Grieving Families Permitted To Attend Funerals

Councils have been urged to introduce safe and innovative ways for bereaved families and friends to attend the funerals of the deceased whilst the UK is in lockdown.

Local Government minister, Simon Clarke, wrote to all councils in England urging them to respect the wishes of the deceased and to allow mourners to attend funerals by creating safe and innovative processes to facilitate funerals.

The government also announced new guidance updates and increased powers offered to local authorities and councils. Schedule 28 of the Coronavirus Act will ‘allow councils to issue direction if required on whether to bury or cremate someone, to direct crematoria to operate longer hours and to direct funeral directors to have shorter services. ’

The updated guidance and measures will only trigger in exceptional circumstances, if local authorities become overwhelmed and there is a real risk to public health. The guidance can be found here.

Secretary of State Robert Jenrick MP said:

“It is only right that families have a final opportunity to pay their last respects to those they love at this incredibly difficult time.

“Close family must be able to attend funerals in person during this pandemic and can safely do so by following in line with social distancing guidelines. We will continue to work closely with councils to ensure that safe and sensitive measures are put in place all across the country.”

Local Government Minister Simon Clarke MP said: 

“Nobody wants to have to consider funeral plans for a loved one at this difficult time – but it’s important that funerals are not delayed.

“Many councils have already put in place innovative arrangements so funerals can take place in a safe and sensitive fashion. I want all councils to consider how best to facilitate funerals so close family can attend and mourn their loved ones in an appropriate way. This will help to ensure that people can be laid to rest with dignity, and that their final wishes and beliefs are respected while we protect the public from the spread of coronavirus.”

The letter to local authorities states:

“Funerals are an important part of the grieving process for the bereaved to allow families and loved ones to say goodbye and respect the wishes, religion and beliefs of the deceased. At this time, it is important to strike a careful balance between enabling families and mourners to witness the funeral, and ensuring the health and safety of mourners and crematorium and funeral staff. We understand there are difficult decisions which need to be made, which may make funeral services look and feel different to normal, and I welcome the PHE Guidance for managing a funeral during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic being published on 18 April. By working in partnership with the bereaved and local partners, including faith groups where relevant, you can identify ways to deliver services in a safe, practical and meaningful way, allowing the bereaved to mourn their loved ones while maintaining the safety of staff.

“It is important that mourners still have the choice to attend the funeral of their loved ones. There will be instances where this will be a very small group, smaller than the bereaved may have wanted. But at this time, it is a necessary precaution to ensure workforce and mourners are kept safe from infection risk. Mourners should still be provided with the opportunity to attend a funeral as close family and members of the household of the deceased. If the deceased has neither of these in attendance, it may be possible for friends to attend. I also urge you to consider innovative ways of making the funeral accessible to mourners who cannot physically attend. This is an incredibly difficult time not only for family and friends of the deceased, but also funeral and mortuary service providers. It is an incredibly pressing time and it is important that people do not delay funerals to ensure organisations managing funerals are able to cope with the increased number of deaths. We understand how difficult this will be for the families and friends of lost loved ones. However the current guidance will be in place for the foreseeable future for public safety reasons and where there are delays it could compromise our resilience.

“Today, the Government has also published additional guidance on Schedule 28 of the Coronavirus Act. This sets outs additional powers that can be delegated to councils, allowing them to step in if the system becomes overwhelmed. It sets out how and when these powers may be activated, and how they should be used by local authorities. The guidance also sets out how national and local authorities should have due regard to the deceased’s wishes, religion or beliefs in any decisions made using these powers – we know this is a hugely sensitive and important issue for many people and communities across the country. These powers however should only be used in exceptional circumstances, as a last resort when all other efforts have been exhausted, and I truly hope we never have to activate these powers.”

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