On Tuesday in the House of Commons Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (Lab, South Shields) was given leave under the Ten-Minute Rule to introduce her Funeral Services Bill. The Bill (which, it should be said, has no realistic chance of becoming law) would
“require the Secretary of State to undertake a review of funeral affordability and costs; to require the providers of funeral services to offer a simple funeral service; to require the Secretary of State to make certain arrangements relating to funeral payments”.
Its principal purposes are to identify ways of reducing funeral costs by requiring the Secretary of State to conduct an overarching review of funeral affordability in the UK, to reform the funeral payments social fund system and to require funeral directors to introduce the option of a “simple funeral”. Her principal point in support of her proposal was that recent research by Royal London Insurance had found that one fifth of bereaved families struggled to afford the cost of a funeral and that the price of a service is was accelerating far faster than inflation at the same time as state support was falling.
What hit the headlines, however, was her assertion that “Some are holding do-it-yourself funerals, and even having to bury relatives in their back garden”. Which sparked off the immediate thought, But can you do that without some kind of official permission? And as usual, the answer seems to be slightly equivocal.
The Environment Agency’s leaflet, Funeral practices, spreading ashes and caring for the environment is now archived: whether it has been superseded or whether it has simply fallen off the radar as a result of changes to government websites is not clear. However, several local authorities publish notes on garden burials on their websites. Salford City Council, for example, lists the criteria as follows:
- A burial ground or cemetery is a place where two or more persons are buried in accordance with a licence and conditions which are issued from the Home Office [now the Ministry of Justice]: it is not therefore possible to bury a whole family together on private land.
- Permission from the local planning department is needed to erect a memorial structure to commemorate the person,
- The land owner must check with that there is no restrictive covenant on the deeds that could prohibit the burial .
- The landowner must check that no by-law is being broken.
The Council’s advice also points out that a back-garden burial may reduce the value of the property: we covered that point ourselves earlier in the year, in Exhumation after home burial. Moreover, someone who buries a relative in this way and moves house will lose access to the grave; and the MoJ will not necessarily give permission for exhumation and re-burial at the new property.
Various councils issue what appears to be slightly-conflicting advice about the technical requirements for private land burial; but the consensus seems to be that:
- The burial site should be on land with a deep water table and at a sufficient distance from watercourses so as not to pose a pollution threat.
- Burial is nor permitted within 100 metres of a borehole or well-spring (but some sources say 50 metres.
- No burial may take place within 10 metres of a drain, ditch or watercourse.
- No burial may take place in waterlogged/poor draining ground.
- A minimum of 1 metre of soil must be left on top of the coffin lid/over the body after the burial has taken place.
The person responsible for the burial must obtain a Certificate of Authority for Burial from the Registrar of Births & Deaths (or in special circumstances from the Coroner) before the burial takes place: this is routinely issued at the time of the registration of the death, Within 96 hours of the burial, the slip attached to the bottom of the Certificate for Burial or Cremation must be completed with the date and place of the burial, and returned to the Registrar of Births & Deaths. The owner (or owner’s agent) of the land on which the burial has taken place must prepare and keep a burial register in a safe place.
The burial must be recorded on the deeds to the property in accordance with the Registration of Burials Act 1864. The record should include a location map to confirm the position of the grave and details of the name, age, date and place of death of the deceased.
The bald statement that you can bury someone in your back garden needs qualifying slightly. The Natural Death Centre states that
“Whilst burial on private land is a relatively straightforward matter, free of many of the restrictions and legal hurdles which might be imagined, it does need to be thought through carefully.”
Which seems like very sensible advice.