A 'pauper's grave' is usually unmarked in a local cemetery (Image: Getty)
If someone has died and the body no next of kin is found, a ‘pauper' or 'public health' funeral must take place
By Emily Sleight
Funerals are never easy to attend, but what about the funerals of people who have been unclaimed?
It may be hard to believe for some, but on rare occasions there are sometimes what’s known as a ‘pauper funeral’ to cremate or bury people who have died alone or are unclaimed by their relatives.
Every local authority has a ‘statutory duty’ to make arrangements for pauper funerals, which are known officially as ‘public health’ funerals.
However, the term ‘pauper funeral’ is said to now have “derogatory connotations”, said Sarah Jones, director of Full Circle Funerals.
She added: “It is usually referred to as a 'local authority arranged funeral', what is included in the funeral will depend on what had been agreed between the local authority and the funeral director who they have issued the contract to.”
We spoke to Roger Jones, a funeral director at Laurence Jones Funeral Directors in Wirral. Laurence Jones is the chosen contractor for hospitals in Wirral and Chester and has dealt with unclaimed bodies before.
He said: “It can happen a few times. Every area has a contractor for that area, each council and borough will have someone who they will call upon to carry out the funeral arrangements if no one comes forward.
“A pauper's grave is in a local cemetery and is usually an unmarked grave. There is usually no headstone but it is on record and will usually have three or four different people in it."
When it comes to the burial of an unclaimed body, it’s usually the essential parts of a funeral but on a very basic level.
Roger continued: “We’re contractors in the Wirral and Chester for hospitals and we’ve done this for many years, the council cover the costs of a basic coffin, the hearse and a minister’s free or funeral celebrant.
“There are no optional extras for things like flowers or printing costs, but they will put the hearse, coffin and funeral directors fees to cover the staff.”
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If someone passes away at home and a relative can't be traced, there are often notices in the newspaper to see if any relatives will come forward.
“If no one comes forward, the council for the area will appoint their contractor and carry out the burial.”
Public health funerals don’t happen all too often according to Roger, who said: “There’s a very small percentage of funerals that are appointed to contractors from the hospitals or the councils.
“If you were to look all around the country, it's probably going to increase year-on-year as death rates increase, but still.”
And if you were wondering whether people can actually attend public health funerals as strangers - the answer is yes.
Roger said: “People can definitely attend. If they don't have any next of kin they might have close friends, or they might have been in a nursing home, in which case, the staff will attend.
"It is quite unusual if no one attends but it can happen very rarely. There’s usually the odd friend or relative who would like to pay their respects.”
Roger concluded that although the funerals are public health funerals, they are still very much a dignified service.
“On occasions, although it’s only the basics, they still would get music played at the service even if it’s just background music and a minister or funeral minister will lead a short service in the usual way. It's still a dignified service.”