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Frequently asked questions

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

 

Witnessing the funeral of a loved one plays an important role in helping bereaved families move through the grieving process and not being able to attend can have an impact on long-term health and wellbeing. The Government has made it clear that it wants bereaved people to still have that opportunity, and therefore gatherings for funerals can continue - but only if they take place within strict social distancing guidelines and through the limiting of numbers attending.

Unlike any other life event, witnessing a funeral can’t be deferred and there is no opportunity to repeat it again in the future. Therefore, being able to be there in person, even if as a much smaller group than the family would have wanted, remains an important choice that families must be free to make for as long as possible.

While an outright ban might seem like a more straightforward solution, there is real risk of this having serious unintended consequences for bereaved families. It may be that the family themselves decide that they do not wish to attend, but it is not for us to deny families that opportunity if there is no reason to do so within the Government’s guidelines. The important thing is to get the balance right to ensure mourners and funeral, crematorium and cemetery workers employees are not put at greater risk of infection.

Funeral directors remain absolutely committed to supporting all bereaved people at this very difficult time, but are rightly concerned about increasing the risk of infection to both at-risk groups of mourners and to all those in key worker roles. Like supermarket workers and other essential services, funeral employees have a vitally important and sensitive job to do and so it is critical they are able to do it safely, by being able to stay within the social distancing rules.

The majority of bereaved families are doing their best to adapt their expectations and plans in line with the advice that funeral directors are giving them, despite the obvious distress this is causing them and we are so grateful to them for this.

However, ensuring that funerals remain within the social distancing guidelines is a responsibility we all share. We need the public to support funeral directors in their important work by limiting numbers to the smallest group possible, being honest with funeral directors about their level of exposure to COVID-19 and making sure additional mourners are not invited to come on the day. We know this is incredibly hard, but it is absolutely critical that key workers aren’t put at risk while trying to carry out the Government’s instructions.

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.

It is important to note that all funeral firms have their own policies. These are based on factors such as the number, age and risk category of staff members, facilities available and capacity. For example some may allow visiting in chapel, some may not.

Please also be aware that the policies of crematoria may vary too, not only in terms of numbers permitted to attend by other small but important variations, like whether it’s possible to leave the curtains open, or whether family are permitted to carry the coffin.

The time between death and the funeral will vary according to family needs, available times with the chosen venue, minister or celebrant and other individual considerations.

The process for registering a death has changed under the Coronavirus Act, with the funeral director now able to assist and documentation submitted digitally. This should make the process quicker, easier for bereaved people and more efficient – and would be a welcome permanent change.

The time between the death and a funeral will also be dependent on the cause of death and whether the death is referred to the coroner. Coroner’s procedures remain in place for sudden or unexpected deaths, where something other than COVID-19 is the cause of death - and all of the usual arrangements are in place for that.

In addition, with fewer people attending funerals there is less need for people to wait for a convenient time for others to travel to the funeral.

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.

It is important to check with your funeral director on any restrictions in place at your crematoria. The collection of ashes, and scattering or burial of ashes in gardens of remembrance, are either restricted or temporarily suspended at many locations. Where collection is possible, by either a member of the family or the funeral director, many crematoria are also offering to hold on to ashes for those families who can’t, or prefer not to, make the journey at present.

If you wish to scatter ashes in the UK, then it is important to make sure that all social distancing rules are observed and gatherings are avoided. However, as access to public spaces is severely limited at the moment, families may wish to wait until social distancing rules are relaxed and they are able to scatter their loved ones ashes in the way they would want to.

To send cremated remains abroad, you need to use a special repatriation shipment service. This may still be possible in some circumstances, and families are advised to speak to their funeral director for further details.

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Arranging a funeral

Yes, burial and cremation are both still options and this remains a matter of individual choice. This is particularly important for some faith communities.

Timings will vary from location to location depending upon the facilities and staff available. It is best to talk to your funeral director to find out the situation at your chosen crematorium or cemetery.

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.

In line with Government guidance, funeral services should only be attended by:

  • members of the person’s household
  • close family members
  • if the deceased has neither household or family members in attendance, then it is possible for a modest number of friends to attend

This remains unchanged following publication of the Government's COVID-19 recovery strategy on 11 May 2020.

No specific number has been set by the Government (other than in Northern Ireland, where the Department for Justice has recommended 10) but venue managers may set maximum numbers based upon the ability of each mourners to observe social distancing guidelines.

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

 

Funerals should be arranged over the phone or via other electronic means, wherever possible. If a funeral must be arranged in person, please respect the social distancing guidance – keep two metres apart, wash hands frequently, and cough or sneeze into a tissue/crook of your elbow and limit the number of people attending in person to arrange the funeral.

