A Guide to Burial Costs & Arrangements

Information on arranging a burial and the costs involved

Last updated: 2 August 2019

flowers in a graveyard

Burial is an ancient process, as our article on the history of burial in Britain, dating back as far as 130,000 years. It still remains a popular choice today. Whether you’re planning a traditional churchyard burial for your loved one, or you’ve opted for a woodland burial, you’re sure to have questions about the whole process. We’ve put together a guide here to the various elements involved in arranging a burial.

Burial costs

The cost of a burial is usually the same as a cremation, in terms of the funeral directors’ fee. However, the cost of a grave is generally more expensive, making burial arrangements slightly more expensive than cremation overall.

You should bear in mind that you are not buying the actual plot of land, but the right to have a burial there. The law states that a grave may only be ‘leased’ for up to 100 years at a time. You will therefore be given the option to ‘top-up’ your lease over time.

It is also important to remember that if your loved was not a resident of the area you wish to bury them in, the cost may be significantly more.

The average cost for a basic burial in the UK in 2018 was £4,798. The actual cost of a funeral can vary greatly depending on where in the UK you are, what type of funeral you are organising, and whether or not your loved one has chosen to use a funeral plan.

Your loved one’s wishes

When deciding how to plan a burial, many people will take their loved one’s wishes into account. However, you may feel that you are unable to afford aspects of those wishes, so it is important to know that you are not legally required to do so.

If you are concerned about the cost of a burial, find out if you may be entitled to help with funeral costs.

Arranging a burial

If you have appointed the services of a funeral director, they will take care of most of the burial arrangements. If you wish to organise it yourself, you will need to contact the cemetery directly. In such a case the cemetery will require the following information:

  • Name, address and age of your loved one
  • The date and time of the burial
  • Details of the person arranging the burial
  • Coffin size
  • Burial type (whether it is religious or not)

If you have already bought a lease for a grave, you will also need to submit your grave number.

Legal requirements

You must ensure that you have registered the death before arranging the burial. You will be issued with a Certificate for Burial. This is needed for a burial to take place.

Registering a death is the first step in obtaining a Certificate for Burial. In the first instance you need to contact the GP of the person who has died or, if they died in a hospital, the doctor who was looking after them. They will be able to arrange a Certificate of Cause of Death.

Once you have a Certificate of Cause of Death, you need to contact a registrar and register the death officially. This needs to happen within 5 days in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and within 8 days in Scotland.

Once you have registered the death with the registrar, you will be given a Certificate for Burial or Cremation, which is known as the GR021 in Northern Ireland. You can give this to your funeral director and from there they can organise your burial.

A Burial plot application form will need to be filled out and submitted whether you are requesting a completely new burial plot, or looking to reopen an existing burial plot. Your funeral director will be able to help you with this process.

If an inquest is needed, for example, if the cause of death is unknown, then you will need to contact the coroner to find out when they will be able to provide a death certificate. Once their inquest has been completed and they are satisfied that a burial, or cremation, can take place, they will issue an Order For Burial Form instead.

For a burial at sea you’ll need to apply for a burial at sea license.

Can I be buried in churchyard if I’m not christened?

In general, parishioners of a church are eligible for burial in that church’s churchyard, but they don’t necessarily have to be christened. However, this may differ from church to church and you should ask your funeral director to inquire before making firm plans.

On top of that, a larger concern is a general lack of space. The amount of space for burials in any given churchyard will be necessarily limited. So finding a space in a churchyard for a burial can be hampered by that, before the question of faith arises.

What is the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard?

A cemetery is a catch-all term for a place where people are buried, whereas a graveyard is an area linked to a church. While some non-church adjacent cemeteries might be referred to as graveyards, they are in fact cemeteries.

Can you bury ashes in a graveyard?

You can bury ashes in a graveyard. Not every graveyard will have space or will allow for the burying of ashes, but there’s no legal reason for a graveyard not to allow the burial of ashes.

What happens when a graveyard is full?

If a graveyard is full and the person who is going to be buried hasn’t reserved a space, another burial site will have to be chosen. Because grave plots are usually leased, rather than sold, new spaces often come up in graveyards. Your local diocese will be able to advise you of the availability of space in your chosen graveyard.

The Burial service

If you decide on a burial for your loved one, you may wish to hold a burial or graveside service. This is usually a short service held after the funeral as the coffin is lowered into the ground. Often the person leading the service will invite mourners to attend the burial.

The burial service may include a short prayer or reading, depending on preference and religious beliefs. Another common tradition is for the bereaved to scatter soil onto the coffin once it has been lowered. Some people also choose to throw flowers.

Occasionally, people may choose to hold a graveside service as the main ceremony. In this case, chairs can be set up beside the grave for the closest friends and family members. However, bear in mind that graveside services are outdoors and will be subject to weather conditions.

Can I get buried without a coffin?

There are no legal obligations for you to be buried in anything at all, though the majority of burial sites, especially council run locations, will require at least a coffin. Potentially, if you are being buried on private land, you could be buried without any coffin, casket or even clothing.

Headstones and memorials

You are not legally required to provide a headstone or a memorial for a grave. However, most people choose to get one made, whether it is weeks, months or even years after the burial. They remain the most popular types of grave markers when it comes to traditional burials.

Once a headstone or a memorial has been ordered, it takes an average 8-12 weeks to be completed. The headstone cannot be placed until the ground settles; this can take around six months.

What are the different types of burials?

There is some variation in types of burials, but not a great deal. We’ve listed the three main differences below.

In-ground burials are probably the most traditional, widespread and well known. They involve digging a plot in a site designed for burials were a person can be interred, usually in a coffin or casket, though some burial grounds allow or encourage simpler or more eco-friendly options such as biodegradable shrouds.

Above-ground burials in a mausoleum are a less popular but equally traditional means of burial. Historically, mausoleums have been regarded as a more prestigious way to bury someone as they offer more opportunity for ornate markings of the site of interment. But there are now mausoleums around the country available to the wider public.

Green burials are a fairly new concept, but are rapidly gaining popularity. They are more environmentally friendly than traditional in-ground burials and usually take place in woodland or meadows.

There is no gravestone or memorial for a green burial. The bereaved sometimes choose to mark the site of the grave with a tree or a rough cut stone, or may choose to let it become part of the surrounding natural landscape

There are now over 260 green burial sites in the UK. Prices can vary widely, depending on where you live.

Are there alternatives to burial and cremation?

There have always been alternative burial options and alternatives to cremation, but in the UK these are your only two viable options. Burial and cremation have been the standard options for funerals for centuries now, though other, non-traditional options are becoming available.

One technology that is on its way to becoming a staple is resomation. Otherwise known as hydro-cremation or alkaline hydrolysis, this is an environmentally friendly way of cremating someone, but using liquid rather than the traditional cremation furnace.