Public health funerals

The Council has a public health duty to bury or cremate any person who has died within the county and where it appears to the Council that no suitable arrangements have been or are being made for the disposal of the body.

How does it happen?

When we have been informed of a person’s death we will take steps to identify a next of kin.

Where there is no next of kin or the next of kin hand over responsibility for funeral arrangements to the Local Authority. We will make arrangements with an approved funeral director.

Members of the public are requested to contact the council by:

Agencies such as care homes,social workers and Coroner's officers should use the Referral Form to refer cases to us.  Further information on this can be found in the Referral Form Factsheet.   

What does the funeral include?

Cornwall Council provides a basic service for Public Health Funerals. This is to ensure that we are conforming to the legislation and that costs are kept to a minimum. As a result of this, the service provides:

  • Collection of the deceased
  • A basic coffin
  • Fees for the crematorium/burial
  • One suitable vehicle to transport the deceased
  • A basic service at the crematorium

Unfortunately, we are not able to provide:

  • Flowers
  • A church service
  • Music choices
  • The opportunity for eulogies to be given
  • The release of ashes (these will be scattered at the crematorium)
  • A gravestone (in the event of a burial taking place)
  • A vicar or minister for the service
  • Viewing of the deceased
  • A choice of times for when the service is held

Our Public Health Funerals factsheet gives information about the service provided by the council.   


Where Cornwall Council makes arrangements for Public Health Funerals there is a set charge. The current costs are on our Public Protection Fees And Charges page.

The Council has a legal right to reclaim funeral costs and will seek to recover these from the estate of the deceased.

Funding a funeral

If you are unable to pay for a funeral you may be eligible for financial assistance towards the costs.

There are two main types of financial assistance available for people who are unable to pay for a funeral in way of a funeral payment or a bereavement payment.

You can contact the Department for Work and Pensions' Bereavement Service helpline on 0345 606 0265 to check your eligibility for assistance, or visit the death and benefits page of the website.

If you need assistance to access funding, Citizens Advice may be able to help.

Funeral options

If you would like to arrange your loved one’s funeral but are unable to meet the costs of a traditional funeral you may wish to arrange a direct cremation.

Direct cremations provide a simple solution that is less expensive and gives you control over arrangements. Direct cremations are provided by many funeral directors at a reasonable cost that can start from around £1500.

It is advisable to receive quotes from at least three funeral directors prior to selecting a provider as costs and services can vary.

There is more information on bereavement in our Deaths, funerals and cremations section.

If you need support following a death, Cruse Bereavement Care can help.  If someone you know has died and you need to talk, you can:

Private and/or Green Burials

More and more people are considering different sorts of funeral as an alternative to traditional religious services and cremations.  Many of which are along more environmentally friendly lines such as woodland burials or burial at home if the size of the grounds allows it.

If you are planning a private burial - which includes those not in a churchyard or cemetery - you must first register your intention of doing so. It is advisable to consult both the Environment Agency and Cornwall Council Environmental Protection team about possible pollution of water courses.

Even if you own the land concerned, you must check the deeds to ensure there are no restrictions on what the property may be used for.  Although planning permission is not strictly necessary if you own the freehold, it is advisable to consult the local area planning office and environmental health department who will want to ensure that the local water table will not be affected.  It seems that if this is the desired choice, then you should talk to the appropriate authorities well in advance.

A burial at home is also likely to bring down the value of your home, possibly by up to 25 percent.  It is also worth bearing in mind the possible emotional and practical difficulties presented by moving house.  Once remains have been buried, they may not be disturbed or removed without authority.  Your family will have to face leaving the grave behind or apply for a licence for exhumation. A record of the burial should be made and kept with the deeds or other relevant documents relating to the land.

Exhuming a deceased 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.

Exhumation of both buried and cremated remains generally requires a Ministry of Justice licence and may also require permission from the Church.  It is an offence to exhume any human remains without first obtaining the necessary lawful permissions.  Funeral directors can help in obtaining these.

Exhumations occur for a number of reasons, and there are a number of requirements including:

  • Relevant licence/s which will also contain certain conditions that must be observed.
  • 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.
  • 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 all licence conditions are met.
  • If the conditions of the licence cannot be met, or there are public health or decency concerns, the exhumation may not proceed.

Please consult our fees and charges schedule for details of how much the Council charges for its exhumation services. 

Public health funeral information and statistics

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