Frequently Asked Questions for bereaved people in England and Wales
What should I do if a relative dies at home?
When a death which has been expected occurs at home or at a nursing home, the doctor who has been treating the deceased should be contacted. Provided the deceased has seen a the doctor during their final illness (within the previous 14 days) the doctor or a colleague will either attend to confirm that death has occurred, or will give permission for the deceased to be transferred to a funeral firm’s premises, if it is your wish for this to happen. You can then contact the funeral firm of your choice, which will attend to transfer the deceased to its premises.
What should I do if a relative dies in Hospital?
If a relative who has been a hospital in-patient dies, the doctors who have been treating the deceased will usually be able to issue the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death.
Ask the ward staff or doctor what you need to do to collect this certificate, or ring your local funeral firm for advice and contact numbers. Most hospitals will give family members the opportunity to sit with the deceased before transfer from the ward or private room. There may even be a chapel of rest at the hospital specifically for this purpose. The deceased will then be taken to the mortuary from where they will be collected by your chosen funeral firm.
The Doctor says he won’t issue the medical certificate of cause of death. Why is this?
If the doctor will not issues a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death it is usually because the circumstances surrounding the death mean it should be referred to HM Coroner for further investigation.
The doctor can only complete the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death if they know the cause of death having seen the deceased for this illness in the 14 days prior to death occurring.
The doctor cannot issue the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death if the deceased:-
- Has died a violent or an unnatural death;
- Has died a sudden death of which the cause is unknown;
- Has died in prison or in such a place or in such circumstances as to require an inquest under any other Act.
- If the death does not fall into these criteria but the deceased underwent an operation shortly before death or there is a suggestion of a possible industrial disease, then it is probable that the doctor will not complete the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death but refer the death to HM Coroner in whose sub-district the death occurred.
- If the death is referred to HM Coroner their office will arrange for the deceased to be taken to their mortuary in order that the death can be investigated and, if necessary, an inquest opened.
What does Her Majesty’s Coroner do?
The office of HM Coroner dates from Saxon times and has evolved down the centuries. Generally, HM Coroner has been, and is, one who acts on behalf of the Crown in legal matters connected with disaster and property rights, treasure trove, shipwreck and the like, thus leading to the investigation of the many deaths which occurred at such a time. Having complete jurisdiction over all sudden and unexplained deaths was a natural extension of his/her powers, and this forms the main part of his/her work today.
Originally HM Coroner was named ‘Coronae Curia Regis’- the keeper of the royal pleas. Today, the correct title of HM Coroner is – ‘Her Majesty’s Coroner for usually the whole or part of a Local Authority area, ie ‘Her Majesty’s Coroner for Southampton’.
The main duties of the Coroner today are:-
- To investigate all sudden and unexpected deaths,
- To investigate all deaths that happen abroad where the body is repatriated to the United Kingdom;
- To give permission to remove bodies out of England and Wales;
- To act for the Crown in respect of treasure trove.
The holder of the post of HM Coroner usually has a legal background and is not infrequently a solicitor. He/she can also be a doctor with a legal background, and is occasionally both. Although the Local Authority supplies the Coroner Service, paying all costs – including the costs of removals by funeral firms acting on behalf of the Coroner – the Coroner is not employed by the Authority, being only answerable to the Crown in the person of one of Her Majesty’s Secretaries of State, namely the Home Secretary.
The Coroner Service is administered by HM Coroner who is assisted by a Deputy, as the service has to be available at all times. In the major jurisdictions HM Coroner may have a Coroner’s Court, offices and a public mortuary all in one facility. However, HM Coroners mostly operate from solicitors’ offices or the like, using Local Authority or hospital mortuaries. In addition to having clerical help, HM Coroners, are assisted by a Coroner’s Officer or Officers. Normally, the Coroner’s Officer is a Police Officer seconded to the Coroner Service working on a full time basis – in plain clothes; however, in more rural areas it can be any Police Officer on duty. With the increasing civilianisation of many areas of Police work, the office is often held by a retired Police Officer or other civilians with some legal background.
The Coroner’s Officer assists by taking statements from witnesses, carrying out investigations required by HM Coroner, arranging for the removal of the body to the appropriate mortuary and generally liaising between the family, pathologist, funeral firm and HM Coroner.
Your local funeral firm will be familiar with HM Coroner’s procedures in your area and will be able to advise you how to proceed.
Why do GPs charge for cremation forms?
