New data obtained by Royal London reveals nearly a third of public health funerals carried out were as a result of bereaved families being unable to afford the cost of a funeral.

A public health funeral is held by a local authority if the deceased has no family or the family are unable or unwilling to cover the cost of the funeral. The data is based on Freedom of Information (FoI) requests submitted by Royal London to 390 local authorities in the UK.

The data shows nearly a third (31%) of families who turned to their local council for a public health funeral did so because they were unable to pay for the funeral. A basic funeral costs on average £3,757 according to Royal London’s National Funeral Cost Index, which also found one in 10 (12%) went into debt to pay for a loved one’s funeral. Other reasons for public health funerals included the deceased having no family (31%) and families unwilling to pay for the funeral (10%).

Local authorities spent almost £5.4 million on public health funerals in the financial year 2017/18 which is a 3.5% increase on the previous year (2016/17). More than 3,800 public health funerals were carried out across the UK last year, costing councils an average of £1,403. Local councils in the West Midlands spent a staggering £1.3 million on public health funerals, followed by London councils, who spent more than £800,000 and carried out the highest number of funerals (654).

Birmingham City Council in West Midlands spent the most, with public health funerals costing them £990,437. Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council in Northern Ireland had the lowest spend on funerals at £275.

Louise Eaton-Terry, funeral cost expert at Royal London, said: “Local authorities are raising burial and cremation fees as they face cuts in funding from central Government.  This is one of the key drivers of funeral cost inflation and ultimately results in an increase in the number of public health funerals local councils have to perform, as bereaved families are unable to pay for their loved ones send off. More support is needed to help those struggling with funeral costs and the Government needs to improve the funeral payment benefit to help tackle funeral poverty.”

Councils with highest total spend on public health funerals in 2017/18

Council Total Cost
Birmingham City Council £990,437
Manchester City Council £242,178
Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council £92,000
London Borough of Lambeth £85,757
Richmond and Wandsworth £83,982
Dudley Metropolitan Borough £79,679
Bradford Metropolitan Council £77,224
Coventry City Council £76,519
Perth & Kinross Council £74,248
Portsmouth City Council £72,991

Councils with lowest total spend on public health funerals in 2017/18

Council Total Cost
Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council £275
Eastleigh Borough Council £310
Monmouthshire Council £375
Newport Council £480
Thurrock Council £550
Newry and Mourne District Council £600
Dartford Borough Council £600
High Peak Borough £700
City of London £715
Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council £910