Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for burial and cremation authorities

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 27 Apr 2021 - see all updates

This guidance is for burial and cremation authorities to help manage their services and also their funeral services during the current pandemic.

14 page PDF

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14 page PDF

515.6 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for burial and cremation authorities
Current legislative provisions for burial or cremation

14 page PDF

515.6 kB

Current legislative provisions for burial or cremation

Opening of burial grounds and crematoriums – emergency legislative provision

Under the UK Coronavirus Act 2020, Scottish Ministers made the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 (‘the Regulations’). These regulations are updated as necessary when Scottish Ministers decide changes to restrictions are required. 

Cremation authorities

Crematoriums are permitted to be open to members of the public. This enables cremation authorities to open for all services in addition to funerals, for example, to view the book of remembrance or for ashes to be collected by the public. 

Each cremation authority can decide what is appropriate for their crematorium to offer at this time.

The cremation authority must continue to take reasonable measures to ensure that those attending a funeral service, or otherwise attending the crematorium for any other service, remain 2 metres apart (except where they are from the same household, or are a carer and the person who is assisted by the carer).

Ashes dispersal

Attendance in the grounds of the crematorium to witness the dispersal of ashes is permitted. The appropriate physical distancing must continue to be observed.

Each cremation authority can decide what is appropriate for their grounds and whether they are able to offer this service.

Burial authorities

The Regulations have not required burial grounds to close to the public. 

Public access to burial grounds where that is normally permitted by the burial authority can continue. Access continues to be at the discretion of the burial authority.  

Application for cremation – emergency legislative provision

The UK Coronavirus Act 2020 allows Scottish Ministers to suspend certain provisions in the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 (“the 2016 Act”) and the Cremation (Scotland) Regulations 2019 [1]

On 8 April 2020 the Scottish Ministers published a determination, under the UK Coronavirus Act 2020. This means that any relative (or friend of long standing) of the deceased can make arrangements for cremation, regardless of where they are placed in the statutory hierarchy set out at section 65 and section 66 of the 2016 Act. The applicant still has to be one of those in the hierarchy, and the hierarchy should be followed wherever possible. The suspension aims to provide flexibility in the event that close relatives of the deceased are unwell and unable to complete the cremation application form, and allows funeral arrangements to progress.

This emergency provision came into force on Wednesday 8 April 2020. This change will remain in place until revoked by a subsequent determination of the Scottish Ministers under schedule 14 of the 2020 Act.

It is not permitted for a funeral director to sign a cremation application form on behalf of an applicant. 

The cremation application form should be completed by the applicant. While it is understood that there will be a few occasions where an applicant will be unable to complete the form themselves, funeral directors should not routinely complete the form. Only where the applicant is unable to do so should the funeral director act as a scribe for the applicant and complete the answers to the questions on the form.

If an applicant cannot sign a cremation application due to adherence to NHS advice on staying at home, physical distancing or shielding, a supplementary form has been produced for use by funeral directors and cremation authorities to ensure arrangements can continue and an audit trail of the application is captured. This is set out below.

Application for cremation – supplementary form

Due to the pandemic, where a funeral director is unable to obtain a signature from a person listed in sections 65 or 66 of the 2016 Act, a supplementary form can be used to ensure arrangements can proceed. 

This form can be downloaded from the Scottish Government website.

Application for burial 

Application forms for burial are the responsibility of each burial authority. Processes should be examined and kept under review to take into account the impact that advice on physical distancing may have for applicants (e.g. documents provided electronically from applicant and/or funeral director).

Required signatures may also be difficult to obtain during the current pandemic due to adherence to public health advice. Burial authorities should consider creation of an appropriate supplementary form or other method that satisfies their requirements for burial for use by local funeral directors/applicants.

First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 27 Apr 2021 -