Cremations in england: how the pandemic has changed paperwork

Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors has been arranging funeral services since 1855. Staff at our branches in Horsham, Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint are well versed in all aspects of funeral arrangement for both cremation and burial. Our 167 years’ experience in West Sussex has made us expert in the legal and local requirements that allow ceremonies to take […]

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Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors has been arranging funeral services since 1855. Staff at our branches in Horsham, Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint are well versed in all aspects of funeral arrangement for both cremation and burial. Our 167 years’ experience in West Sussex has made us expert in the legal and local requirements that allow ceremonies to take place. Jennifer explains how the recent pandemic has had an unexpected impact on cremation arranging…

Did you know it used to take at least twelve sheets of paper to arrange a cremation?

The process has always required a lot of information to be recorded legally so the necessary documents are long and complex. This is before you factor in internal paperwork required by your funeral director for the administration of your funeral service: notes, financial documents, orders of service… the list is endless!  Moreover, unless the arranger is a whizz on the photocopier, this number could shoot up to twice as many before you’ve even begun!

At Freeman Brothers, we’re always looking for ways to make our processes more environmentally friendly (and support the same in our wider industry). Our branded pens are made from sugar cane instead of plastic, all our brochures and forms are printed on easily-recyclable stock and the refreshments we offer our clients are always served in washable crockery instead of single-use cups: we’re always on the lookout for new initiatives that help to ease the burden on our planet.

One such initiative happened quite by chance over the recent pandemic lockdown and, though its environmental impact was merely a happy side note to a much more critical need, we embraced it with open arms. The change we’re referring to is the approach to producing paperwork for cremation services.
 
What are cremation papers and why are they important?

Every cremation, regardless of the individual circumstances, requires an Application for Cremation, usually completed with the assistance of a funeral director and signed by the person making the arrangement (the Applicant): this is usually the person’s next of kin or someone with justifiable authority.

Unless the death has been referred to the Coroner, a certificate from a Registrar local to the place of death is also required, and the person’s GP (or another doctor with responsibility) is asked to complete a form. There is no compulsion for the doctor to undertake this commission and so the completion of it commands a fee, charged to the Applicant along with the other costs involved.

The doctor’s form explains the circumstances of the person’s death; affirms that no further examination of the person’s body is necessary before disposal; names any and all others in attendance at the time of death; and guarantees whether there is any hazardous material or device remaining that could interfere with the cremation process.

Before the pandemic, it was customary for a second doctor (one professionally and personally removed from the first) to complete a second form in support of the first by way of assurance that all the detail therein was accurate. Once this was completed, a hard copy of all these documents needed to be submitted to the crematorium the week before the funeral was due to take place so that an independent medical examiner could also check and accept the paperwork, allowing the cremation to take place.

What changed during the pandemic and why did it have to change?

In order to minimise the risk of transmission, the number of people having contact with the paperwork and one another was limited by crematoria accepting submissions electronically. Following suit, a writable .pdf version of the Application and doctors’ forms was produced meaning they no longer needed to be printed out at all. It also helped to enable those involved to work from home, where feasible. In line with this policy, doctors were formally permitted not to make an in-person examination, provided that they had seen and treated the individual relatively recently and were able to describe the circumstances of death with absolute certainty: this meant they could theoretically complete necessary paperwork as soon as they had been notified of the death.

Additionally, due to the excess pressure on the NHS, the time frame in which the paperwork needed to be completed by the doctor was extended and the necessity for a second doctor’s authorisation was eliminated, relying instead on the independent medical examiner to take extra care in ensuring everything included on the form was complete, accurate and viable.

How did this affect funeral directors and those making arrangements?

The most notable change was in the speed of the process. The ability of a single doctor to complete papers without a physical examination meant forms were received by the funeral director very quickly. Conversely, the extra pressure placed on the crematoria’s independent medical examiners prompted most service providers to extend their lead times: families were therefore required to make final choices more promptly than they might previously, though they were usually able to visit the person who had died in a chapel of rest a little sooner.


The use of a typed form also inadvertently helped this process: unlike earlier hand-written submissions, there is now little room for error or doubt so fewer instances of paperwork being questioned or returned due to misunderstanding.

There is also a cost implication – the deceased person’s family no longer has to pay two sets of doctors’ fees: a saving of £82 per funeral.

What might cremation paperwork look like in the future?

We can’t say for certain if or how paperwork may change again: we may see the return of second doctors (along with the additional fee). If this happens, there may be a sense of the process slowing down again, though the added security of three experts involved might result in fewer referrals to the Coroner.

Whatever the outcome, Freeman Brothers will be here to advise you with the very latest information. To find out more or to speak to us about an arrangement, contact us at any of our branches.

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Written by Jennifer Bolt

Funeral Support Assistant

February 9, 2022

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Call us at any time on 01403 254590 or email mail@freemanbrothers.co.uk