What’s the cremation process in the UK?

It’s natural to wonder how the cremation process works - particularly if you’re attending a cremation funeral or you’re arranging a cremation funeral for a loved one and are not sure what to expect.

Here’s a brief overview of the cremation process:

  • Funeral service is held in the crematorium chapel
  • Curtains close around the coffin (the committal)
  • Coffin is placed into the cremator at 800 - 1000 °C
  • After cremation, remains are cooled and grounded into ashes
  • Ashes are transferred into a container (for collection or scattering)

In this guide by Reassured, we cover the cremation process in the UK from start to finish; from what happens at a cremation funeral service to what happens with the ashes.

Reassured is an award-winning brokerage that’s arranged financial protection for families in the UK for over a decade.

What is cremation?

Cremation is the alternative to a burial and takes place at a crematorium, which are located all over the UK.

The cremation process involves placing the deceased (and the coffin) into an extremely hot cremation chamber for several hours until there are just bone fragments left behind.

These fragments are then cooled and grounded into ashes which are placed into a container and given to the family.

8 surprising facts about cremation:

  1. It’s against FBCA regulations to cremate more than one body at one time[2]
  2. Crematorium staff aren’t allowed to open the coffin at all before the cremation
  3. A coffin doesn’t have to be used; a shroud on a wooden board is the alternative
  4. Temperature inside the cremation chamber can reach 1100°C
  5. A body isn’t exposed to flames, instead, the intense heat reduces it down to bone remains
  6. Family members can witness the cremation process following a service
  7. The cremation chamber has a viewing window
  8. Cremated remains weigh between 2kg - 4kg

Continue reading as we break down the cremation process from start to finish...

1. Funeral service is held in the crematorium chapel

What happens at a cremation service?

A standard cremation service at a crematorium may take place as follows:

  1. The hearse and guests arrive at the crematorium for the service
  2. Guests gather in the waiting room or at the chapel entrance
  3. The coffin is brought into the chapel and placed on the catafalque (raised platform)
  4. Close family members followed by the other guests will enter and take their seats
  5. The service begins; led by a minister, celebrant or by family members
  6. There may be readings, music, hymns and/or songs
  7. At the end of the service, the coffin is removed from view using curtains (the committal)
  8. Guests leave the chapel and may be directed to where the floral donations can be viewed

How long does a cremation service last?

A standard cremation service lasts about 30 - 45 minutes; from when guests enter the chapel until when they leave.

As with a service at a church, there may be readings, music, hymns and speeches (which may last about 20 minutes of the total time).

Usually, the services at a crematorium chapel will take place one after the other, so it’s important that each service doesn’t overrun.

A longer service can be pre-arranged with the funeral director if it’s required.


How is a body prepared for cremation?

Up until the funeral, the person who has passed will be preserved and cared for in a temperature-controlled room at the funeral director’s mortuary (or at the hospital or hospice mortuary).

The funeral director or a family member will dress the deceased in their own clothes and jewellery, but jewellery tends to be removed before the cremation (as these cannot be recovered afterwards).

It’s recommended that their clothing is made from natural fibres such as cotton and wool.

Before cremation, the funeral director would have made sure that pacemakers or any other type of implant is removed.

Crematorium staff will confirm once again just before the cremation if there is a pacemaker, as this could explode during the process and cause significant damage to the cremator.


What can you put in a coffin for cremation?

Items such as photographs, letters, soft toys and written messages may be most suitable to put inside a coffin.

Items made of glass, metal, PVC and plastic shouldn’t be put inside a coffin as they may cause damage to the cremator.

Also, larger items that take longer to burn (and thus, lengthen the cremation process) may be removed by the funeral director before the cremation.

Forms provided by the crematorium will explain what can and cannot be put inside a coffin (and the funeral director can provide advice too).

2. The committal (the coffin is removed from view)

Are bodies cremated straight after service?

A body is usually cremated shortly after the committal at the funeral service (it’s actually against regulations if the body is kept at the crematorium overnight unless there is an issue with the equipment, or it’s been authorised by the FBCA).

The coffin is removed from view, either with curtains closing or being lowered from the catafalque into the committal room below. The guests then leave the chapel, and the coffin is transferred to a trolley and taken into the charge room, which is where the cremators are.

The nameplate of the coffin is checked by crematorium staff and matched to an identity card which will accompany the coffin, cremated remains and ashes at each part of the process.

In 2019, 4% of cremations in the UK took place without a funeral service. This is called a direct cremation and costs significantly less than a standard cremation.

Find out more about what it means to have no funeral, just cremation.

3. Coffin is placed into the cremator at 800 - 1000 °C

Do they cremate multiple bodies at once?

No, despite common misconceptions, cremations are carried out individually.

After a cremation, the remains are carefully raked out of the cremator before another coffin goes in.

Cremators are usually only big enough to accept one coffin (so about 7 feet long).


