Computer says no… – and other ridiculous barriers bereaved families face

Categories: Care.

It sometimes seems that replicas of Little Britain’s Carol Beer are cheerfully ensconced in cemetery and crematoria offices, bereavement and register offices and unfortunately even funeral directors’ branches around the UK. 

Anything out of the ordinary (such as a family wanting to take care of their dead themselves) can be met with surprise, disapproval or a downright ‘that’s not allowed’ – effectively, “Computer says no.”


Let’s go through a few things that families who have contacted us have been told, and which are completely untrue!

  • The Registrar who informed a family that they must use a funeral director to carry out the funeral.
  • Recently, the Coroner who frightened an estranged family so badly by insisting that they would be pursued by the local council wanting to recoup the cost of an environmental health funeral, that the family ended up paying for and arranging a funeral for someone they had not seen for decades. They thought that they would land up in court.
  • The District Council that refused to allow a family to carry out a DIY burial – (apparently their policy was to prohibit anyone other than ‘a Registered Funeral Director who is part of their own Stonemakers and Funeral Directors Registration Scheme’ to undertake a burial in any of their cemeteries).
  • The nursing staff member who told another family that their relative would have to be cremated and not buried because they had died from an infectious disease.
  • The cemetery and crematorium manager who has informed families that they have to take out their own public liability insurance if they intend to carry out a funeral without using a funeral director, whether a cremation or burial. 
  • This ‘ruling’ has also been applied to families wishing to carry the coffin themselves.
  • The GP who attended to certify a death that occurred at home and told the family that the body had to be taken away and could not be kept at home.
  • The funeral director who advised a family that if the coffin crossed county borders an additional charge would be applied.
  • Another, very common untruth, is when funeral directors inform families that if they wish to see their relative in the chapel of rest they have to be embalmed.


These are just a few examples of recent situations that have been brought to our attention and where we have had to get involved to educate and inform the so-called ‘professionals’ involved and put them straight on the facts:

  • There is no law requiring a funeral director be used for a funeral.
  • A local authority – or any other body – may not prohibit a family from carrying out a burial without a funeral director. Provided that the Registrar’s certificate or Coroner’s Order for burial is delivered with an interment form prior to the burial, and the deceased is brought to the cemetery with enough people to carry and lower the coffin, it must be permitted.
  • Cremation is never mandatory.
  • Debt liabilities stops with the dead person. That includes the cost of any ‘pauper’s funeral arranged by the local authority for unclaimed bodies. The council can pursue the dead person’s estate but not distant or estranged relatives.
  • There is no law to say that once a death has occurred the body must be removed. Dead people can be kept at home until the day of the burial or cremation if that is the wish of the family.
  • According to legal advice obtained from the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, it is unfair simply to tell families to arrange their own public liability insurance for a one-off event unless there is already an established insurance scheme, which the family can buy into.
  • There are no charges involved in a body or coffin crossing county borders.
  • Any requirement for embalming prior to viewing is simply company policy, not anything that can be attributed to Health and Safety or other legislation.

Not only are there ill informed or ignorant people in authority out there offering incorrect advice to bereaved families, there are also a lot of myths and assumptions that have somehow become an accepted norm.

‘Totally untrue’

Another myth is that a hearse has to be used to transport a coffin.

It has become the accepted vehicle in which a body is conveyed to the final place of rest, frequently at a cost of around £400 for a half hour journey or less – but it is not compulsory, nor in some cases, desirable. Any suitable alternative vehicle can be used, including your own private car or that of a neighbour or friend.

How about the belief that you have to have a coffin?

Totally untrue, the only legal stipulation is that ‘It is an offence to expose a dead body near a public highway as this would outrage public decency’. Basically, a body should be covered in public – but the method of doing so is entirely up to the individual responsible for the disposal of the body.

The Natural Death Centre has always championed the rights of the bereaved to exercise autonomy when it comes to making arrangements for funerals, and we will continue to do so for as long as the need is there. With the reluctance of government to create legislation to make obvious the legal rights of the bereaved, and impose penalties on those breaching those rights, unfortunately we expect to be manning the NDC Helpline for a long time yet.

If you have any questions concerning a death or a funeral, call us for advice on 01962 712690, or email

A longer version of this article was first published in Issue 3 of the magazine More to Death, which is published by The Natural Death Centre

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