One Depart

Advice & Information on funerals, burials, cremations, wills, inheritance and death-related subjects

Do you have to have a funeral by law?

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Flowers on a piano

Just as in life, you have choices on what happens to you, following death there are options about whether or not you have to have a funeral and, if you opt for one, the kind of service that you receive.

Here, we consider the law on the requirements for funerals in the UK as well as addressing the reasons why someone might not want a funeral. We also take a look at what happens in the event that no funeral is arranged.

Why Might Someone Not Want a Funeral?

There are several reasons why someone may opt not to have a funeral in the event of their death with cost being a very practical one.

According to the SunLife 'Cost of Dying Report 2018', the average price of a funeral in the UK is now £4,271. 

However, some people simply choose not to have any ‘official’ ceremony surrounding their death. To some, funerals are an antiquated aspect of our culture in the West and would prefer to have their friends and family celebrate their lives in an alternative way.

There are also people who do not have any close friends or family and may see a funeral as an unnecessary cost.

What is the Law on the Requirement of Funerals in the UK? 

There is no law in the UK that requires a person to have a funeral in the event of their death. 

The only regulations that must be met are that the body of a deceased person is disposed safely. 

This can be means including Natural Burial, Direct Cremation, Burial at Sea or any number of alternative methods.

It is worth noting that the funeral wishes of the deceased are not legally binding although there have been cases where the method of disposal has later been contested in court.

Although it has yet to be tested, Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights could theoretically be used to uphold the funeral wishes of a deceased who held strong religious beliefs and who wished to be disposed of in accordance with those beliefs. 

What Happens If There Is No Funeral?

Where there is no application for a funeral, the deceased is taken from the place of death directly to a cremator. 

This is known as a ‘Direct Cremation’ and involves the removal of the body, in a coffin, by a company to a crematorium. 

The coffin will still pass down the aisle of a crematorium’s chapel to be officially withdrawn to the cremator; however, no ceremony or service accompanies this process.

Direct cremation is not strictly a ‘private’ affair and mourners can still attend the crematorium and witness this journey.

People who opt for no funeral often request that their friends and family pay tribute to, and remember, them in other ways. For some people, it is a natural part of the grieving process to attend a formal ‘service’ of some kind and it is common for a celebration or memorial service to be held by loved ones.

Other alternatives to a funeral service that have grown in popularity recently include donating to the deceased’s favourite charity, planting a memorial tree or holding an event to mark a date that was important to the deceased such as an anniversary or birthday.

How Does This Differ From a Public Health Funeral?

Also known as a ‘Pauper’s Funeral’, it is the statutory duty of the local authority in which a person has died to make arrangements for a funeral where either:

  • no funeral arrangements have been left by the deceased, and/or
  • no family is able to be traced to make arrangements with.

What is a Public Health Funeral?

The process of providing a funeral service for someone by the local authority varies around the UK but are generally a low-cost service provided for people who die in poverty, alone or are unclaimed by relatives.

A Public Health Funeral is often given to people who are looked after by the local authority and can include persons who were homeless or who lived alone. They may also be given a person whose family are unable or unwilling to pay for a funeral.

This kind of funeral will typically not include flowers, obituaries and viewings but always include a coffin and transport to the crematorium/cemetery with a funeral director. As per the Code of Professional Conduct adhered to by the National Funeral Directors Association, this is undertaken with all due dignity.

Anyone can attend a Public Health Funeral but a council official will be appointed to maintain a presence in the event that no family are located to witness the service.

In a funeral of this kind, the deceased may be buried in a shared or unmarked grave.