Death and Dying in the UK

Information on how to proceed if you need to report the death of a family member. Also information on the repatriation of remains for a burial or cremation outside the UK...

In the event of a death of a family member, friend or relative in the UK, the first thing to do is to call the family doctor. The doctor will provide a medical certificate stating the cause of death and a formal notice confirming that they have signed the medical certificate. This notice also explains how to register the death. If the death has occurred in suspicious circumstances, or it is that of a stranger, it should be reported to the police (Tel: 999). If the cause of death is not clear it must be reported to the coroner who will decide if a post-mortem and inquest are required.

Note: The information below pertains to registering a death in England and Wales:

Reporting a Death

In general, a death must be reported within five days (8 days in Scotland) to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages at the register office in the area where the death took place. It is also possible to register the death at a register office in a different area, but this may slow down the funeral arrangements. In some areas it may be necessary to make an appointment beforehand.

In the event of a stillbirth the registration must take place within 42 days at the register office.

The person registering the death should take the medical certificate signed by a doctor and if available, the NHS medical card, birth certificate and marriage or civil partnership certificate of the deceased. At the register office they will need to provide the following information:

  • Person's full name and maiden name if applicable
  • Date and place of birth (country if born outside of the UK)
  • Occupation
  • Address
  • Name, date of birth and occupation of the civil partner or surviving spouse
  • Information on any pensions or benefits that the deceased was receiving

Who can report a death

In most cases the death is registered by a relative who was present at the death or who lives in the district where the death took place. If there are no relatives and the death occurred in a house or hospital, the following people may register the death:

  • official from the hospital
  • the person organising the funeral
  • a person present at the time
  • someone living in the house or the owner of the building

Death Certificate

Upon registration of the death, the person reporting the death receives a Certificate for Burial or Cremation (green form) to be given to the funeral director and a Certificate of Registration of Death (form BD8), to be used if the deceased received any pensions or benefits.

A Death Certificate can be issued at this time, this is a certified copy of the information in the death register. A fee is charged which varies from one local authority to another. You may need several copies of the certificate. A booklet What to do after a death (PDF) is also provided by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Burial and Cremation

The only legal requirement following a death is to register the death and ensure that the body is cremated or buried properly. There is no time limit in which the burial and cremation must take place and the remains can be kept in a public mortuary.

Burials and cremations are both permitted. If the deceased had made a will, the person in charge of the funeral arrangements should check this to find out if the deceased had left any instructions regarding their funeral. They should also check if there were any paid-for funeral plans. The date of the funeral cannot be arranged until the death has been registered.

There are no restrictions on moving a body in England and Wales. However, permission must be obtained from the coroner if the body is to be moved elsewhere in the UK or abroad. Permission should be obtained at least four days before the body is to be moved and it is recommended in these cases to contact the coroner before registering the death.

A funeral director can be chosen to help with the decisions regarding the funeral arrangements, although this is not obligatory. Contact details for local funeral directors can be found in the telephone directory or by contacting one of the two funeral directors' trade associations.

Cremation

Due to the lack of burial plots and the cost, cremations are often the chosen option in England and Wales. Before a cremation can take place the following documents are required:

  • Application form signed by the next of kin or executor and two cremation certificates (one from the attending doctor and one from a doctor who was not involved with treating the deceased), or
  • Cremation form signed by a coroner

Ashes can be kept by the relatives or friends, scattered, or buried in a churchyard or cemetery.

Burial

A death certificate and certificate for burial are required before a burial can take place. Many cemeteries are open to all faiths and may be owned by private companies or local authorities. Fees for a burial will vary.

Following the Death

The following organisations and companies should be contacted following the death of an immediate family member:

  • Relevant government organisations (tax office, benefits offices, passport services and the Driving and Vehicle Licencing Agency)
  • Financial organisations such as credit card companies, banks and insurance companies
  • Utility and service providers
  • Local organisations that the deceased was member of
  • Bereavement Register and Deceased Preference Service to remove the person's name from mailing lists
  • The Government website has a checklist of things to do and people to contact following a death

The Government also runs the Tell Us Once service which enables people to report a death to most government organisations without having to notify each individually. The organisations notified by this service include:

  • HM Revenue and Customs
  • Passport Office
  • Local Council
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency

Claiming Benefits

A number of benefits and one-off payments may be available for the surviving spouse or dependents of the deceased. This includes a funeral allowance, bereavement allowance, bereavement payment and widower's pension.

Repatriation of a Foreigner

Repatriation of a body to their home country may require the help of the relevant local Embassy or Consulate. Consular officials can assist in having the remains returned and in obtaining the appropriate documentation.

Before a body can be repatriated, a death certificate and permission from the coroner are required. Ashes must be accompanied by a death certificate, a statement from the crematorium or funeral home declaring that the urn only contains the ashes of the deceased, and a cremation certificate.

The length of time required for repatriation of remains varies greatly and depends on a number of factors. In general, a funeral director should be appointed to help with the procedure. Whole remains should be repatriated in a zinc-lined hermetically sealed coffin.

Further Information