A deceased person cannot be cremated until the cause of death has been ascertained and properly recorded. The cause of death must then be verified by a second doctor, entirely independent of the first.
The British Medical Association (BMA) website sets out the procedure as follows:-
“Before cremation can take place two certificates need to be signed, one by the GP and one by another doctor. Cremation Form 4 must be completed by the registered medical practitioner who attended the deceased during their last illness. Form 5 must be completed by a registered medical practitioner who is neither a partner nor a relative of the doctor who completed Form 4.
A fee can be charged for the completion of both Forms 4 and 5 as this does not form part of a doctor’s NHS duties. Doctors normally charge these fees to the funeral firm, which generally passes on the cost to the family. Doctors are also entitled to charge a mileage allowance, where appropriate.
The doctors’ fees are set by the BMA and are reviewed annually.
How do I decide which funeral firm to choose?
Choosing a funeral firm can be difficult, especially if you are confronted with having to make a quick decision.
Membership of a reputable trade association should be mandatory. By choosing a funeral firm which is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors you can be assured it is quality assessed on a regular basis and can be expected to provide a guaranteed level of service. Our member firms are bound by a Code of Practice against which their performance can be measured. In the sad event that the experience is not all that it could be, we also provide a mechanism by which satisfaction can be sought, namely the Funeral Arbitration Scheme. To search for a member firm use the NAFD Member Search.
Many people ask friends or relatives to recommend a firm that they have dealt with, or have heard positive comments about. If you do not have the opportunity to ask advice from others, your local solicitors or doctors will know of local funeral firms. Failing that you can research firms in your area by browsing the internet or looking for advertisements in your local newspapers, parish magazines, or telephone directories.
These will tell you if the firms are members of the National Association of Funeral Directors – this is your guarantee of a quality service. The advertisements may also give you further information, such as whether it is a small family business or part of a larger group.
I was not thinking when I rang the funeral firm. Can I change my mind?
You can change your mind at any time. If you have signed an agreement for services to be provided in the offices of a funeral firm this may not be straightforward. If you signed the agreement at a location other than the funeral firm’s premises then your agreement is subject to the consumer protection legislation and you have the right to a 14 day cooling-off period.
The NAFD’s Code of Practice requires that members should always withdraw in favour of another funeral firm under these circumstances. You should be aware, however, that there may be costs incurred with the first company and you will be responsible for paying that bill.
Why do I have to register the death?
All deaths have to be registered, and the people closest to the deceased person have a legal obligation to do this. Deaths in England and Wales or Northern Ireland should be registered within 5 days – if this is not going to be possible, you should inform the Registrar. In Scotland, deaths must be registered within 8 days.
Which Registrar's Office should I go to?
In England and Wales, the death has to be registered at the registrar’s office in the area where the death occurred. This is the case even if the death occurred a distance from home. However, there is a facility available to attend your local registrar’s office to register a death that occurred in another area. This is called Registration by Declaration, and involves the two registrars transferring documents by fax and post in order to register the death. Depending on the circumstances, this can delay the date of the funeral – ask your chosen funeral firm for advice.
In Scotland, you can register the death at any registration district, as long as it is in Scotland.
What do I need to register the death?
When registering a death that was expected and that has occurred in England or Wales, you will need to take the medical certificate showing the cause of death (signed by a doctor) with you. If available (but don’t worry if not), also take the deceased’s:-
- birth certificate;
- Council Tax bill;
- driving licence;
- marriage or civil partnership certificate;
- NHS medical card;
- proof of address (ie utility bill).
You will need to tell the registrar:-
- the person’s full name at the time of death;
- any names previously used, ie maiden name;
- the person’s date and place of birth;
- their last address;
- their occupation;
- the full name, birth date and occupation of a surviving/late spouse/civil partner;
- whether they were getting a State Pension or any other benefits.
You should also take supporting documents that show your name and address (ie a utility bill) but you can still register a death without them.
The informant will then sign the register, certifying that the information that has been given to the registrar is correct.
When the Coroner is involved, the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death is replaced by one from HM Coroner. Your funeral firm or, if necessary, the Coroner’s Office, will be able to advise you when you will be able to attend the Registrar’s Office to register the death.
In Scotland, more documents are required to register a death. You should take with you:-
- the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death;
- the deceased’s birth and marriage certificate;
- the deceased’s NHS medical card;
- documents relating to the receipt of a pension/allowance from Government funds.