Do not arrange a funeral in person if anyone involved has symptoms or should be self-isolating, in accordance with government advice. It is vital that we do all we can to reduce the spread of the virus and that funeral service employees (who are key workers) can remain healthy and able to continue supporting bereaved families.

If you wish to view the deceased person by visiting the Chapel of Rest, please make arrangements with your funeral director. Some may have restrictions in place that means this is not possible, or may require it to be at a specific times or with only limited numbers attending at any one time – and all from the same household.

Those who are at an increased risk of serious illness due to coronavirus (as defined by government guidance) are strongly urged not to visit. You can check who this applies to by clicking here.

It may not be possible for the deceased person to be dressed in their own clothes as some funeral firms have taken the decision not to offer services such as embalming or dressing the deceased. Please talk to your funeral director about your wishes to see how they may be able to help you. They may be able to suggest alternatives, such as laying the clothes on top of the person, or using their favourite perfume on the coffin. This may be a useful question to ask when selecting a funeral director to ensure you choose one that is able to meet your needs.

Limousines should only be used if there is no alternative option. Some funeral firms have now withdrawn them from use, because of the risk of infection spreading inside the vehicle.

If used, each vehicle should only be used to carry those living in the same household (in line with social distancing guidance). The driver must be able to abide by social distancing guidelines too, keeping glass screens up and limiting the number travelling to ensure they can sit as far back as possible.

We understand how hard this is for families. There are a number of options that could be considered.

This might range include having an online gathering at the time of the funeral through Google Hangout, House Party, Zoom, WhatsApp or other facility, for all those unable to attend, where you share stories, light candles and play music. Also, ask your funeral director about the possibility of live-streaming or recording the service.

Online memorial sites (your funeral director will be able to recommend some options) often have facilities to share stories, messages and photographs.

Your plans might also include holding a memorial service or celebration of life – whether that is arranged through the funeral director, a preferred place of worship or arranged at home, once social distancing rules are relaxed.

Funeral directors are working to support families to find the right solutions for them. In some cases there will be no cost, in other cases there may be - and so the advice is to talk it through with the funeral director.

We appreciate how hard this is, but it is important that you explain to them that larger gatherings are simply not permitted under current social distancing laws.

Please don’t publicly advertise the funeral details to reduce the risk of other, well-meaning mourners arriving unexpectedly. They may be turned away at the door, which could be distressing for them and the bereaved family. It will also place funeral key workers at unnecessary risk of harm.

During the service, all mourners should remain two metres apart from anyone not living in their household at all times. Refrain from making physical contact with anyone outside of your household.

There may be other changes too. For example, the gardens may be closed, it may not be possible to touch the coffin or for families to be bearers, the curtains may not be able to remain open during the service and all charitable collections should be done online.

The Government has made it clear that it would like to ensure that small groups of close family are able to attend funerals and so, if you are part of the immediate family group that will be attending a funeral, this qualified as a ‘reasonable excuse’ to leave your home.

If travelling a long way, it is important to consider that current restrictions would not permit you to stay overnight at a holiday home or second home, or to stay at the homes of friends and family during your trip. Equally, hotels and bed and breakfasts are also not open. Please also be aware that there are differences between the four nations of the UK as to what is permitted and crossing national borders is therefore discouraged in the Government’s most recent guidance.

 

Yes. You can still use your preferred funeral director and should select them in the normal way. In addition to the questions you may normally ask, it is important to ask about any particular restrictions that might apply to their services at the current time. If you are unhappy, for any reason, you should explain your concerns to your funeral director and, if they can’t be resolved, they should support you in changing to another funeral director. Please note, if they have carried out work on your behalf, costs may already have been incurred, but these should have been explained to you prior to them being carried out.

If the funeral director is an NAFD member, you can also complain to us by clicking here.

Finances

It is likely that total funeral costs will be lower in some cases, as some of the things you might normally associate with a funeral (a printed order of service, some types of floral tributes, receptions afterwards etc.) are not currently applicable.

However, for anyone who may have difficulty in covering the cost of a funeral, the NAFD has been in discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions about the Social Fund Funeral Payment to see how it can be adapted to work more effectively during the pandemic outbreak. The DWP has been extremely supportive and we await their guidance.

There are also other Government options for support, if needed, such as the Childrens Funeral Fund.

Please contact the funeral plan provider to understand how recent restrictions might affect the delivery of the plan. If you have concerns, or need help tracing a funeral plan, you should contact the Funeral Planning Authority using the form available on their website: funeralplanningauthority.co.uk.

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