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 revised its guidance on attendance at a funeral – a copy of the revised guidance can be seen here. The main points in the guidance for cemetery and crematoria teams to note are:

Those organising a funeral should adhere to the following advice:

  • restrict the number of mourners who attend so that a safe distance of at least 2 metres (6 ft) can be maintained between individuals
  • the size and circumstance of the venue will determine the maximum number that can be accommodated whilst also facilitating social distancing, but numbers should be minimised as far as possible. Venue managers may set caps on numbers in order to ensure this
  • only the following should attend, alongside the Funeral Director, Chapel Attendant, and funeral staff:
    • members of the person’s household
    • close family members
    • or if the above are unable to attend, close friends
    • attendance of a celebrant of choice, should the bereaved request this
  • mourners who attend should be signposted to the advice on social distancing and that they should not attend the funeral if they are unwell with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • venue managers should ensure that handwashing facilities with soap and hot water and hand sanitiser are available and clearly signposted
  • venue managers should ensure that processes are in place to allow a suitable time to clean and disinfect the area in which the service has taken place both before and after each service, paying attention to frequently touched objects and surfaces, using regular cleaning products
  • venue managers should consider how to manage the flow of groups in and out of their venues to minimise overlap between different groups and allow for adequate cleaning
  • venue managers should maximise ventilation rates of the premises by opening windows and doors where possible

Local Authorities should ensure funeral arrangements and numbers of attenders are consistent with this guidance.

The revised guidance also allows those who may have been in contact with the virus and would otherwise be self-isolating to attend a funeral. Those who are extremely clinically vulnerable may also attend a funeral. Both these groups should follow the recommendations in the guidance, and should not attend at a funeral at the same time

The revised Government guidance 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 in England?

A. The Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick, announced on Saturday 18 April 2020 that cemeteries should remain open, and people should be able to attend a funeral. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 26 March 2020 required crematoria to close. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 21 April 2020, removes any reference from 5(8) of the Regulations of burial grounds being closed. Paragraph 5(8A) states that paragraph 8 does not apply to the grounds surrounding a crematorium, including any burial ground or garden of remembrance.

The government’s intention is that cemeteries and crematorium grounds should be open. However, burial and cremation authorities and companies could still take the decision to close them if it becomes impossible to manage health and safety for staff and members of the public or for other sound operational reasons.

Q. Have changes to cremation certificates been made yet?

A. Yes. A Confirmatory Certificate, Form 5, is no longer required. This applies to all cremations that have not yet been authorised by a Medical Referee, regardless of when the death occurred.

Cremation Form 4 has been adapted for the period of the pandemic so that the doctor completing it can sign it electronically.

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 has 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.

Please note that if electronic forms are submitted and accepted there is no requirement for the originals to be delivered to the crematorium. The funeral director should destroy the originals once the cremation has taken place.

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 be the applicant instead. In the circumstances where the funeral director is the applicant, they 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.