Do not worry if any of these documents are not available as the registrar can still proceed to register the death.
When the registration is complete the registrar will give you, free of charge:-
- a certificate of registration of death for production to the person in charge of the burial ground or crematorium;
- a Social Security registration or notification of death certificate for use in obtaining or adjusting Social Security benefits;
- an abbreviated extract (ie excluding cause of death and parentage details) of the death entry.
You can obtain a full extract of the death entry for a fee.
You can contact your local funeral firm for more information and advice. Or download this advice at:
What will the Registrar give me?
In the majority of cases the registrar will then issue:-
- copies of the entry in the register – on payment of the prescribed fee. NB: copies of the entry, which are usually required for legal purposes, may be obtained from the registrar up to six months from the date of registration. After six months copies can be obtained from The Registrar General, PO Box 2, Southport PR8 2JD;
- the registrar’s Certificate for Burial or Cremation (this form is green in colour). NB: this form should be handed to your nominated funeral firm, which will hand it to the appropriate authority in due course;
- a Certificate of Registration or Notification of Death. This certificate is needed in order to claim benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP);
- leaflets on State benefits and Form 48 (procedure for dealing with Wills).
It is possible that the DWP Form SF200 will be available for those that may need to make a claim for a Funeral Payment from the Social Fund. Once completed, this form should be taken or sent to your local JobCentre Plus with any pension or benefit books in the deceased’s name, or in joint names. Find out more about funeral and death related benefits here – https://www.gov.uk/browse/benefits/bereavement
Do I have to register the death before arranging the funeral?
We have never been a religious family - do we have to have a vicar to take the ceremony?
No, there is no requirement to hold a religious funeral service and there are a number of alternatives. Perhaps a relative or friend could take the service if they feel able to do so. Other members of the congregation could speak or read verses or poems. The British Humanist Association, Institute of Civil Funerals and Fellowship of Professional Celebrants have networks of officiants who will provide a very personal non religious ceremony. Ask your funeral firm for more information or, to organise a humanist ceremony, visit humanist.org.uk or iocf.org.uk It is important to remember that a humanist ceremony is not the same as a non religious ceremony.
Is there any support available for the funeral of a child?
Any loss is tragic but especially that of a child. The NAFD is often asked what support is out there for families in the event of the death of their child.
Although at the discretion of each individual company, many NAFD member funeral directors do not charge their normal fees when entrusted with funeral arrangements for a child and will actively encourage the other organisations involved to minimise or waive their costs also – although these remain outside the funeral directors’ direct control.
The Child Funeral Charity also exists to support families who may need help in meeting the costs of a funeral. You can find out more here: http://www.childfuneralcharity.org.uk/. There are a number of charities who support familes following the loss of a child such as Child Bereavement UK.
The National Association of Funeral Directors is also able to signpost families to other forms of support, including counselling services and to recommend a local funeral director.
What are green funerals and woodlands burials?
“Green funeral” is a term often used to describe funeral services that take a less traditional form and seek to minimise impact upon the world’s natural resources. This may mean choosing a woodland burial ground, deciding not to have overseas-grown flowers at the funeral or selecting a coffin made of materials such as bamboo or wicker. An environmentally responsible funeral need not differ significantly to any other. By checking that the wood used to make a wooden coffin is obtained from sustainably managed resources, using a local cemetery or crematorium and arranging to share vehicles when travelling to and from the funeral would be significant strides to achieving an environmentally responsible funeral. Woodland burial grounds are cemeteries, often privately run, where strict rules govern what can and cannot be buried. If you are considering buying a grave in a woodland burial ground, you should visit to see whether it is what you expect and ask to see their terms and conditions. Of particular interest should be the length of the exclusive right of burial and what the long term plans for the site are. Your funeral firm will be able to provide you with information about woodland burial grounds local to you should you require it.
Funerals can be expensive. How will I know if I can afford it?
Can I get any assistance with funeral costs?
Assistance is available from the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Social Fund which can provide assistance to individuals who meet the required criteria. To qualify you must demonstrate that you are the most suitable person to take responsibility for paying the funeral account – additionally you must be receiving at least one of several qualifying benefits and have insufficient savings to pay for the funeral.
The DWP Funeral Payment will provide a limited amount, which may cover a very basic funeral, or provide a contribution towards a more traditional funeral. Your chosen funeral firm will be able to advise you about the qualifying criteria and the likely contribution available. Form SF200 can be downloaded here –