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Coronavirus: bereavement advice and support

We are sorry for your loss and appreciate this is an incredibly difficult time

The death of someone you love can be among the most difficult moments that any of us will face in our lives, and it often falls on those closest to the deceased and grieving the most to organise the funeral.

The information on this page is designed to:

  • Explain the next steps
  • Answer some of your questions
  • Direct you to extra help and support available

Due to the outbreak and the increased pressure on public services, it may take longer than usual to issue funeral paperwork. 

If you have a funeral director you wish to use, please contact them to arrange for the deceased to be collected. If you don’t currently have a funeral director, you can find an industry inspected local funeral director at:

These organisations have codes of practice, and they must give you a price list when asked. Your funeral director will be able to discuss funeral arrangements with you regarding burial or cremation.

In line with government guidance, the number of people allowed to attend funerals is currently restricted. Only the following should attend, along with the funeral director, chapel attendant and funeral staff:

  • Members of the person’s household.
  • Close family members.
  • If the deceased has neither household or family members in attendance, then it is possible for a modest number of friends to attend.
  • Attendance of a celebrant of choice, should the bereaved request this.

Only immediate family should attend the funeral, this includes grandchildren if it is a grandparent’s funeral. If there are very few or no immediate family it might be possible for a close friend to attend.

Mourners must keep a safe distance of at least 2 metres (3 steps) between individuals at all times and should follow the advice on social distancing when travelling to and from the funeral gathering. People travelling in the vehicle should be limited to those living in the same home.

Mourners who are self-isolating for 14 days due to someone in their household being unwell with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) but are not symptomatic themselves may attend the funeral in person should they wish to do so, but must adhere to social distancing guidelines. Mourners who are clinically vulnerable or in a shielded group are also able to attend, but must also adhere to social distancing guidelines at all times.

When attending funerals, make sure that:

  • You follow social distancing restrictions. Keep two metres apart from others who don't live you.
  • You wash your hands often or use hand sanitiser when you blow your nose, sneeze or cough, eat or handle food.
  • You cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin and wash your hands.
  • You avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Anyone who attends a funeral must not be:

  • Showing any symptoms of COVID-19
  • In the 14 days self-isolation period
  • In one of the high risk groups

Any mourner who is showing coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms (a new continuous cough or a high temperature) should not attend the funeral. See the latest advice government advice on attending and staying safe at funerals.

We understand this means you may not be able to arrange the service that you want, but we would urge you not to delay the funeral. Instead, consider an alternative such as a memorial service or celebration of life at a later date. You could also use a mobile phone or similar devices to live stream the cremation or burial to allow family members and friends to participate. Further information is available from the National Association of Funeral Directors.

While waiting for a burial or cremation, the deceased will be cared for in the temporary mortuary at Salisbury District Hospital or Great Western Hospital, Swindon. These are not public buildings and viewings cannot take place there. Your funeral director will collect the deceased from the appropriate location and take them to their premises.

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For your own protection and to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there must be no contact with the body of the person who has died as the risk of infection is too great.

This includes no:

  • Washing
  • Preparing
  • Dressing of the deceased

The person who has died must be left as they are. We recognise that this may be distressing, but mourners should not take part in rituals or practices that bring them into close contact with the body. Funeral directors will be able to carry out religious or cultural funeral rites, as they are equipped with appropriate safety and personal protective equipment. They may also be able to facilitate viewings if appropriate.

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If a doctor is able to issue medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD) they will send the certificate directly to the register office; there is no need for you to collect the paperwork. The death can then be registered by the register office in the district where the death occurred. At the present time, this can only be done by telephone. Please call 0300 003 4569 to book your telephone appointment once the doctor has notified you that the paperwork has been sent.

Alternatively, if you give permission to the GP or hospital for your contact details to be shared with the register office, the register office will telephone you to make your appointment and conduct the registration. This may help speed up the process for you. Certificates can be purchased during the registration, they cost £11 each and payment can be accepted by card over the telephone. The registrar will then post these out to you. The registrar can issue paperwork direct to your funeral director to enable the funeral to take place.

