A pauper’s funeral, now known as a ‘public health funeral’ or a ‘welfare funeral’, is a basic funeral service that is paid for by the local council after someone has died with no relatives or money, or when relatives can cover the costs of the funeral.
In this guide, we explain what a paupers funeral is, and who qualifies for one.
Funeral prices keep on rising (7.1% year on year). In the UK the average cost of a funeral is around £4,000. With a growing cost of living crisis and the financial strain and loss of the COVID-19 pandemic, this increasingly means that people are simply unable to afford the funeral costs after someone dies. This can add further pain to an already tough time. This has resulted in a rise in demand for state-funded funerals.
You qualify for this kind of council-funded, basic funeral service when;
In 2021 6,000 people had a paupers funeral, which was a 26% increase from 2020. This amounts to around 1 in 100 deaths.
If you qualify for a public health funeral. I.e you don’t have any money or known family, or if your family are unable to cover the costs of a funeral your local council should step in to pay for a basic funeral for you.
The right to a dignified burial was made common law in 1840. The law sat in the wider context of the Poor Laws, which legislated to address some of the conditions of the poor in Britain, including those living (and dying) in the workhouses in the late 1800s.
The council will arrange for a coffin, a funeral director, and a simple service. The funeral will generally be a cremation unless the deceased has explicitly expressed their desire for a burial or if this isn’t possible due to religious reasons.
Each council has its own set of rules around how a pauper’s funeral works.
Shockingly this can even mean that some councils have rules that stop the remaining family from attending the funeral, although this isn’t that common. If the remaining family are welcome to come to the funeral itself, they cannot submit any kind of request for when it takes place. The local authority will also decide the time and date, often at short notice, typically taking place early in the mornings and on weekdays. This lack of say or control can make a tough time even harder for the remaining family.
Because it is a basic service, if the family wanted any extras - such as flowers, transport, or obituary announcements - they would need to provide those separately. If the deceased is to be buried, there will be an accompanying graveside service - the burial itself may be in a public grave, shared with other people. Some local authorities will make the effort to find evidence of graves containing other family members but that is never guaranteed.
With public graves, again it is up to the local council as to whether you can leave plaques or memorials on the plots. Some authorities will permit it but by and large, the remaining family is not allowed to place anything personalised on the site - to guarantee the right to personalise the grave, the family would have to buy the exclusive rights for that plot.
In cases of cremation, some councils will allow remaining friends or family to collect the ashes from either the funeral director or the crematorium itself. If they do not permit it, they would contact the family to let them know when the ashes will be scattered - either in designated areas of a cemetery or in a garden of remembrance.
Organising a funeral at an emotional time is tough enough. There are two main ways that you reduce the cost of your funeral for your loved ones: