Frequently asked questions for bereaved people in Northern Ireland
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 28 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 issue a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death it is usually because the circumstances surrounding the death mean it should be referred to the Coroners Service for Northern Ireland 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 28 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 the Coroner.
- If the death is referred to the 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 the Coroner do?
As independent judicial officers, Coroners in Northern Ireland deal with matters relating to deaths that may require further investigation to establish the cause of death. The Coroner can either be a barrister or solicitor and is appointed by the Lord Chancellor.
The Coroner is tasked with investigating deaths that are:
- unexpected or unexplained
- as a result of violence;
- an accident;
- as a result of negligence;
- from any cause other than natural illness or disease; or
- in circumstances that require investigation.
Your local funeral firm will be familiar with 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.
Two certificates need to be signed before a cremation can take place. The first form is by the GP of the deceased and the second by another doctor. Cremation Form B must be completed by the registered medical practitioner who attended the deceased during their last illness. Form C must be completed by a registered medical practitioner who is neither a partner nor a relative of the doctor who completed Form B.
Doctors may charge a fee for the completion of both Forms B and C, as this activity is not 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 Northern Ireland should be registered within 5 days – if this is not going to be possible, you should inform the Registrar.
Which Registrar's Office should I go to?
In Northern Ireland, the death can be registered in any registration district. 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.
What do I need to register the death?
When registering a death that was expected and that has occurred in Northern Ireland, 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 the 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.
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?
You do not need to have registered the death to begin making arrangements with your chosen funeral firm. However, in order for the funeral to take place it is necessary to have registered the death. The funeral itself cannot proceed without the death being registered. It is for this reason that some funeral firms may be reluctant to make arrangements for a funeral before they are given the registrar’s Certificate for Burial or Cremation (the “Green Form”).
Who will lead the funeral service?
Whilst many people opt for a funeral that is in accordance of the faith of the deceased and bereaved, 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 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?
Every funeral firm should be able to give you an indication of what the costs of their services are likely to be. It is essential to ensure that, when various firms provide you with an indicative cost, they do so on a like-for-like basis. This should separate their fees from those of third parties such as cemeteries, crematoria, churches, doctors and so forth (known to funeral directors as disbursements).
If you choose a funeral firm that is a member of the National Association of Funeral directors they will be bound to abide by the Code of Practice which ensures that they have price lists available showing the cost of the services they provide. The Code also requires them to provide a transparent breakdown of all their costs.
Every member of the National Association of Funeral Directors is required to provide you with a written estimate and confirmation of arrangements before the funeral takes place. This ensures that you are aware of the costs of the funeral you have arranged. Price is not the only consideration when choosing a funeral firm and, to ensure you obtain the service you want and that you achieve best value, it is advisable to contact at least two funeral firms in your area for an estimate of their funeral costs. Do not assume that all funeral firms charge the same prices or offer exactly the same services.
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.
What if something goes wrong?
There are occasions when a client may feel dissatisfied with aspects of the services provided as part of the funeral. The National Association of Funeral Directors’ Code of Practice – with which all NAFD member firms are obliged to adhere – provides a simple procedure to resolve problems between funeral firms and their clients. Copies of the Code of Practice are readily available from all NAFD member firms. All member firms are required to comply with the decisions of the Funeral Arbitration Scheme, which provides the mechanism for resolving disputes between funeral firms and their clients.