HM Coroner

If a doctor is unable to issue the MCCD then it will be referred to the coroner. The Office of HM Coroner will call you to discuss further options, but it may take longer than usual.

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We understand that losing a loved one can feel overwhelming. Your GP is a good first point of contact, and can provide you with information and support. They can also refer you to other local sources of support. However, it may be difficult to contact your GP during this time. A number of organisations can support you and your family, including:

Please accept our sincere condolences for your loss.

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Bereavement advice and support

This guidance provides information and practical advice to support people who have been bereaved and can also be of use to friends, relatives, neighbours and colleagues of a bereaved person who may wish to provide support.

The death of someone you care about can be among the most difficult moments that any of us will face in our lives, and it often falls on those closest to the deceased and grieving the most to organise the funeral. On this page, you’ll find information on planning and arranging a funeral, which can be difficult and is different from usual during this time. You can also find practical advice on how to register a death. Dealing with bereavement can be difficult. There is no set pattern as to how people will react and deal with the loss of a someone you care about.

Following a death there are certain formalities to be dealt with, such as collecting the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, registering the death and arranging the funeral.

You will need the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death in order to register the death at the Registry Office. If the person has died in hospital, this will need to be collected from the hospital; the medical staff on the ward or unit will provide you with information about how this will happen and when/where to collect it from. It can take a number of days before this will be ready for collection. When a person has died at home and the death was expected, for example due to a terminal illness, in most instances the doctor will issue a medical certificate of the cause of death to allow the death to be registered at the Register Office. 

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There are a wide range of options when you are arranging the funeral and it can feel overwhelming trying to decide what to choose, particularly if this is not something you have ever discussed with the person you care about. Take some time to think about what will make the occasion meaningful for you, rather than just considering what the person you care about might have wanted. Your funeral director will be able to help you think this through and will support you to make these decisions.

It is important to contact the funeral director of your choice as soon as possible so that they can start making provisional arrangements on your behalf. You need not wait until the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death has been issued.

However, do not arrange a date for the funeral before receiving the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death in case there are unavoidable delays in completing paperwork. Most funeral directors are available seven days a week and are usually happy to visit you at home to help and advise you. Prices for funerals vary and you may wish to contact several funeral directors to compare prices and services offered before making a decision.

In some circumstances (for example during the Covid19 pandemic) it can become necessary to place certain restrictions on funerals to comply with government guidance. This will understandably add to the distress that family members and friends will be feeling as you may not be able to say goodbye to the person you care about in the way you might have expected or hoped. However, this can present an opportunity to have a very private and personal service in the immediate period following your bereavement and then consider an alternative such as a memorial service or celebration of life at a later date.

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If you are in receipt of certain benefits you may be entitled to help with the cost of the funeral. You can apply using form SF200 (Funeral Payment from the Social Fund) which is available from most funeral directors. Please check the details carefully so that you understand which costs the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) will cover. If you are widowed or your civil partner dies, you may be entitled to a Bereavement Payment, Bereavement Allowance or a Widowed Parent’s Allowance. The DWP leaflet What to do after a death in England and Wales (DWP011) contains more information. For more information, you may wish to contact the DWP Bereavement Service on 0800 731 0469 for advice.

A list of Funeral Directors is available from the national Bereavement Advice Centre on 0800 634494.

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Some deaths are reported by the hospital doctors to the Coroner. These can include:

  • All sudden deaths
  • Deaths where the medical cause is unknown
  • Deaths where the cause is unnatural for example as the result of an accident
  • Deaths from poisoning
  • Deaths during an operation or shortly afterwards
  • Deaths caused by an industrial disease
  • Deaths when the patient is admitted to hospital unconscious and if diagnosis cannot be confirmed
  • Deaths which occur as a result of a fall or injury causing fractures in the elderly
  • Deaths from alcohol or drug related illness
  • The Coroner will then decide whether or not the post mortem examination is needed. The Coroner has a legal right to request a post mortem even if this is contrary to the family’s wishes. The Coroner will make any necessary arrangements, and give the Register Office the relevant forms so that you can register the death .

