are releasing the following information about public health funerals.

We only refer cases to the Government Legal Department when the next of kin cannot be traced and the estate is over £500.

Information relating to public health funerals will be updated periodically.

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 Government Legal Department, or Duchy of Lancaster or Cornwall:

  • Section 21 – Information Reasonably Accessible to the Applicant by Another Means

Our reason for applying this exemption is that details of all deaths within the area are registered. Information that the council holds on estates passed, or estates to be passed, to the Government Legal Department, is considered to be held on behalf of the Government Legal Department. Some details of the estate of those persons who have died and which have been passed to the Government Legal Department can be accessed using the Government Legal Department website or by using the bona vacantia website.

  • Section 31 – Law Enforcement

Revealing details of the assets of an estate before the Government Legal Department 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.

Last reviewed: May 30, 2023 by Jenny

Next review due: November 30, 2023

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