Update to registration and bereavement services

Published: Thursday, 26th March 2020

Following national guidance and to ensure that social distancing takes place, from today (26 March 2020) new, emergency measures will be put in place for our bereavement services.

We understand that losing a loved one is a difficult and painful time. However, it is imperative in these circumstances that the necessary precautions are taken to stop the spread of coronavirus and save lives. Therefore, in line with Government’s requirements for social distancing, attendance at all funerals (burials and cremations) will be limited to six people (not including the officiating person or funeral director staff) and consisting of the immediate family only. No person diagnosed as suffering from COVID-19 is permitted to attend a funeral, until they have been confirmed as recovered. Services will be a maximum of 30 minutes and funeral directors will be asked to assist with the rules about social distancing.

With this in mind, we welcome the recording and broadcasting of funerals. These should be undertaken by prior arrangement with the Funeral Director. We have been working closely with Funeral Directors to ensure this service can be provided.

Birmingham City Council will ensure that the choice of funeral requested will be adhered to in line with religious beliefs.

In addition to this, access to all cemeteries and crematoria in Birmingham will be closed to the public. This is due to an increased number of people that have been congregating at cemeteries in groups and the need to observe social distancing.

There will also be no further bookings taken for the burial of cremated remains or the scattering of ashes. Families and/or Funeral Directors with pre-existing arrangements will be contacted to discuss postponement.

Charges for the retention of cremated remains at the crematoria will not be applied during this period, and if space becomes an issue, then Birmingham City Council will provide alternative storage options.

Nationally, legislation has now been passed for deaths to be registered over the telephone and documentation to be transferred electronically with immediate effect. Further information on the new process for registering a death is available on our website.


Notes to Editors:

Registry Office

For the purposes of Civil Registration in Birmingham, in light of the measures introduced by Government on 23 March 2020, the following guidance applies:


Birth registration appointments are now being deferred until the country is through the current pandemic period.

Customers are advised that they can now make a claim for child benefit or universal credit prior to the birth being registered, where they have not been able to do so because of these measures.

Citizenship Ceremonies

These have been cancelled and Birmingham Registration Service is awaiting further guidance from Central Government and will update this information in due course.

Marriage/Civil Partnerships

Marriage and Civil Partnership ceremonies will no longer be undertaken in line with the Prime Minister’s announcement.

Notices of Marriage and Civil Partnership will be deferred until the UK is through the current pandemic period.

Registrar General Licence requests for marriage/civil partnerships are being risk assessed and considered on a case by case basis. Advice from Public Health England is being adhered to and staff safety is paramount and considered before proceeding with any request to undertake ceremonies for customers diagnosed with COVID-19. Engagement must take place with the GRO nationally in the normal manner before proceeding.

Applications to reduce the waiting period for marriages or civil partnerships will no longer be processed. Any applications received or in progress will be refunded.

Approved Premise licences cannot be suspended during this period. However, Birmingham City Council’s Registrar Service is considering extensions to existing licences where appropriate.


The Emergency law, containing a wide range of measures, has received Royal Assent. The changes to the Registration of Deaths are outlined below:

  1. The medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD) is completed and signed.
  2. GP/Bereavement office scans and emails MCCD to Register Office with informant’s name and contact telephone number.
  3. GP/Bereavement office advises informant to complete the online Pre-Registration form.
  4. On receipt of MCCD, the Register Office will log all MCCD’s and telephone contact will be made with the informant to register the death.
  5. The service will continue to prioritise short notice burials.
  6. Once the registration is complete the disposal form will be scanned and emailed directly to the Funeral Director.
  7. The original disposal form will be retained at the Register Office until restrictions are lifted and further instructions are issued by the General Register Office.

Please note it is extremely busy dealing with increased number of notifications and with a reduced staffing compliment. We will get to all calls and emails as soon as possible.

Anybody seeking an urgent registration on religious grounds should speak to their Funeral Director, who will be able to email the Register Office directly and prioritise the request by marking the email ‘Urgent Religious Burial’.

Bereavement Services (Burials and Cremations)

The services are working to a plan taking into account the situation the country faces. This makes changes to the ways funeral services are conducted. For this emergency period and in line with the Government’s requirements for social distancing, attendance at funerals will be reduced to six people, consisting of the immediate family only. Services will normally be a maximum of 30 minutes at this time and funeral directors are asked to assist with the rules about social distancing and the numbers of attendees.

Attendance at and webcasting of Funerals

As stated above no more than six people (plus the officiating person and funeral director staff) may attend a funeral and attendees will have to practice social distancing.

No person diagnosed as suffering from Covid-19 is permitted to attend a funeral, until they have been confirmed as recovered. Unfortunately in two cases this week people have attended funerals when they are in the required self-isolation period. This action is necessary to save lives.

The City Council welcomes the filming and broadcasting of burials, which needs to be undertaken by prior arrangement through Funeral Directors.

Webcasting cremations may also be undertaken through prior arrangement with Funeral Directors.

Backfill Burials

Regrettably at this time there is no option but to suspend the service of Backfill Burials. This reduces the risk to staff and ensures the necessary social distancing.

Burial or Scattering of Cremated Remains

Regrettably with immediate effect, there will be no further bookings for burial of cremated remains or witness scatterings of ashes. These can be carried out after the current national restrictions on social distancing are lifted.

The current charges for the retention of cremated remain at the crematoria will not be applied for remains that are stored pending collection or disposal during this period. If space becomes an issue, which is likely, then Birmingham City Council will provide alternative storage options.

Existing bookings are being considered and the Service is contacting the families or Funeral Directors to discuss about postponement. If any families are desperate for this to take place, then in order to ensure the safety of employees, our attendants will be taking appropriate precautions and will maintain the recommended distance from those attending. Any urns or handles on scattering urns etc. that are handled will be sanitised before and afterwards.