Hearing that a post mortem needs to take can be distressing; please be assured the post mortem examination will be carried out sympathetically and will not normally delay funeral arrangements. The Coroner’s officer will keep in touch with you as necessary during the process and help you to understand what is happening and what, if anything you need to do.

You will not receive a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death from the hospital when a Coroner’s post mortem examination is carried out. If there is a post mortem, the results go only to the Coroner in the first instance, but can be obtained later by the General Practitioner (GP) of the person who has died. When an inquest is to be held the death cannot be registered until after the conclusion of the inquest. An interim certificate for the funeral to take place will normally be issued at the opening of the inquest. After the inquest has been held, the death will be registered.

Please tell your funeral director if the death is reported to the Coroner. He or she will liaise with the Coroner on your behalf and let you know when you can register the death at the Register Office.

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The death needs to be formally registered with the Registrar for Births, Deaths and Marriages. Registration is normally the responsibility of a relative. If this is not possible check with the Registrar Office if you are qualified to act as an informant. It is a statutory requirement to register a death within five days (unless the death is reported to the Coroner). Please note: at the present time, you and only register a death by telephone. Please call 0300 003 4569 to book your telephone appointment.

If a doctor is able to issue medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD) then the death can be registered at the register office for the area where the death occurred. The registrar can issue paperwork direct to your funeral director.

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It is often after the funeral and further on that support can fall away, but this is the very time when the people really begin the grieving process and need support. They can feel isolated, lonely and become withdrawn.

In the early days of bereavement it is important to keep discussions to see how people are coping. Keep in contact as supportive, compassionate and sensitive conversations help people to feel valued and understood which will help to minimise their stress.

Grief affects and impacts individuals differently; some can be in denial, others angry. It is a long process and there are no set stages or phases. The relationship and how the person died all affect how the bereaved person behaves. Bereavement is all consuming and the emotional effects can affect mental and physical health.

Bereavement can mean changes in the family circumstances and may incur financial pressures. For example, you may become the sole parent of young children and as well as dealing with your own grief are supporting your children through the death of their parent. If you lose a parent, it may mean you take on extra caring responsibilities for the surviving parent. The loss of a sibling could mean you become involved with the care of your sibling’s children.

A grieving person is often not sleeping well, may demonstrate mood fluctuations and can be anxious. Their own health may be affected by their loss. They may say they are coping but grief can hit the person in the longer term as well as immediately after the bereavement, even years after the person you care about has died.

Special days such as anniversaries (birthday, anniversary of the death, wedding anniversary etc) can be days that particularly affect the person. The first time you do anything without the person they care about can be very hard and this can be for normal everyday things such as attending their child’s school open evening, meeting up or visiting friends or family, going shopping etc. They can feel lonely and isolated not knowing if things will ever get better. Others may not be aware the effect that ordinary conversation can have on a bereaved person. When there are discussions about holiday plans or what is happening at weekends, people should be sensitive about the effect on the bereaved person.

The death of any close person is hard to cope with, but the death of a child is devastating and the whole family is affected. 

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We understand that losing a someone you care about can feel overwhelming. Your GP is a good first point of contact, and can provide you with information and support. They can also refer you to other local sources of support. However, it may be difficult to contact your GP during this time. A number of organisations can support you and your family, including:

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Businesses: guidance on supporting employees through bereavement

This guidance provides information on supporting an employee who has been bereaved, it gives practical advice for managers on what needs to be considered. As an employer, managers have a duty of care to their employees.

Managers can find dealing with bereavement difficult. There is no set pattern as to how an individual will react and deal with the loss of someone you care about. What is important is for managers and colleagues to provide a supportive approach which will show the employee that they are valued. By having a managed approach to bereavement this will help the employee to cope better, not worry so much about their work and help them to return to their jobs, reduce sickness absence, staff turnover and strengthen team morale and corporate culture.

