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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Is there a difference between funerals for those who pass away with COVID-19, as opposed to other causes?
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 and cemeteries may vary too. Your funeral director will be able to advise you.
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 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, 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.
It is also possible that restrictions may be tightened further and funerals may take place with fewer 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.
Scattering of ashes is permitted, but check your plans with your funeral director as there are some restrictions - both in terms of where you can scatter them but also, in certain parts of the UK, how many people can attend at present due to COVID-19 restrictions - particularly during the current lock down period.
To send cremated remains abroad, you need to use a special repatriation shipment service. Families are advised to speak to their funeral director for further details.
Arranging and attending a funeral
How many people can attend a funeral service?
In England, the maximum number is up to 30 (subject to the venue’s COVID-secure limit); in Scotland it’s up to 50 (subject to the venue’s COVID-secure limit); in Northern Ireland and Wales it is subject to the venue’s COVID-secure limit.
From 17 May 2021, the Government has stated its intention to remove the legal maximum cap of 30 on funeral service attendance in England. Instead the maximum attendance will be defined by the venue's COVID-secure limit.
In England, 15 people (not including staff) can attend an ashes scattering, ritual washing or other linked event or custom associated with a funeral at a COVID-secure hospitality venue, or other venue permitted to open for this purpose - such as a community centre or place of worship. The rule of six/two households will still apply to gatherings in private gardens and there should be no household mixing indoors. This guidance will apply until the lifting of lockdown reaches Step 3.
In Scotland, wakes and other ceremonial events are permitted, up to a maximum of 50, in a regulated and COVID-secure setting. Outside a regulated and COVID-secure setting, any gathering must adhere to general rules.
In Northern Ireland, funeral wakes and receptions are not permitted, but the body can be taken home (unless there is a continuing risk of COVID), subject to COVID-secure guidance and household limits.
In Wales, outdoor wakes are permitted for up to 30 people (not including children aged under 11 or carers) and indoor wakes are permitted for up to 15 people (not including children aged under 11 or carers).
Click here for the latest guidance in all four UK nations.
All four UK nations have confirmed that it remains permissible to leave home to attend a funeral to which you have been invited, during lockdown (subject to attendance limits in the relevant country).
It is also permitted to book overnight accommodation to attend a funeral or related commemorative event, but this should not be in another household unless they are in your support bubble.
If you wish to visit the funeral home to arrange the funeral, in any of the four UK nations, you must wear a face covering. Your funeral director may be able to visit you at home to arrange the funeral, please speak to them to enquire.
Funerals should not be arranged in person if anyone involved has symptoms, or should be self-isolating, in accordance with government advice.
Yes, face coverings are mandatory for visitors to funeral homes in all four UK nations. Families can also arrange the funeral over the phone or by email if they would prefer not to visit a funeral home.
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.
Those who are self isolating should arranged a funeral over the phone or via email, wherever possible. If a funeral must be arranged in person, please respect the social distancing guidance – wear a face covering, keep two metres apart, wash hands frequently, and cough or sneeze into a tissue/crook of your elbow. Please also limit the number of people attending in person to arrange the funeral. Do not arrange a funeral in person if anyone involved has symptoms.
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.
In terms of whether funeral firms to offer viewings, ritual washing or other aspects of personal care, In the early days - when understanding of COVID was still emerging - guidance was to avoid all but necessary care for deceased people and so firms were understandably very cautious.
Now, these services are permitted under certain circumstances, but the decision to offer them remains with the individual funeral business, based on a risk assessment of their individual circumstances and ability to offer such services safely, given supervisory and social distancing requirements in the guidance. Some firms have taken the decision that they can offer these services, while others have decided they are still not able to at present.
This is something that should be discussed at the outset between the client family and funeral director to make sure the funeral director can meet their needs. As part of our Funeral Director Code, the NAFD is committed to ensuring funeral firms act transparently and so we would expect our members to explain that this is their firm’s policy, rather than Government guidance.
Most places of worship are now able to hold funeral services - with certain restrictions in place. Please speak to your funeral director for further details.
Public Health England guidance says: "ensure mourners avoid playing musical instruments that are blown. Some professional, socially-distanced vocal or instrumental contributions can take place, either indoors or outdoors, but outside wherever possible. Singing should be limited to a small, set group of no more than 6 people, staying at least 2 metres apart, and should not include audience participation. There is additional guidance on the performing arts. Consider using instrumental music or recordings as an alternative to live singing.
Many funeral firms across the UK have now reintroduced the use of limousines, following guidance to keep passengers and employees safe and adapting vehicles with the use of protective screens. Passengers are required to wear a face covering on public transport, in taxis and private hire vehicles unless you are exempt for health, disability or other reasons.
Northern Ireland has reintroduced limousines from 24 May 2021 saying:
- While mourners are encouraged to travel in a car by themselves or only with people from their households - limousines may now be used to transport mourners.
- Up to six people (not including children aged 12 or under) from no more than two households can travel together in the limousine and must be wearing a face covering when inside the vehicle. Windows should remain open when the vehicle is occupied.
In England, from 17 May, groups of up to six, or two households, can now share private transport, including limousines, when attending a funeral.
What do I tell other family members or friends, who want to pay their respects or feel involved in the funeral?
In all four nations of the UK there are restrictions in place on how many people can gather for a funeral. Please speak to your funeral director who can advise you on restrictions in your area and chosen venue.
We understand how hard this is for families as not everyone who would like to be there may be able to attend. 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.
The planned change to lockdown rules on Monday 12 April 2021, which will permit up to 15 people to attend a funeral reception or wake in England, will only apply to gatherings which take place at a COVID-secure outdoor hospitality venue, or other venue permitted to open for this purpose - such as a community centre or place of worship.
The rule of six/two households will still apply to gatherings in private gardens and there should be no household mixing indoors. This guidance will apply until the lifting of lockdown reaches Step 3.
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 (may not currently be applicable. Speak to your funeral director about the range of services they are able to offer you.
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.
Click below for details.
There are also other Government options for support, if needed, such as the Childrens Funeral Fund in England.
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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