What happens during cremation of a body?

The coffin is placed inside the extremely hot cremator chamber (this is called charging) and the door is closed. Air is forced into the chamber and the cremation process starts.

The temperature can reach up to 1100 °C, depending on the size of the body and what other items may be in the coffin.

The cremator has a secondary chamber than burns off the smoke, gas and CO2 (which, before legislation changed, used to go into the atmosphere).


How long does a cremation take?

The cremation process itself takes between 1.5 - 3 hours.


When a body is cremated what happens to the coffin?

Some people believe that coffins or the fixtures are resold after cremation, but this is not the case.

The coffin is cremated with along with the deceased. Once at the crematorium, the coffin cannot be opened or kept on site unless approved by the Cremation Authority or when there’s written consent of the Applicant for Cremation.

4. After cremation, remains are cooled and grounded into ashes

What are ashes?

Surprisingly, ashes aren’t what’s remaining in the cremation chamber after the body has been cremated.

In fact, bone fragments are what’s remaining and sometimes along with bits of metal from the coffin or from jewellery.

The remains are raked into a mini chamber under the cremator and into a cooling tray which is blasted with cold air. Once cooled, any bits of metal are removed using a magnet.

The bone remains are then transferred to a pulveriser (or cremulator) to be grounded down into a sand-like substance - the ashes.


Are cremation ashes mixed?

No, cremation ashes aren’t mixed.

As mentioned, an identity card is used throughout the cremation process from when the coffin arrives at the crematorium to when the ashes are stored in a container, so there are no mix-ups.

5. Ashes are transferred into a container (for collection or scattering)

How long after cremation are ashes ready?

Ashes are usually ready the day after the cremation and are stored in a simple container until they are collected or scattered on site.


Who can collect the ashes?

The funeral director usually collects the ashes on behalf of the family.

If a funeral director wasn’t used, the family member who arranged the cremation and signed the cremation forms can collect the ashes.

What have people done with the ashes? Top 5 answers:

  1. Buried them in the crematorium or graveyard
  2. Scattered them at a special landmark/beauty spot
  3. Kept or buried them at home
  4. Haven’t decided yet
  5. Scattered them at sea or planted them with a tree, bush or flower[3]

What can you do with the ashes?

The ashes can be transferred into a different urn and kept at home or they can be scattered at a place special to the person who has passed.

Sometimes families request to have the ashes scattered at the crematorium grounds, such as the Garden of Remembrance.

6. How long after death is a funeral with cremation?

Generally, a funeral with cremation will take place a week or two weeks after a death.

The date of the funeral is decided based on how long it will take to arrange, when the funeral director is available and when the crematorium can be booked.

7. What paperwork is required before a cremation can happen?

A funeral director usually organises the necessary paperwork on behalf of the family.

Paperwork that’s required at least 48 hours before the cremation include:

  • The Application for Cremation (Form 1 in England and Wales, and Form A in Scotland and Northern Ireland)
  • Medical certificates (Forms 4 and 5 in England and Wales, Forms B and C in Scotland and Northern Ireland
  • Authorisation of cremation

8. How much does a cremation cost?

The average cost of a basic cremation funeral in the UK is £3,885[1].

Optional extras, such as flowers, order sheets and venue hire, cost an additional £2,547 on average.

A direct cremation is significantly less, at £1,554 on average, as only basic services for a cremation are required.

A prepaid cremation funeral plan costs from just £3,020** when arranged through Reassured.

Prepay your cremation funeral today and protect loved ones from rising funeral costs.

Planning a funeral? 

Check out our funeral planning checklist and helpful guide »

Avoid rising cremation costs with a prepaid funeral plan

If you haven’t thought about paying for your own cremation funeral in advance, then now may be a good time.

This is because funeral plan providers (including those Reassured work with) will guarantee the funeral services included in a plan, at today’s prices, no matter when your funeral may happen.

Funeral prices have been rising faster than inflation for the last 16 years and it’s predicted they may continue in this way.

However, with a funeral plan, you could avoid rising costs and protect loved ones from higher prices in the future.

Cremation plans arranged through Reassured cover all the essential services and start from as little as £19.11* a month.

Get in touch with our team for your FREE, personalised quote.

Sources:

*£19.11 per month pricing includes a £75 discount only available to Co-operative members and is based on a 50-year-old purchasing a Co-operative Simple Funeral Plan at £3,020 over the maximum term available of 25 years (total amount repayable £5,733.40)

**£3,020 is based on purchasing a Co-op Simple Funeral Plan in one upfront payment and price includes a £75 discount only available to Co-operative members

Prices correct as of 1st March 2021

[1] SunLife (2021), Cost of Dying Report, sunlife.co.uk/costofdying2021

[2] https://www.fbca.org.uk/information/faq/

[3] https://www.coop.co.uk/funeralcare/funeral-trends

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