How to register a death during the coronavirus pandemic.
Deaths still need to be registered within five days from the date of death in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and eight days in Scotland.
Registrations are still mostly taking place remotely, mainly by phone, but each council will have its own procedures and some offices may be open for high priority tasks. The doctor who signs the medical cause of death certificate should be able to advise you what will happen next, but you could also contact the council where the person died.
However, it is likely that the medical cause of death certificate will be sent electronically directly to the registrar, rather than be given to the next of kin. The registrar will probably then contact you to inform you that they have received it and to arrange a time to complete the registration over the phone.
The death certificate will be posted to you, but the ‘green form’ (Certificate for Burial or Cremation) may be sent straight to your funeral director, if you are using one, or to the cemetery/crematorium if the deceased has already been collected. If they have not been collected and you do not yet know what funeral director you are using you will be able to get the ‘green form’ posted to you.
Registrars can accept a medical certificate of cause of death without referral to the coroner*, as long as it contains an acceptable cause of death and indicates that a medical practitioner has seen the deceased either within the 28 days prior to death, or after death.
Funeral directors are now also authorised to register a death if they are arranging the funeral and authorised by a relative of the deceased. However they are not obliged to do so.
In Scotland, it is normally an offence for someone to arrange a cremation when there is a nearer relative available (someone further up in the hierarchy recognised by the Scottish Government). During this time, this is no longer the case. For example, it may be that another relative or a friend of longstanding may be available and content to make the arrangements, even where they are aware that the deceased does have a nearer relative, but they are unwell, otherwise unable or cannot be immediately contacted.
Deaths at home
If the person died at home unexpectedly, you should dial 999 and ask for an ambulance and police immediately. If the death was expected, you need to call the person’s GP or nearest doctor.
Normally, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the medical certificate of cause of death has to be signed by the medical practitioner who saw the deceased during their last illness, within the last 14 days. Now, if it is not possible for them to do so, it can be signed by any other medical practitioner as long as they are able to state to the best of their knowledge and belief the cause of death. This is also the case even if the deceased was not seen during their last illness.
During this time, deaths only have to be referred to the coroner where there is no medical practitioner who can do this or they are not available within a reasonable time of the death. If a medical practitioner has any concerns surrounding a death, in any setting, they will still be able to refer the death to the coroner.
*A coroner is a government official who conducts investigations into the manner or cause of death in certain circumstances, such as if the cause of death is unknown or if the death was sudden or unexplained.