Public Health Funerals

FOI ID: 
8186
FOI Date: 
Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Funerals arranged by the Council under Section 46 Public Health Act.

1.            How many such funerals has the Council arranged since 15th July 2021?

2.            In each case please disclose:

a)            The name and last residential address of the deceased

b)            The deceased’s dates of birth and death

c)            Whether the deceased’s next of kin/family members have been traced

d)            Whether the deceased’s estate has been referred to the Government Legal Department or elsewhere

3.            Has the Council passed this information to any other individual or organisation (either formally through a FOI request or by other means)?

4.            Does the Council work with any genealogist? If so, which?

5.            Does the Council publish a list of Public Health Funerals it has arranged? If so:

a)            Where is the list published (please provide web url if on-line)?

b)            How often is the list updated?

c)            When was the list last updated?

6.            Who in the Council is responsible for the Council’s Public Health Funerals? Please advise us of their names and contact details.

 

RESPONSE

1.            5

2.            I can confirm that Scarborough Borough Council does hold information relevant to your request, however it is the Council’s position that the information is exempt from disclosure by way of sections 21, 22 and 31(1)(a) of the FOIA, each of which shall be explained below.

 

Section 21 – Information Accessible to Applicant by Other Means

Section 21 of the FOIA states:

 

(1)         Information which is reasonably accessible to the applicant otherwise than under section 1 is exempt information.

(2)         For the purposes of subsection (1)—

a.            information may be reasonably accessible to the applicant even though it is accessible only on payment, and

b.            information is to be taken to be reasonably accessible to the applicant if it is information which the public authority or any other person is obliged by or under any enactment to communicate (otherwise than by making the information available for inspection) to members of the public on request, whether free of charge or on payment.

 

Where persons die without any identifiable next of kin, the Council are responsible for arranging burial of the deceased person, and to make preliminary steps towards identifying the assets within the deceased person’s estate. Once any costs are paid from the estate, it can then be referred to the Bona Vacantia Division of the Treasury Solicitor’s Department. Therefore some of the information you have requested is already reasonably accessible upon the Treasury Solicitor’s website. The website provides a list of all advertised estates and stipulates surname, first name, place of death and date of death.

Furthermore, date of birth and last known address information are contained upon an individual’s death certificate. Death certificates are available via the General Register Office. Full details as to how you can access this information are contained at:

https://www.gov.uk/order-copy-birth-death-marriage-certificate

It is therefore our position that this information is exempt from disclosure as it is reasonably accessible to you by other means.

 

Section 22 – Information Intended for Future Publication

Section 22 states:

 

(1)         Information is exempt information if—

a.            the information is held by the public authority with a view to its publication, by the authority or any other person, at some future date (whether determined or not),

b.            the information was already held with a view to such publication at the time when the request for information was made, and

c.             it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the information should be withheld from disclosure until the date referred to in paragraph (a).

 

Where an estate has been referred to the Treasury Solicitor, and prior to publication upon their website, a number of essential steps are taken to ascertain the value of the estate and to secure the assets. Once this process is complete, and where there is no reason not to publish, details are placed upon the bona vacantia website (being surname, first name, place of death and date of death)

 

Information concerning surname, first name, place of death and date of death, which falls within your request and relates to estates which have been referred to the Treasury Solicitor (but have not yet been published) is caught by this exemption.

t is accepted that the Treasury Solicitor’s Department will not publish details relating to all of the estates referred to them. That said, at the time the information is communicated to the Treasury Solicitor, and up to the point that the Treasury Solicitor makes the decision not to publish, the information is held and processed with a view to publishing subject to enquiries being completed.

 

The Council is therefore satisfied that this exemption is engaged in respect of the types of information described above.

 

This exemption is subject to a public interest test, which requires the Council to weigh the public interest in disclosure against the public interest in maintaining the exemption. Only where the public interest lies in disclosure will the information be disclosed.

 

It is clear that you, having made the request, have an interest in the requested information. That aside it is the wider public interest in this information which is to be considered.

 

The Council acknowledge there is a public interest in understanding the Council’s role in the process of dealing with persons who die without next of kin. That said it is difficult to see how exactly the disclosure of the requested information will aid this process.

