Chapter 12
Improving consumer protection in the funeral sector

Role of local authorities

12.53 As mentioned above, section 49 of the Act currently provides that local authorities may permit the burial of “poor persons” free of charge, and requires them to do so on the signed order of a Justice of the Peace. This does not seem to occur in practice. In Part 2, we argued that there are strong public policy arguments for the continued public provision of cemeteries – in part to ensure access to this important service. However, if local authority providers refuse to allow families to undertake burial or cremation independently of a funeral director, the family will be required to incur additional costs that may inhibit reasonably priced access to burial and cremation. In the United Kingdom, many councils provide a low-cost “Municipal Funeral Service,” available when the deceased is to be buried in a public cemetery or cremated in a public crematorium. This service provides a framework for families wishing to have a minimalist option, as the council will provide a very basic service and charge on a cost recovery basis only.

12.54 We would be interested in the public’s views as to whether there is a case for requiring at least one cemetery within each local authority area to provide a basic burial or cremation service. If considered desirable, such a direct burial service could be provided in a number of ways. For example, local authorities could enter into a partnership with a funeral director in their region to provide a basic coffin and transportation to a cemetery or crematorium. Alternatively a local authority could offer a minimalist service as part of its cemetery services. If total costs including cremation or burial were pegged to the Work and Income grant, there may be a case for removing the current obligation on local authorities to bury bodies free of charge in certain circumstances.