Frequently Asked Questions

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 person who has died should be contacted. Provided a doctor has seen the person during their final illness (within the previous 14 days) they, or a colleague will either attend to confirm that death has occurred, or will give permission for the person 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 who will be able to help you.

What should I do if a relative dies in Hospital?

If a relative dies in hospital, the doctors who have been treating them there 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 person who has died before transfer from the ward or private room. There may even be a chapel of rest at the hospital specifically for this purpose.

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 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 person who has died for this illness in the 14 days prior to death occurring.

The doctor cannot issue the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death if the person who has died:-
- 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 person who has died 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 person who has died to be taken to their mortuary in order that the death can be investigated and, if necessary, an inquest opened.

What is the Role of Her Majesty’s Coroner?

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.

We are familiar with HM Coroner’s procedures in this area and will be able to advise you how to proceed.

Why do GPs charge for cremation forms?

A 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.

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.

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.

When should I register the death?

All deaths have to be registered, and the people closest to the person who has died 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. In Kent the number to call to do this is 03000415151 - or you can ask your funeral director to help you with this.

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.
You can schedule an appointment through this website:
https://www.kent.gov.uk/births-ceremonies-and-deaths/deaths/register-a-death#tab-2

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;
- Passport;
- 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.

We can 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”).

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. We are 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, some 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.

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. More often than not they are places of beauty and calm and offer a real alternative to more traditional burials in built up cemeteries. 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). Most funeral directors are members of either the Society of Allied Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) or the National Association of Funeral directors (NAFD) and are bound to abide by Codes of Practice which ensure 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. Members of these Associations are 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 –
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/363675/sf200_print.pdf