Freedom of information request response - 06628
Please could you kindly send me any information you may hold relating to 'public health act' or 'welfare' or 'contract' or 'paupers' funerals having taken place or due to take place, and/or persons who have died with no known next of kin since 1/10/19 to the day of your reply. Please include:
- full names of deceased persons,
- dates of death,
- marital status
- maiden surnames of married or widowed females,
- dates of birth or ages at death,
- last known addresses,
- estimated value of estates,
- date(s) when the information was passed (or information that is about to be or likely to be passed) to the Government Legal Department (formerly Treasury Solicitor) or the Duchy of Lancaster or Cornwall or any other 3rd party, or, confirmation that this will not be happening and the reason why.
If your authority holds this information on your website, please confirm whether or not your website information is up to date and send the link. If it is not please provide full details of any unpublished cases, as per the questions above.
We confirm that Eden District Council holds the information you have requested.
The Exemption which Applies
However we consider that the information requested is exempt from disclosure under Section 31(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (`the Act’) and therefore regret to inform you that the Council will be not be releasing it.
Section 31(1)(a) – Law enforcement – prevention and detection of crime
We consider that the information requested is exempt under Section 31(1)(a) of the Act.
This is because under the exemption, it is considered that disclosure would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime.
We have undertaken a public interest test, as required under the Section 31(1)(a) exemption of the Act, in order to ascertain whether the public interest is best served by the disclosure or the withholding of the information. The public interest test is set out below:
Factors in favour of disclosure
- It is in the public interest to provide transparency in respect of the Council’s use of public funds to meet the cost of funerals, particularly at a time of austerity. Disclosure would assist the public in scrutinising the ways in which the Council spends public money, particularly in relation to its role in arranging these funerals.
- There is a case that greater transparency could assist members of the public who may have an entitlement to an estate and also any organisations representing them.
- The disclosure of the information might speed up the probate process and save the Council and the Government’s Legal Department (if there is an estate to refer) time and research in finding a next of kin, which would in turn save public funds.
Factors in favour of withholding the information
- There is an inherently strong public interest in avoiding likely prejudice to the prevention and detection of crime and therefore the Council will not disclose details into the public domain (including to the Council’s disclosure log) of the addresses or names of deceased persons in connection with public health funerals.
- Advertising the addresses of the deceased could leave their properties vulnerable to crime, including anti-social behaviour, criminal damage, arson, organised groups stripping empty properties, identity fraud and the crimes that can be committed using false documents. It can take several months for the Council and other parties to complete their enquiries, during which time a property can remain unoccupied and fully furnished, complete with personal papers and effects. The cost to the public purse of these crimes would be of significant amounts.
- Additionally, disclosing the names of the deceased, taken with other information easily available, such as the electoral roll or telephone directory, would make identifying property addresses relatively easy.
- The Council is entitled to claim on the estate of the deceased to offset any funeral and burial costs and endeavours to do so in each case, therefore minimising the cost to the local taxpayer.
The public interest in providing the information has been carefully weighed against any prejudice to the public interest that might arise from withholding the information. In considering all these factors, it is concluded that in all the circumstances of this case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the requested information.
This response, therefore, acts as a formal refusal notice under Section 17 of the Act.