 

The public no doubt have an interest in the information however it is more likely that this interest equates to public curiosity.

he public have a strong interest in ensuring that the Treasury Solicitor is able to conduct their statutory functions (in particular making initial enquiries prior to publishing details) properly. Premature disclosure of information relating to an estate is likely to prejudice this function.

 

Having considered the public interest arguments the Council is satisfied that the public interest is in maintaining the exemption.

 

Section 31(1)(a) – Law Enforcement

Section 31 states:

 

(1)         Information which is not exempt information by virtue of section 30 is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice—

a.            the prevention or detection of crime,

 

The disclosure of information concerning assets of deceased persons and their last known address would be likely to prejudice the prevention of crime. For example disclosure would make the estates more vulnerable to fraud.

 

There are genuine concerns to be raised about disclosing the last known address of the deceased, as their property is likely to be unoccupied and may also still contain the deceased’s personal papers and assets.

 

Empty properties are an obvious target for vandalism, theft, arson and squatting. Although squatting is not of itself a criminal act, criminal activity and anti-social behaviour is closely associated with it. Disclosure of the last known address would highlight those properties to criminals. If the Council were also to disclose details of the value of the deceased’s estate, this would further assist criminals in locating assets.

 

Any criminal activity at an empty property would undoubtedly have a considerable impact upon property owners, occupiers, neighbours and the neighbourhood in general. Criminal activity would likely cause distress and have a detrimental effect upon property value, causing loss and damage. The efficient deployment of police resources would be affected and would therefore be likely to be prejudicial to the prevention or detection of crime.

Additionally the Land Registry, who keep details of registered properties in England and Wales, are increasingly being targeted by criminals who make fraudulent claims as to the ownership of property. Such activity is vastly more likely where the property in question is empty and the owner has died without any known next of kin. Therefore because the likelihood of challenge by a person genuinely entitled to the property is reduced, the criminal may obtain title to valuable property by means of a criminal act which would be prejudicial to the rightful owner.

 

Disclosure would also impact upon the Land Registry’s efforts to prevent and detect criminal activity. It would increase their requirement for anti-fraud measures and consume resources which could be better utilised elsewhere. Additionally, the public's faith in the Land Registry would likely be prejudiced and undermined.

 

The Council is satisfied that the disclosure of the requested information would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime, however this exemption is also subject to a public interest test.

 

It is appreciated that the public may have an interest in this information, however this interest is more akin to public curiosity.

 

The public have an interest in empty residential properties being brought back into use. Disclosure of information which highlights empty property may result in those properties being brought back into use more quickly. That said, no disposal can be made until the property is transferred to either a next of kin who has been located, or to the Crown. Disclosure of last known address would not therefore have the effect of the property being brought back into use any sooner than would ordinarily be so.

The public have an interest in ensuring that the Council deal with bona vacantia in a proper manner, however again disclosure of the requested information is unlikely to assist in satisfying this interest. The Council have proper procedures, policies and scrutiny functions in place to ensure propriety, and in any case there are no credible allegations of misconduct or wrongdoing which may increase the public interest.

 

There is a strong public interest in avoiding likely prejudice to the prevention of crime.

 

There is a public interest in avoiding damage to property.

 

There is a public interest in ensuring the efficient use of police resources.

 

There is a public interest in reducing the indirect consequences of crime, which in this instance would be the impact on property owners, occupiers, neighbours and the neighbourhood in general (as set out above), and upon bodies such as the Land Registry. There would also likely be an impact upon the value of the estate in question and therefore a corresponding loss for the ultimate recipient.

 

There is a public interest in reducing the impact of crime upon individuals. Again, crime resulting from any disclosure of the requested information would likely impact upon those in the vicinity, and the ultimate recipient of the estate.

 

The Council is therefore satisfied that the public interest weighs in favour of maintaining the exemption.

 

3.            No

 

4.            The Council does not work with a genealogist

 

5.            The Council does not publish a list of public health funerals arranged

 

6.            REDACTED, Technical Officer (Housing), residentialregulationteam@scarborough.gov.uk. 01723 232323