Questions about funerals during the COVID-19 health emergency

Questions about funerals during the COVID-19 health emergency

Why aren’t funerals banned to avoid any risk of infection?

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 well-being. 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 and our employees are not put at greater risk of infection.


Why are there so many restrictions on how many people can attend?

We remain absolutely committed to supporting bereaved families in the areas we serve 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 other essential services, we have a vitally important and sensitive job to do and so it is critical we 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 we 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 would ask that you be  honest with us about your level of exposure to COVID-19 and make sure additional mourners are not invited to come on the day. We know this is incredibly hard, but it is absolutely critical that we all adhere to the Government’s instructions.


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. 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.


How long will the delay be between death and the funeral?

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, and we are now able to assist and documentation can be submitted digitally. This should make the process quicker, easier for bereaved people and more efficient.


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.


Can we still choose between burial and cremation?

Yes, burial and cremation are both still options and this remains a matter of individual choice. This is particularly important for some faith communities.

Are funeral times and days changing?


Timings will vary from location to location depending upon the facilities and staff available. It is best to talk to your funeral director to find out the situation at your chosen crematorium or cemetery.


How many people can attend a funeral?

In line with Government guidance, funeral services should only be attended by members of the immediate family who are not in any of the high-risk categories and are not self-isolating. No specific number has been set by the Government. Only the following people should attend:


  • members of the person’s household
  • close family members
  • if the deceased has neither household or family members in attendance, then it is possible for a modest number of friends to attend


How do I arrange a funeral if I am self-isolating?

Funerals can be arranged over the telephone or via other electronic means. However, if wish to arrange in person, please make an appointment with your local branch and respect the social distancing guidance – keep two metres apart, wash hands frequently, and cough or sneeze into a tissue/crook of your elbow. The appointment will be limited to two people attending in person to arrange the funeral.


Do not arrange a funeral in person if anyone involved has symptoms or should be self-isolating, in accordance with government advice. It is vital that we do all we can to reduce the spread of the virus and that our employees (who are key workers) can remain healthy and able to continue supporting bereaved families.


Can I visit the person that has died in a Chapel of Rest?

Chapel of rest visits can be arranged on an appointment basis and are limited to two or three members of the same household per appointment. Those who are at an increased risk of serious illness due to Coronavirus (as defined by government guidance) are strongly urged not to visit. Please speak to your local branch for the latest guidance.


Can we use a limousine?

Limousines are still available, although we are carrying only three adults that must reside in the same household and will be seated in the rear-most seats. Social distancing must be observed by the limousine occupants prior to, during and after the funeral service - failure to maintain social distancing will result in the limousine(s) being withdrawn from service and alternative transport arrangements will need to be made. 


What do I tell other family members or friends, who want to pay their respects or feel involved in the funeral?

We understand how hard this is for families. There are a number of options that could be considered. This might 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, speak to your local branch about the possibility of live-streaming or recording the service.


You may wish to consider our Memorial Service package - a non-attended or limited attendance cremation now, followed by a celebrant-led memorial service arranged at a later date. More details can be found here:


What do I tell people who still stay they would like to attend?

We appreciate how hard this is, but larger gatherings are simply not permitted under current social distancing laws. We would ask that the funeral details are not advertised publicly 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.


What will happen during the service?

During the service, all mourners should remain two metres apart from anyone not living in their household at all times. Refrain from making physical contact with anyone outside of your household. 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.

If you have any more questions please speak to your local branch. Please click on the button for our contact details.

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