The Funeral

To arrange a funeral I direct visitors to GOV.UK, but note that the information on this site is not comprehensive and the law does not impose a duty on anyone to have a funeral. To extend upon this information it may assist visitors to this site to note what follows below.

Burial or Cremation?

Before making a decision about whether to bury or cremate the body of someone who has died I invite visitors to read about what I have determined about burial in England & Wales in the menu link titled “Burial and Cremation”. Note that most local authorities have reduced times granted in graves to as little as 30 years.

Local authorities differentiate between fees charged for burial of non-residents, even if the place of burial is within the district that was once the place of birth of the person who has died. These fees may double of even treble. The Local Authorities’ Cemeteries Order 1977 affords local authorities to do whatever they consider is necessary or desirable for the proper management, regulation and control of their cemeteries. There is no provision under this law for central government to set or regulate fees.

If hiring an undertaker, the undertaker can arrange the appointment for a burial or a cremation, but it is not compulsory that they do so. It is your right to make these arrangements yourself and agree payment terms with the burial/cremation authority. Undertakers more often, refer to these charges as “disbursements”. Generally undertakers will have agreed 30-60 day payment terms with an authority. Consequently if using an undertaker and when paying the final bill, it may mean your money won’t be paid to the authority until due by the undertaker.

Using a coffin?

There is no legal requirement to use a coffin or to hide a body from view. For anyone to insist otherwise is likely to amount to an unlawful precondition. A body must not be exposed naked in public or used to deliberately shock anyone. All that the law dictates is that the body is shown respect in death as should be shown in life. Simply clothing the body or using a shroud would meet this duty.

Coffins can be purchased from the Internet. Some companies deliver next day and you will be charged VAT.

Charles Cowling at the Good Funeral Guide offers some rather interesting options.

HMRC guidelines reveal that the law exempts VAT on coffins purchased from undertakers, but not if purchased direct from a manufacturer. Consequently it would appear that any undertaker buying coffins in from a manufacturer will pay VAT, and will very likely recover the VAT in hidden charges from their own customers.

English law on VAT related to some items considered necessary to “dispose” of a body by burial or cremation does not specify who or what company is exempt. I have opened up a line of communication with the Minister for the Treasury to explore why people in the UK who are not legally forced to hire undertakers, must pay VAT to a coffin manufacturer when arranging a burial or cremation. If I should determine that HMRC guidelines are inaccurate and that officials have misinterpreted the law, I will update this section and make this obvious.

Paying for a funeral

Note: Social Fund Funeral Payment

A qualifying claimant for a Funeral Payment can be paid fees necessary to conduct a burial or a cremation, even when they do not intend hiring an undertaker. This is now made clear in the DWP SF200.

The Funeral Payment will include fees to own the exclusive rights of burial for a grave for a fixed number of years. The exclusive rights of burial is more often referred to as “burial rights”. Owning the burial rights prevents anyone from reopening the grave and burying another body in it. Terms granted in graves vary from one district to another. Some local authorities have reduced times granted in graves to as little as 30 years. For more information, contact the local authority. The burial rights must be purchased if wishing to erect a memorial/headstone on the grave.

Always request that information about this payment is clearly explained. Receiving an information booklet is not always practical, especially if in shock.

Hiring an undertaker or other funeral event organiser?

I would advise, especially when a death is sudden and unnatural, not to confirm funeral arrangements with an undertaker/funeral event organiser over the telephone. If you do not have a desire to go to a place of business, ask that someone visit with you at your home to make the arrangements. I would stress at this point, should they refuse, find another.

If you are wishing to hire in services here is some information about your consumer rights:

  • When making arrangements & purchasing goods and services from an undertaker, you have statutory protection with the new Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, the Sale of Goods Act 1979, the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 and Trade Descriptions Act 1968, the Unfair terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 and in general contract law;
  • There is no current licensing requirement to practice and set up ‘shop’ in the funeral industry;
  • There is no independent official body overseeing the practice of the funeral industry;
  • The funeral trade operates by voluntary codes of practice and principles and polices itself;
  • You should be given a written contract of requirements from the undertaker that you hire. If not, prepare your own and request that it is signed. For a contract to be legally binding, all parties must have a common understanding of the terms. Do ensure you are specific to your own requirements. (See my download about Contract);
  • You should be given a copy of the business terms and conditions at the outset of the arrangements and before completing a contract with the undertaker.


  • There is no legislation requiring funeral businesses to all use the same terms and conditions. The legislation states that where a business uses a standard contract term it should not, contrary to good faith, cause a significant imbalance in the rights and obligations of parties to the detriment of the consumer. In other words, all terms should be fair terms and conditions can vary from firm to firm but they need to remain in accordance with codes of practice of the funeral association, but only if the undertaker is a member of an association e.g. the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) and The National Society of Allied & Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF). The terms and conditions template of the NAFD, contain all the ingredients required but there is a facility so that member companies can simply edit their trading style. It is also the case, that should a firm not supply you with a copy of their terms and conditions prior to a contract being agreed, they are not at liberty to rely upon it themselves should there be a dispute. Traders that are NOT members of a Trade Association are still required by law to provide you with their company terms of business and disclose who owns the company.

At all times request a written estimate of costs. Costs charged by an undertaker / funeral event organiser are composed of three basic elements:

1. The cost of the undertaker / funeral event organiser professional services which may include such items as laying out the body, use of chapel of rest, providing pall-bearers, or a hearse etc.;

2. A coffin, urn etc.;

3. The cost of any fees for burial and cremation which the undertaker / funeral event organiser makes on your behalf to the Authority levying the charges.

You might consider making a list of requirements when arranging a funeral. The download shows some ideas which you may care to add to. Note that any requirements specified and agreed upon forms the basis of a contract. If the contract is breached you might consider legal action.

When a Local Authority is paying for a funeral

Regretfully I have yet to come across a Local Authority (LA) website which publishes sound information on what legal rights the bereaved retain when a LA is paying for a funeral.  It is the bereaved relatives and/or friends who remain in legal control and retain lawful possession of the body. That is made clear in Section 2 of Burial Laws Amendment Act 1880 This must be read in conjunction with other sections and both schedules together with the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. It would make little or no sense to argue that the same principle, at least in terms of policy and practice, does not apply to cremations.