It was revealed at a Cornwall Council meeting last month that cash and valuables belonging to dead people were kept by council officers in their homes and cars.

The information came to light during an audit investigation of the local authority’s handling of public health funerals, which was carried out after concerns were raised by council staff.

It found there was inadequate record keeping, no evidence of cash and valuables being handed to the officer responsible for banking and a lack of management oversight and control. The council’s audit committee heard on Friday, November 24 that there was a “high risk” associated with the service.

Public health funerals are provided by local authorities for people who have died and have no next of kin, or whose next of kin, relatives or friends are unable or unwilling to make the necessary arrangements for a funeral.

They are designed to protect public health and are important in ensuring that all individuals are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances.

Holly Sykes, chief internal auditor said the council’s environmental protection team did not have access to sufficient secure storage across council offices to deposit valuables recovered from the homes of the deceased, “which has resulted in assets being stored in officer homes and personal vehicles, posing a risk to the safeguarding of officers in addition to the security of client assets”.

She added: “Record keeping regarding items removed from the properties was inadequate and inconsistent. There was no audit trail regarding handover of cash and valuables to the officer responsible for banking. The audit further identified a lack of management oversight and control of, and involvement in, operational procedures, in particular with regards to banking.”

Ms Sykes said: “Our opinion is one of high risk due to the weaknesses in the control environment and the potential for reputational risk to the council. The council is in a position of trust and has a public duty to ensure beyond doubt that its systems and procedures protect residents’ assets.”

She told councillors that the audit didn’t find any incidents of fraud or inappropriate behaviour by staff.

The meeting heard that the problems arose in part due to a rising number of public funerals and the council’s move to working from home, which meant a lack of storage and capacity for staff. As a result of the investigation, the council is now going to stop retrieving cash and valuables from homes until suitable measures are put in place. Officers will wear bodycams when moving through properties to record any cash or valuables found. The details would also be recorded and witnessed by two staff members.

Committee chairman Cllr Armand Toms responded: “If say you found £20,000, a Cartier brooch and a Rolex watch, then you secured the property and went away, and someone broke in, would we be corporately responsible for that?” He was told the council would not liable for any criminally responsible if the property had been secured.

Cllr Laurie Magowan said the lack of management oversight of the service before the audit was carried out was “concerning”.