Disclosure Log

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Government Legal Department (Bona Vacantia)

Public funerals

We, along with many other local authorities, receive a huge number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from companies offering to trace the next of kin of persons being buried under the Public Health Act 1948. In the early days of FOI (2005) requests came in about twice a year from approximately 3 companies.

More recently about 6 companies and almost a dozen freelance researchers have been making requests every few weeks for information much earlier in the process (indeed before the council had even had a chance to recover the funeral expenses themselves).

In response to this large volume of FOI requests for public funeral information we created this internet area to make public a quarterly a list of public funerals and our progress with costs recovery and all cases we refer to the Government Legal Department (previously the Treasury Solicitor).

In this way we have fulfilled our obligation under section 19 (publication scheme), section 21 (publish information) and section 22 (future planned publication) of the FOI Act. Therefore from this point forward we will refuse all such requests and refer applicants to this web page.

This will ensure all organisations working to trace next of kin will have access to the same information at the same time and significantly reduce the burden to local tax payers of responding to large numbers of FOI requests to private organisations.

The Public Health Act 1984

Under the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984 where no suitable funeral arrangements have been made, or are being made, for a deceased person who has died in the borough of Northampton, public bodies including Northampton Borough Council, Northamptonshire County Council and Northampton General Hospital have a duty to arrange the funeral. This will be a basic funeral to minimise the cost to the local tax payer. The council will then attempt to recover the cost from the deceased persons estate or trace the next of kin to recover the costs. In some cases this is a very quick process, in other cases it can takes months or even years. We are normally successful in recovering the costs. The sums recovered and still outstanding in respect of every public funeral are published in the annually updated spreadsheet tab within the list public funeral speadsheet linked below.

We will not part fund a funeral. If funeral arrangements have already been made, such as instructions to a funeral director, we will not be responsible for any costs incurred. 

We have published details of public funerals on a quarterly basis since January 2012. Data is usually available for 3 years.

In addition we receive a handful of requests each year on the cost of public funerals. Although the cost to us is minimal at the end of each year there is a cost; however, we continue to recover costs in the following years making the provision of exact costs for a specific year very difficult and an ever moving target. The following web page includes copies of the most recent FOI requests relating to public funeral costs:

Reclaiming the costs

Under the Act the funeral costs are the first expenses claimed on any estate. We are entitled to collect any and all sums of money due to or belonging to the deceased and to sell any belongings of the deceased in order to help offset the costs of the funeral and expenses. 

If, after we have deducted the funeral and associated costs

  • the remaining estate is over £500
  • there are no other bills outstanding
  • no known next of kin

then we refer the remaining estate to the Government Legal Department in accordance with their guidelines for referring 'Bona Vacantia' estates. It is at this point we will make information public on this web page.

Although Bona Vacantia referrals are not a frequent occurrence, they do happen from time to time. 

Bona Vacantia referrals* (unresolved).

Please refer to the Government Legal Department for any updates on these cases as we do not hold any information once the case has been referred other than details of any funeral expenses recovered as a result of the tracing work done by the Bona Vacantia

Name** Date of death Referred to Treasury Solicitor
M Patel 10.03.2011 6th October 2011
J Mett 4.07.2009 August 2009
P Fottrell 15.12.2008  
T Richardson 17.01.2008  
L Bourne 05.08.2005  
I Davies 18.04.2005  
O Mathurin 18.07.2004  
E Babb 26.05.2004  

 

*we are not the only public body that refers estates to the Government Legal Department for the borough of Northampton. Please also contact Nothamptonshire Councty Council (for example, for persons dying in care) and Northampton General Hospital (for persons dying under medical supervision).

**Others individuals have been referred; however, next of kin were traced and the estates are progressing in the normal way.

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 first names and addresses have been redacted or withheld under the following two exemptions:

Section 21 - information accessible to applicant by other means.
Although the council can confirm that it holds some of the information requested, it does not accept that it holds the information in its own right, but on behalf of the Government Legal Department. Some details of the estate of those persons who have died can be accessed via the Bona Vacantia website.

Section 31(1)(a) - law enforcement (prevention and detection of crime).
The council will not disclose address details into the public domain where they relate to deceased's empty properties as the property is likely to be unoccupied and might still contain the deceased's personal papers and effects.

We do not believe it to be in the public interest to disclose information relating to empty properties prior to a full and thorough securing of the assets of the estate as undertaken by us, the next of kin or the Government Legal Department.

Additionally, giving out the names of the deceased taken with other information easily available, e.g. the electoral roll, telephone directory entry, 192.com etc. would make identifying properties possible and therefore expose the estate to possbile loss or damage.

Further information

Northamptonshire Registry Office

All deaths have to be registered with the local registrar.

Bona Vacantia

The Bona Vacantia department of the Government Legal Department administer the estates of persons who die intestate without known kin and collect the assets of dissolved companies and failed trusts.