Documents required for Funerals

The Council has introduced a new system for receipt of documents for all Funeral Directors, after a successful pilot. This process is:

  • Funeral Directors email papers to the Bereavement Services inbox;
  • Originals will be submitted on the day of funeral, handling of papers will be minimised when received;
  • Access to papers can be gained from any site office through e-mail boxes and eventually through the Council’s software system;
  • Scanned papers to be attached to Council’s record asap, for future reference;
  • Papers are e-mailed to the Medical Referee using their NHS e-mail address and a secure emailing service. The Medical Referee will return the signed authority to cremate via the same e-mail.
  • The instruction has been given to all staff to only enter the minimal information onto the database to enable the funeral to take place. The additional information that is required for the statutory registers will be updated either by support staff who are home working or at a later date once the period of emergency is over

Cremations: Closure of Curtains

The practice is to close curtains at the point of committal now. This is to prevent funeral attendees from touching the coffin as they leave due to the potential infection risk to staff to handling the coffin. Ministers will be advised of this requirement so families can be made aware.

Memorial Services

The Council is offering the opportunity for memorial services to be held at a later date due to the emergency situation we are in. Any service would be held later in the year providing the emergency situation is over.

Frequently Asked Questions

As I am in self-isolation do I have to register my relation’s death?

Yes. There is a legal requirement for all deaths to be registered in five days. However the process is being changed to allow telephone reporting and registration by Funeral Directors. If you are too ill to register over the telephone, then another family member can register over the telephone on your behalf, or if there is no other family member available a Funeral Director can register on your behalf. On no account should you attend the Register Office nor a funeral while you are in self-isolation.

Can I still choose the method of funeral?

Yes, Birmingham City Council is able to offer burials or cremations to all customers. It is entirely the customer’s choice but there is a limit on numbers attending the funeral service at the moment.

If there are a lot of deaths in Birmingham, will there be a delay in the holding of funerals?

It is difficult to say precisely, but the City Council is trying to provide a service that keeps delays to a minimum. The City Council is currently able to meet the demand on the service.

Will my loved one have to be buried or cremated outside Birmingham?

There is enough capacity to meet the needs of residents in Birmingham for even the worst case scenario predicted in the Pandemic.

I hold devout religious beliefs, will you force me to have a particular type of funeral?

No, the City Council is able to meet the demands of religious beliefs and allow you to select the funeral service of your choice. The Council is working with local faith groups to emphasise this. There may be issues for cremations that cause delay as the ability to carry out cremations depends on the availability of qualified staff.

Does Birmingham City Council have capacity to deal with a large number of deaths?

Birmingham City Council can deal with all projected scenarios in terms of the number of funerals and requests for burials and cremations, providing staff are well enough to carry out their role. Some of the changes we are making are to help reduce the risk of infection to staff.

I cannot attend a funeral of my loved one. Will the service be webcast?

The City Council is encouraging the use of webcasting of services and burials but in a controlled manner through your Funeral Director. This will help to ensure your privacy is maintained and social distancing can be achieved.

Are there going to be hymn books provided at the burial/ cremation?

No, these have been withdrawn to minimise risk of infection. Funeral Directors will assist in providing printed orders of service, if requested.

Have service times been changed?

The City Council is reducing most service times to 30 minutes (except Yardley Cemetery), but is honouring any existing bookings. There is however the option of a memorial service at a later date.

Is my local cemetery open?

Regrettably, cemeteries will be closed except for staff and funeral cars until further notice. Unfortunately people were visiting the sites in large numbers, which is against national guidance, and exposing others to risk of infection.

Religious Issues

Will Muslims and Jews be forced to have their loved ones cremated?

No, the City Council strongly upholds the rights of everyone to have the funeral method of their choice for loved ones.

Will traditional religious processes pre burial/ cremation be allowed to continue?

Guidance has been provided nationally and locally on the methods that are safe to continue. In general some traditional methods are being advised against due to the risk of infection. The intention is to preserve life at the expense of some of the traditions- this approach has been supported by religious leaders.

Can everybody attend my loved one’s funeral- they were an important and respected member of the community?

Unfortunately to comply with the national requirement of social distancing and to reduce the likely spread of Covid 19 attendance at funerals in Birmingham can only be for up to six people and be members of the close family, but to practice social distancing while attending. No one in self-isolation or suffering with Covid 19 is allowed to attend the funeral.

When a person dies in the Muslim tradition, a Janazah prayer (Funeral Prayer) is held that can involve hundreds of individuals coming together. What is the advice here given the pressure on Mosques who have already closed their doors?

It is essential that while the country is on ‘lockdown’ such mass gatherings are discontinued. It is hoped such traditions can be re-introduced once the restrictions are lifted.

My loved one has died and their wish was to return to the land of their birth. How can I sort this?

The ‘Out of England’ service which allows for this is unlikely to operate during the present emergency, so it is highly unlikely you will be able to arrange this. It is understood there are very limited, if any, international flights are taking place.

What is the BCC process for dealing with deaths and certificates, and what time frames will bodies be released?

The rules are set by the Government, but these are being changed to allow this service to be undertaken electronically or through a nominated person like a Funeral Director. More guidance will follow when it is available.

Bodies will be released for funerals as soon as the Coroner has undertaken their role. It is hoped any delays will be kept to a minimum, but each case has to be treated on its merits. The Coroner will only release information to the family of the deceased, not their representative.

Is it safe to perform the Ghusl (body washing) if somebody has died of Covid-19 and is there any special equipment that needs to be used?

Locally the Birmingham Muslim Burial Council has provided guidance to their communities about this practice. It is recommended this advice is followed.

For more information on affected services, please see here: https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/coronavirus_advice

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