March 26, 2020 3.27 pm This story is over 44 months old

Councils get more powers to deal with coronavirus deaths

Crematoriums may be called on to operate for longer

Local authorities have been given more powers to deal with a possible increase in coronavirus deaths.

The government’s Coronavirus Bill gives councils the ability to take control of the death management process if scientific advice shows that the number of people who die from COVID-19 is likely to “significantly exceed” local capacity.

It includes giving local authorities the power to:

  • Extend crematorium operating hours
  • Ask companies to use their vehicles to move bodies
  • Directing others, not directly involved in the funeral sector, to provide necessary support

The bill said: “Only in the most extreme situations where there is a risk to public health would the powers of direction be used and only be used when scientific evidence and operational advice suggests that it is necessary.

“Activating the powers will ensure the local death management system continues to work effectively to protect public health and the dignity of the deceased.

“Personal choice will be respected as far as possible, especially in regard to how we handle loved ones after they have passed.”

The bill gives new powers to coroners to sign death certificates and funeral directors to register deaths on behalf of families.

It suspends provisions relating to the collection of ashes, with a duty to retain them until the suspension is lifted.

It said: “We want to ensure the deceased are treated with the utmost respect and dignity and that the current procedures in relation to death and still-birth registration and management are modified to enable this and to protect public health.”

SUBSCRIBE TO LOCAL DEMOCRACY WEEKLY, our exclusive email newsletter with highlights from coverage every week, as well as insights and analysis from our local democracy reporters.