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Frequently asked questions

Please find below a range of frequently asked questions for funeral firms about operating during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. If you have a question that is not answered here, please email info@nafd.org.uk.

 

Following Royal Assent, the Coronavirus Act is now law. Changes to how deaths are registered are now in force.  Please click the links below for further details.
 

The Coronavirus Act 2020 which received Royal Assent on Wednesday 25 March 2020 has made changes to the regulation of cremations. Click here for Ministry of Justice guidance.

On 19 April, a change was announced to Cremation Medical Certificate (form 4). It was updated to provide for a medical practitioner completing the form on their computer or other device to embed an electronic signature. This will enable the form to be sent via another person’s email account, such as a medical administrator, without the form having to be first printed and signed.

You can find the form by clicking here.

You may wish to pass this information to medical practitioners who may be requested to complete a cremation medical certificate.

The NAFD does not recommend that members undertake, or assist in, the activity of death verification at this time (either on their own or through a video call to a GP) and the Government has made it clear that funeral directors should not feel under pressure to do so. NAFD members are also advised that verifying death is not supported as a recognised activity under the NAFD membership Professional Indemnity cover.

If you decide to undertake this activity, you should check whether it is acceptable to your Employers and Public Liability insurers and seek relevant Professional Indemnity insurance that will protect you for this activity.  Please be aware it is unlikely to be construed as a normal activity of your business as a funeral director and may not therefore be covered by your insurance arrangements.

The government has categorised all those responsible for ‘management of the deceased’ as key workers. This is deliberately broad term to ensure employees of funeral homes, cemeteries, crematoria and other key firms can seek support with childcare as needed.

Funeral firms should follow the specific guidance for their part of the UK:

  • England and Wales: Click here to visit the PHE guidance for care of the deceased ( last updated 12 May 2020).
  • Scotland: Click here for links to guidance issued by the Scottish Government on 13 May.
  • Northern Ireland: updated interim guidance was issued by Department of Health - Northern Ireland, on 2 July, click here to download a copy.

The most recent Public Health England guidance indicates that, while body bags are not necessary when collecting someone known or suspected to have died from COVID-19 for infection control purposes, their use could be of practical importance for funeral directors when collecting the body of a deceased person from the place where they have died in the community.

We are advised by the Cabinet Office that funeral service employees are on the list of frontline workers that will be tested.

On 6 March, the Department for Health and Social Care and the Cabinet Office, confirmed that funeral directors will shortly be able to access the stocks of PPE through their local resilience forum.

Click here to find details of your local resilience forum.

The guidelines for funerals are designed to minimise the risk of transmission between mourners and to key workers (including funeral, cemetery and crematorium staff) so apply equally to all funeral services.

Updated government guidance for funerals in England, released on 9 July:

    • allows both family and friends to attend a funeral (e.g. removal of limitation to close family/household only);
    • increases the number of people who can attend a funeral, up to 30 maximum in places of worship and private dwellings – even if venue capacity is higher. Business and venues following COVID-19 secure guidelines can host larger groups;
    • allows mourners to stay overnight outside their home. Mourners returning from overseas who quarantining may still attend the funeral; and
    • advises on the safe management of funeral venues, including keeping a note of attendance for Track and Trace purposes.

On 10 July the Scottish Government announced that:

  • Up to 20 people will be allowed to attend funerals from 15 July
  • Restrictions will be removed on the categories of people who could attend funerals, which has generally been limited to close family or people living in the same household only
  • The new rule does not apply to gatherings after, such as a wake, which remain subject to the rules that apply for all other indoor and outdoor gatherings.
  • The new 20 limit for funerals also remains subject to “strict rules” on the two-metre physical distancing.

Government guidance also makes it clear that close families who are in high-risk categories or are self-isolating should be enabled to attend.

We have created a Frequently Asked Questions covering a wide range of questions about funerals during COVID-19, please click here to visit the FAQ page.

In line with Public Health England guidance, published on 31 March 2020, families are urged not to seek to delay the funeral.

It is not clear when it will be possible to lift the restrictions and some aspects of them may remain in force for many months. The law allows for the restrictions to last for up to two years. It is also possible that restrictions may be tightened further and funerals may take place with no mourners permitted to attend.

For all of these reasons, and to ensure organisations managing funerals are able to cope with the increased number of deaths, families are advised to work with funeral directors to arrange a small, immediate family funeral service now and a larger memorial service or celebration of life at a later date.

Most places of worship are now able to hold funeral services. Please contact your funeral director and they will be able to advise you on the arrangements in place for your chosen funeral venue.

