Registering a death in England – how things have changed during the pandemic

Freeman Brothers is an independent funeral director first established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company continues to be owned and operated by the Freeman family today, and now has further offices in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. Much has changed in the funeral industry since the business was first set up, and since the […]

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Freeman Brothers is an independent funeral director first established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company continues to be owned and operated by the Freeman family today, and now has further offices in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. Much has changed in the funeral industry since the business was first set up, and since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many adjustments have been made within the industry. Here, Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, details how registering a death in England and Wales has changed, and what this could mean for the future…

The process of registering a death was completely new to me when I started at Freeman Brothers in 2017. I’d never set foot inside a funeral director’s office – happily, I hadn’t been in the position of needing to arrange a funeral, and that is still the case today. I received great training on the regulations around funerals, how the process of organising one works, and what other procedures are in place which impact our services.

Registering a death seemed to me to be a drawn out and old-fashioned process. At that point in time, many other related services had been automated or brought online. For example, the renewal of passports and driving licenses were available online, which suits my generation enormously! I could appreciate why registering births and deaths might be more suited to an in-person meeting, but it still seemed awkward.

Prior to the pandemic, to register an expected death in England and Wales, a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) needed to be issued. This could often take several days – deaths don’t tend to occur on a schedule, and Doctors are entitled to days off! Once this paperwork was completed, it had to be collected by the Applicant (the person making the funeral arrangements and registering the death) from the Doctor’s place of work (GP surgery, hospital, or hospice) and taken by them to their booked appointment with the Registrar. Said Registrar also had to be located within the District where the death had occurred, it wasn’t a case of choosing your nearest office, the one with the most convenient appointment for you to attend, or the one with the best car parking facilities- although it should be said that this improved several years ago when Registration Districts quite often became synonymous with counties so there was at least a broader choice to be made.

The Registrar would then complete their own paperwork in order to register the death, which would result in the production of a Green Form (as well as however many Certified Copies of an Entry of Death the Applicant required). This would then be taken by the Applicant to their nominated funeral director – again, usually by hand and very occasionally via courier or registered post. At this point, it would be possible to set a date for the funeral or confirm a provisional date, as the Green Form is needed by the venue at which the burial or cremation takes place as evidence that the death has been registered.

Due to both the Government’s pandemic restrictions – such as the requirement for us to remain at home, and work from home if we could – and the number of deaths occurring, registration regulations were temporarily changed, as were the processes involved. At the time of writing (December 2021), the following information is still correct – we are anticipating that changes will occur, though we do not yet know what these will be or when they will take place.

Firstly, it was decided that the MCCD would be sent digitally to the Registrar, who would be working remotely. Registration appointments would then also take place remotely – via phone – and the resulting paperwork would then be conveyed electronically to the Applicant’s nominated funeral director. This, for us, meant that the process shortened by several days. Prior to the pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for Applicants to register in a location different to that of their funeral director, sometimes because of the abovementioned need to travel to a different District, but also due to appointment availability or convenience. For example, many of our customers registered in Redhill or Reigate, and wished to arrange the funeral via our office in Horsham. Although we are open until 6.00pm on weekdays, there would be a point in the day at which it would not be possible to complete the registration appointment, and then deliver the paperwork to our office before we closed. Sending paperwork via email changed this significantly, and meant that we had almost immediate access to the paperwork.

Feedback from our customers regarding this process has been overwhelmingly positive. Often when people call us following a death, they ask what the registration process is, and we will always gladly explain it. Those who were familiar with the previous protocols have typically been pleasantly surprised that, for them, it is currently much more straightforward. Those without previous experience of registering a death are also usually grateful that they can accomplish this task from home, or another location.

Pandemic restrictions notwithstanding, I think that the current procedure offers far greater flexibility, and fits better in our contemporary world. Should many people return to working away from their home, it will allow them the opportunity to take less time away from work in order to complete administrative tasks around a death. As previously mentioned, it is also generally a far quicker process than previously.

During the last two years, it has enabled Applicants to register safely and effectively from a distance – those who live away from friends or family members whose deaths they are responsible for registering can do so easily, whether they are UK-based or in another country. In today’s world where diversity and inclusion are rightly prioritised, there is further benefit to be gained from remote registrations – those who are most vulnerable, living with disabilities or requiring adaptations due to other needs are assisted in participating in this process by being able to do so from a location of their convenience.

It is for these reasons that we very much hope that remote registrations remain at least as an option. We do also understand that there are some people who – for a number of reasons – prefer face-to-face appointments, and therefore believe that this again should be an available option when possible. Choice is key, and we believe in the autonomy of those we work with, that they are entirely capable of making the best choice for themselves.

The process of registering a death is unsurprisingly one of our most frequently asked questions – it is something that’s rather mysterious, and not considered prior to needing to accomplish the task. If this post has piqued your interest, you can find out the answers to our other frequently asked questions here. We endeavour to keep this information up to date, and should any procedures regarding registering a death or any other relevant processes change, we will update our website accordingly.


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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

December 29, 2021

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