1. On hearing of the death, the manager should send or email a letter of condolence to their employee and they should notify the relevant director as they may also want to write a personal letter of condolence.

2. The manager will need to be supportive and compassionate and stress to their employee not to worry about work. Work is not a priority at this time and the employee should be reassured that the essential requirements of their work will be covered.

3. In providing advice and support to their employee managers may want to refer to their own policies.

4. The manager will need to find out from the employee if their colleagues can be informed, what they want them to be told and if they want their colleagues to contact them. Remember to treat information as confidential and any information conveyed to colleagues should be communicated in a private environment.

5. The employee’s and family wishes must be respected. Be aware and sensitive to religious and cultural issues and different mourning rituals and practices.

6. Check if the employee wants colleagues to attend the funeral service and if it would be suitable to organise a floral tribute or some other tribute that employees can contribute to.

7. It is important that the manager stays in contact with the employee but in the early days of bereavement the employee may be in a state of shock and not want to talk to anyone immediately or take in what is being said. It may be better to follow up with a call or email later on. The manager will need to arrange the best way of keeping in contact, whether this is by email, telephone or by visits. It is important to keep a dialogue going with the employee which will help them to feel supported and can help to minimise their anxiety.

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8. It is often after the funeral and further on that support can fall away but this is the very time when the employee really begins the grieving process and needs support. They can feel isolated, lonely and become withdrawn.

9. In the early days of bereavement and after the funeral do not discuss with the employee their immediate return to work, unless they bring the subject up, but it is important to keep discussions open to see how they are coping.

10. The employee could be worried about taking time off or about returning to work and the manager needs to reassure them about this. Keep in contact as supportive, compassionate and sensitive conversations helps the employee to feel valued and understood which will help to minimise their stress, reduce sickness absence or avoid periods of sickness.

11. Grief affects and impacts individuals differently, some can be in denial others angry. It is a long process and there are no set stages or phases. The relationship and how the person died all affect how the bereaved employee behaves. Bereavement is all consuming and the emotional effects can affect the employee’s mental and physical health.

12. Bereavement can mean changes in the family circumstances and may incur financial pressures. Managers need to be sensitive to these changes, for example the employee could become the sole parent of young children and as well as dealing with their own grief are supporting their children through the death of their parent. If the employee loses a parent, it may mean they take on extra caring responsibilities for the surviving parent. The loss of a sibling could mean the employee becomes involved with the care of their sibling’s children. It is important to realise that the employee is having to make important decisions and re-assess priorities when they are at their lowest.

13. If you haven’t already done so, or if the employee hasn’t taken in what you have previously mentioned, go through your relevant policies and support that is available for them for your organisation. Policy examples that you will need to consult include flexible working policy, leave for carers policy, compassionate leave policy, annual leave and unpaid leave policy, sickness management policy and parental leave policy.

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14. Employees can worry about returning to work and how colleagues are going to treat them. Some employees return to work sooner, others need longer. Managers need to have appropriate discussions with their employee to ease them back into work. Before they return to work arrange a meeting to find out how they are feeling and if they have any concerns.

15. Keep them informed of any updates in the service or if there are any organisational changes that may affect their job role. Changes in the work place could impact upon the employee and mean they are dealing with a further upset in their life.

16. Reasonable adjustments can be discussed such as returning to work on a gradual basis, duties or hours being adjusted, homeworking or working from another location.

17. An employee working in care may need support or their duties adjusted if they are dealing with clients who are receiving end of life care. There may be duties in other roles that an employee is unable to temporarily perform.

18. Make sure they don’t return to a large backlog of work, spread the work out gradually by prioritising duties and make sure they take breaks.

19. On return to work an employee may not be able to work to their full potential. They may be fatigued, unable to make decisions and may have a lack of motivation. Their work performance and attendance can be affected, and allowances may need to be made for this.

