Covid-19 and Cemeteries and Crematoria – Frequently Asked Questions

On this page we will feature the questions that members are asking, and the answers we are giving.

Q. How many people can attend a burial or cremation service?

A. The Government has stated that funerals are exempt from the restriction on social gatherings of only two people, but have issued guidance that says that immediate family only may attend, whether this is a burial or a cremation. We have issued joint guidance with the FBCA to define what constitutes immediate family. Anybody subject to the requirement to self-isolate, or if they are showing any of the symptoms of Coronavirus, must not attend a funeral. Anyone who attends a funeral must observe the rules on social distancing. The exemption of funerals by the Government does not give permission to people to attend a funeral en masse – the number must be restricted according to the Government’s advice. This is, of course, very difficult for those that wish to attend and pay their respects, and we would urge our members to work with funeral directors, celebrants and clergy to help craft alternatives to a full funeral. If offered, services can be streamed via the web, or recorded and played back at a later date. People who can’t attend in person can be encouraged to think about the person at the same date and time as the funeral, and spend some time in quiet reflection. People could be encouraged to write down their thoughts and memories of the person for reading at the funeral, or at a later date. People could light a candle in their home at the same time as the funeral. If nobody can attend the burial or cremation, there could be concern that standards are not being met; a photograph showing the coffin placed in the grave or on the catafalque may be an option to discuss with families. Memorial services can be held at a later date at which families can gather and remember the person who has died. We need to keep being caring and creative to help families as much as possible at this most unusual and unprecedented time.

Q. Can authorities take the decision to close the cemetery or crematorium grounds

A. Yes. In England, crematoria must be closed for anything other than funeral services (as required by the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. We have had reports of people using the cemeteries as an alternative to parks to get round the social distancing measures. This is not acceptable and could compromise the aims of the Government’s measures to slow the spread of the virus. The Government gave very clear guidance about the reasons that people can leave their homes – visiting a cemetery or crematorium other than for a funeral, and then in limited circumstances (see question above) is not one of them. We are currently seeking clarification on whether the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 applies to cemeteries as well as crematoria.

Q. Have changes to cremation certificates been made yet?

A. Yes. A Confirmatory Certificate, Form 5, is no longer required.

Q. Can cremation paperwork be sent electronically?

A. The Cremation Regulations 2008, as amended, provides for crematoria to accept forms electronically. The Ministry of Justice have issued guidance to cremation authorities and crematorium managers that details what is required for the electronic submission of forms. Medical referees can receive the forms electronically to save them having to visit the crematorium. Any electronic communications must be via a secure system and not a social media app, for example. The Guidance requires that forms come from a reliable source. Should somebody completing the forms give misleading information, the onus will be on them and not the cremation authority. A Medical Referee needs to check and be satisfied that the forms have come from a reliable source. The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Commencement No. 1) Regulations 2020 enables Registrars to send the disposal certificate to a cemetery or crematorium. The Deputy Registrar General has issued Guidance on this subject, which can be viewed here.

Q. Can a funeral director sign a Cremation Form 1?

A. Ideally the funeral director would not sign a Form 1, but would advise the applicant to complete it electronically and email it to the crematorium. The Medical Referee would need to be satisfied that such a form has come from a reliable source; if so the form would be deemed to have been signed. In cases where it is not possible for the applicant to complete a Form 1 electronically, the funeral director can apply instead. In these circumstances, the funeral director should take the relevant details over the phone, complete the Form 1 and sign it, stating the reason why the near relative/executor is unable to do so. The funeral director should include the contact details for the person who would have been the applicant. The Medical Referee can then make any enquiries that they deem necessary.