Public Health England advice (published on 9 July) states that, if you are required to meet with the bereaved in their own home, but will not make direct contact with the deceased, PPE (including masks) are not required. However, you should:

  • maintain a safe distance (at least 2 metres)
  • on entry to the home, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds – where facilities to wash hands are not available, hand sanitiser should be used, and you should carry this with you at all times
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth and wash your hands again when leaving the property.

If you wish to provide face coverings for your staff to wear during these meetings, then that is a choice you are free to make as a business – but please note it is not required or advised as necessary by official guidance.

If clients wish to visit you in the funeral home, then in England they are not required to wear a face covering, but in Scotland they are – under current regulations.

Funerals should not be arranged in person if anyone involved has symptoms or should be self-isolating, in accordance with government advice.

Face coverings are required when visiting a funeral home in England and Scotland and are recommended in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Face coverings are required during all indoor funeral services (including places of worship, burial ground chapels and crematoria) in England and Scotland. In Northern Ireland and Wales face coverings are recommended but not mandatory.

Many funeral firms have now reintroduced the use of limousines, following guidance to keep passengers and employees safe and adapting vehicles with the use of protective screens.

Government guidance says:

Mourners should also follow the advice on social distancing when travelling to and from the funeral. Wherever possible, mourners should travel to the venue in a car by themselves or with people from their household or support bubble (if applicable). If this is not possible and funeral transport is required:

  • the number of people in each car should be kept as low as possible
  • there should be good ventilation (keep the windows open)
  • if possible, maintain social distance between passengers, maximising the distance through appropriate seating positions
  • mourners who are not from the same household or support bubble should face away from each other
  • vehicles should be cleaned regularly using gloves and standard cleaning products with particular emphasis on handles and other surfaces that passengers may touch
  • the driver and passengers should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after the journey or use hand sanitiser. They should cover their mouth and nose with disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing or with the crook of their elbow if no tissues are available
  • they should avoid touching their faces and dispose of used tissues in a bin immediately

If mourners are using shared transport with others that they do not normally meet and where social distancing is not possible, they should consider wearing a face covering. If public transport is necessary, mourners are advised that wearing a face covering is mandatory on public transport in England, unless you are exempt for health, disability or other reasons.

If the hospital does not remove the pacemaker prior to the funeral director taking the deceased person into their care, Public Health England guidance confirms that embalmers may undertake this procedure using the appropriate PPE. The British Institute of Embalmers has issued specific guidance on this process to its members and the Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that funeral directors will be able to access PPE supplies through their local resilience forum. You can find your local forum by clicking here. However, we are aware that some funeral directors’ own policy is not to embalm or remove pacemakers from confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases.

The National Association has discussed this issue with the Department for Health and Social Care and has expressed concerns, on behalf of member firms, that many employees who are going out to collect deceased people are not medically trained or experienced in verifying that death has occurred and it is therefore not appropriate for them to undertake this role. The DHSE fully understands these concerns and we have agreed to jointly keep this under review as the situation develops.

On 17 April, the government published new guidance for councils which outlines contingency measures as set out in Schedule 28 of the Coronavirus Act.

These powers allow councils to issue direction if required on whether to bury or cremate someone (wishes of deceased to be taken into account as far as possible), to direct crematoria to operate longer hours and to direct funeral directors to have shorter services.

The government has always been clear that these will only be triggered in exceptional circumstances if there is a public health risk, and do not anticipate that giving councils such powers will be necessary. They can only be triggered if the Secretary of State deems that such action is necessary.

While every indication suggests these are powers that will never be used, it is important to know that they are there and what the implications might be.

The Secretary of State or Minister for the Cabinet Office will only designate a local authority where they consider that as a result of Coronavirus there is, or is likely to be, insufficient capacity in that authority’s area to transport, store or dispose of deceased bodies or human remains.

Any decision to switch on the new local authority powers will be based on a number of factors, including whether funeral directors comply with Local Resilience Forum/local authority requests to take appropriate action within their area that assists capacity. The Act already gives LRFs this power. At the moment they’re asking nicely and funeral directors are advised to comply as best they can.

It is therefore important that funeral directors seek to cooperate with LRFs and do all they can to provide information when asked.

You should only make a report under RIDDOR (The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) when:

  • an unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence.
  • a worker has been diagnosed as having COVID 19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of disease.
  • a worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to Coronavirus.

FInd out more from the Health and Safety Executive here.

The Deceased Management Advisory Group (DMAG), which the NAFD is part of, has received a number of reports concerning body bags, PVC and placing of items in coffins.

DMAG strongly urges funeral directors to follow government advice to use a single body bag, made from materials which do not include PVC, and ensure plastic or other items are not placed in the body bag or coffin.

Read the full guidance here.

On 31 July, the Government confirmed that funeral services can still take place in England with a maximum of 30 people, subject to COVID-19 secure guidelines, in places where there is a local lock down.

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