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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.

Arranging a funeral

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.

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.

Public Health England advice (published on 9 July) states that if funeral directors are to meet you in your home to arrange the funeral, they do not need to wear a mask provided they will not also be coming into contact with the person that has died. However, all parties should:

  • maintain a safe distance (at least 2 metres)
  • wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds/use hand sanitiser
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth

If you wish to visit the funeral home to arrange the funeral, then in England you are not required to wear a face covering, but in Scotland you 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.

On 31 July the government updated its guidance and face coverings will be mandatory for visitors to funeral homes in England from 8 August. Click here to read the guidance.

Visitors to funerals homes in Scotland must also wear a face covering, under separate Scottish regulations.

Those who are self isolating should arranged a funeral 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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 respect social distancing measures.

Singing and certain religious practices are not recommended at the present time - however with certain precautions, recorded music can be played.

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.

Please speak to your funeral director for further advice.

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.

Travellers from abroad must obey the quarantine rules set out by Government and must isolate for 14 days on arrival. However, the regulations permit attending the funeral during this period of isolation.

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.

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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