20. A grieving person is often not sleeping well, may demonstrate mood fluctuations and can be anxious. Their own health may be affected by their loss. If they experience mental health difficulties such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder they could be covered by the Equality Act 2010 and reasonable adjustments will need to be looked at.

21. Even when the employee returns to work the manager needs to continue to meet with them regularly so that any strategies and adjustments can be reviewed or implemented, and the employee knows they are still being supported. They may say they are coping but grief can hit the person in the longer term as well as immediately after the bereavement, even years after the person has died.

22. Special days such as anniversaries (birthday, anniversary of the death, wedding anniversary etc) can be days that particularly affect the employee. If they request leave on these days try to be sympathetic in approving them.

23. The first time the employee does anything without the person they care about can be very hard and this can be for normal everyday things such as attending their child’s school open evening, meeting up or visiting friends or family, going shopping etc. They can feel lonely and isolated not knowing if things will ever get better.

24. Colleagues may not be aware the effect that ordinary conversation in the office can have on a bereaved person. When there are discussions about holiday plans or what is happening at weekends they need to be sensitive about the effect on their bereaved colleague.

25. The death of any close person is hard to cope with, but the death of a child is devastating and the whole family is affected. Managers will need to be particularly sensitive to the needs of the parents or parent and siblings in considering flexibility in working hours and emotional support. New legislation in April 2020 will give parents the right to paid parental leave when a child dies.

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26. The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination because of religion or belief and disability.

27. Some religions have specific bereavement requirements and customs which managers will need to consider carefully and try to accommodate with requests for time off. Unless you can objectively justify turning a request down it is possible it could be indirect religious discrimination.

28. Grief can lead to a long-term illness (e.g. depression) which affects the employee’s ability to perform day to day activities. Under the Equality Act this can be considered a disability for which the manager will need to look at reasonable adjustments.

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These are only guidelines. Communication is a very individual matter and you will need to judge the appropriate response for a given situation. 

Try to: 

  • Choose a private place to talk and make sure you won’t be interrupted. 
  • Be prepared for the meeting to overrun. Let the employee set the pace. 
  • Show you are listening. Encourage conversation by nodding or with verbal cues like ‘I see’ or ‘what happened next?’ 
  • Show it’s okay to be upset by remaining calm yourself and allowing your employee time to recover if emotions spill over. 
  • Show empathy with phrases, ‘you sound very upset’. 
  • Respond to humour (but don’t initiate it). If your employee tells a joke, it’s a legitimate coping mechanism.
  • Feel able to adjourn the meeting if your employee becomes too distressed to continue.

Try not to: 

  • Be afraid of silence. It’s okay if the conversation goes quiet for a bit. 
  • Be too quick to offer advice – although sometimes people do not know what or how to ask. 
  • Use cliches like ‘things could be worse’ or ‘things will work out’.
  • Discount your employee’s feelings
  • Share stories about other people you know who have been in similar circumstances, this takes the focus away from your employee. 
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We understand that losing someone you care about can feel overwhelming. Your GP is a good first point of contact, and can provide you with information and support. They can also refer you to other local sources of support. However, it may be difficult to contact your GP during this time. A number of organisations can support you and your family, including:

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Please note this is a template letter and can be personalised and adapted as deemed appropriate. 


Dear

Re: Your recent bereavement

We/I are/am so sorry to hear about the loss of [ insert details of person/relation/if not appropriate change to ‘your recent bereavement’] and extend my/our condolences to your family.

I/ insert name of person will be in touch with you to discuss your needs. I/name of person will be led by yourself on how you would prefer to be contacted and how often as I realise that this will be a difficult and busy time for you. 

Confidentiality is very important, so I shall be guided by yourself as to what you want disclosed to your team members 

If, when you return to work you feel, at any point, that your work is being affected by your bereavement please discuss with [insert name of manager] and we can help support you at work. 

Yours sincerely,

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Last updated: 4 May 2020 | Last reviewed: 4 May 2020