Frequently Asked Questions
Provided by the ICCM (Institute of Cemetery & Crematorium Management)
- How many people use cremation today in Great Britain?
Since 1968 when the number of cremations exceeded burials for the first time, cremation has increased considerably. Current figures suggest that around 70% of all funerals are cremations.
- Do any religious groups forbid cremation?
All current Christian denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, allow cremation, as do Sikhs, Hindus, Parsees and Buddhists. It is however forbidden by Orthodox Jews and Muslims.
- Is cremation more expensive than burial?
No. Generally the cost of a grave is much higher than the fee charged for cremation although the funeral charges are similar for both services. The only additional charge for cremation arises when the death has not been referred to a coroner and two doctors need to be paid for the necessary certificates. This does not apply to burial.
- What religious ceremony can I have with cremation?
The service for burial and cremation is the same apart from the form of committal sentences. The service may take place at your own place of worship with a short committal service in the crematorium chapel, or you may have the whole service at the crematorium chapel. Alternatively, you may prefer a civil ceremony be conducted, or even no service at all.
- How is a cremation arranged?
The Cremation Regulations are complex and many people approach a funeral director immediately death occurs, and advise him that they wish to arrange a cremation. The funeral director will ensure that all the necessary statutory forms for cremation are obtained and presented to the Crematorium.
- Can a cremation be arranged without the services of a funeral director?
Yes. The Executor or nearest surviving relative may arrange the cremation service themselves. Cremation authorities that are members of the Institute of Cemetery & Crematorium Management’s (ICCM) Charter for the Bereaved will provide advice to persons arranging a cremation without the use of a funeral director.
- Can relatives witness the committal of the coffin to the cremator?
Yes. Some crematoria have a viewing area that overlooks the crematory, where you may witness the committal taking place. Others may have a room equipped with CCTV enabling all of those in the room to clearly see the committal whilst other crematoria may allow a supervised group into the crematory to witness the committal. The Crematorium must be informed that you wish to witness the committal when the cremation is booked, so that staff can be informed who will then make the necessary preparations on the day.
- Is the coffin cremated with the body?
Yes. The ICCM Guiding Principles state that the container and the body shall be placed in cremator and cremation commenced. The coffin or container with the body inside shall not be opened or otherwise disturbed, other than in exceptional circumstances, and then only with the express permission and in the presence of the Applicant for Cremation (usually the executor or next of kin).
- How soon after the service will the cremation take place?
The ICCM Guiding Principles state that the container and the body shall be placed in a cremator and cremation commenced no later than 72 hours after the service of committal. Where cremation may not be carried out on the same day, the Applicant for Cremation shall be notified.
This means that under normal circumstances the cremation is usually carried out shortly after the service and certainly on the same day. However, when a service takes place late in the day or a limited number of services are booked, the cremations may take place within the 72 hour period. Retention of coffins should only be carried out where a secure and hygienic storage facility is available. The benefits to the community from this include a reduced impact on the environment as less fossil fuel will be consumed and the efficient use of machinery and equipment will be achieved.
- How are cremated remains kept separate?
A cremator can only accept one coffin at a time and all the remains are removed from the cremator before the next cremation. An identity card is used throughout the whole process until the final disposal, thereby ensuring correct identification.
- What happens to the cremated remains after cremation?
The law relating to cremation requires that cremated remains are disposed of in accordance with the written instructions of the applicant (usually the executor or nearest surviving relative). Most crematoria have a range of options which might include scattering or burying in the garden of remembrance, placing in a columbarium, interring in a small family vault or niche. Options for memorials are also available which might include plaques beneath rose bushes, trees or shrubs and memorial benches with plaques. The simplest form of memorial is an entry inscribed in a book of remembrance. Your nearest crematorium will provide details of their facilities.
Cremated remains may also be buried in family graves that are full for coffined burials. Alternatively you may be able to purchase a new cremated remains grave in a cemetery. There is no need to make a hurried decision with regard the final resting place of the remains with most crematoria having a facility to hold the remains until a decision is made. Should a crematorium not be contacted with a decision after a period of time has elapsed you may receive a letter asking if you are ready to go ahead. If you are not simply tell the crematorium that you need more time (a fee may be applicable). Should a crematorium receive no reply to their letter they may legally scatter or bury the cremated remains within their grounds after giving 2 weeks written notice.
- Can more than one body be cremated at a time?
No, each cremation is carried out separately. The aperture through which the coffin passes in the cremator and the cremation chamber are of dimensions that will only safely accept one coffin. However, exceptions can be made in the case of a mother and baby or small twin children, so long as the next of kin or executor has made this specific request.
Most crematoria will allow public inspection of the ‘behind the scenes’ procedures in an attempt to enlighten the public on all aspects of the cremation process.
- Are coffins sold back to funeral directors for re-use?
No. The coffin and the body inside are cremated together. There are occasions where the deceased or the family of the deceased have opted for using a cardboard coffin in which their loved one will be cremated. When this happens families sometimes want to have a more aesthetically pleasing coffin or container on the catafalque during the service. Families therefore will opt for either a pall (a cloth covering the cardboard coffin), or a 'cocoon coffin' (an outer shell that covers the cardboard coffin) or will decorate a cardboard coffin themselves. Neither the pall nor the cocoon is cremated. It is important to understand that the pall and cocoon do NOT contain the body of the deceased; they are simply superficial coverings for a cardboard coffin.
- Can I visit a crematorium and see what happens behind the scenes?
Yes. All crematoria will arrange for such a visit if given prior notice. The visit may take place whilst cremations are taking place or when not; the choice is yours. This open door policy helps to dispel the myths that have been explained above. On seeing the cremation process the viewer can be reassured that all cremations take place individually, coffins are cremated with the deceased and that identity is maintained throughout the process so that a family can be sure that they receive the correct cremated remains.
- Where can I find out more information about cremation?
The ICCM Charter for the bereaved gives detailed information about all aspects of the cremation process and encompasses environmental and social aspects. Cremation authorities that have adopted the Charter for the Bereaved will provide information and guidance and you can obtain a full reference copy of the Charter document from the ICCM website.