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, are arranging one for a loved one or are considering having one for your own funeral and are unsure of what to expect.

In this guide we will cover questions you may have about the UK cremation process; from what happens at a cremation funeral service to what happens with the ashes.

We will also answer:

If you’re concerned about your cremation costs and how your loved ones may cover these in the future, why not consider over 50s life insurance?

This is a policy that’s guaranteed to pay out a sum assured (lump sum pay out) when you pass away.

This payment could be used by loved ones to help cover some of the cost of your cremation. The cost of a basic cremation in the UK is £3,673[1].

  • With an over 50s plan, you may be eligible to secure up to £20,000 of cover (depending on your personal circumstances and budget))
  • If you’re a UK resident aged 50 - 85 acceptance is guaranteed
  • No medical information is required
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What is cremation?

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

Around 57% of funerals are cremation and 18% are direct cremations (a cremation with no funeral service)[1].

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

These fragments are cooled and grounded into ashes which are placed into a container and given to the deceased’s loved ones.

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 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 is around 30 - 45 minutes; from when guests enter the chapel until when they leave.

There may be readings, music, hymns and speeches. These may last about 20 minutes of the total time.

Usually, services at a crematorium chapel take place consecutively, so it’s important that each service doesn’t overrun.

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

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 against regulations if the body is kept at the crematorium overnight - unless there’s an issue with the equipment, or it’s been authorised.

Usually, the process is:

  • The coffin is removed from view, either with curtains closing or being lowered from the catafalque into the committal room below
  • Guests then leave the chapel
  • The coffin’s 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

18% of cremations in the UK took place without a funeral service in 2022[1]. This is called a direct cremation and costs significantly less than a standard cremation.

Secure over 50s life insurance and you may be able to cover some of these cremation costs for your loved ones when you pass away. Plans start from as little as 20p-a-day.

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

What happens during cremation of a body?

The coffin is placed inside the 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 other items in the coffin.

The cremator has a secondary chamber that burns off the smoke, gasses and CO2 (which used to go into the atmosphere).


How long does a cremation take?

The cremation process itself takes between 1.5 - 3 hours.

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

What are ashes?

In cremation terms, ashes are bone fragments which are ground down into a sand-like substance.

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

In fact, it’s bone fragments and sometimes bits of metal either from the coffin or jewellery.

These remains are raked into a mini chamber under the cremator, and into a cooling tray which is blasted with cold air. Any bits of metal are then removed using a magnet, and the bone remains are pulverised into ashes.


Are cremation ashes mixed?

No, cremation ashes aren’t mixed.

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, ensuring there’s no mixing of ashes.

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’re collected, or scattered on site.

The funeral director usually collects the ashes on behalf of the family. However, if a funeral director wasn’t used, the family member who arranged the cremation and signed the cremation forms can collect the ashes.

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 based upon how long it will take to arrange, when the funeral director is available and when the crematorium can be booked.

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

How much does a cremation cost?

According to SunLife, the average cost of a cremation in the UK, is £3,673[1].

The below table shows the difference in cremation and burial costs between 2021 and 2022. Information is sourced from SunLife’s Cost of Dying report:

Type of funeral2021 prices2022 pricesPercentage difference %
Burial£4,927£4,794-2.7%
Cremation£3,765£3,673-2.4%
Direct cremation£1,647£1,511-8.2%
Average funeral cost£4,056£3,953-2.5%


Direct cremation is the cheapest option and has increased in popularity, with 18% of people in 2022 describing a funeral they’ve organised as a direct cremation, compared to just 3% in 2019[1].

Optional extras, such as flowers, order sheets and venue hire, cost an additional £2,669 on average.

Average amount of professional fees such as having the estate administered are around £2,578.

£3,953 (average funeral cost) + £2,669 (optional extras) + £2,578 (professional fees) = £9,200 (total cost of dying)


An over 50s plan could help to cover the cost of your cremation and send-off. Find out how much cover you require with our life insurance calculator below:

How much cover do you need to cover your cremation funeral?

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£121,687 is the estimated average outstanding mortgage per household in the UK.

Our property is generally the largest financial commitment any of us will make.

Your life insurance should cover this significant debt should you no longer be around.

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Factoring in any outstanding debts in your name when arranging life insurance ensures this burden is not passed to loved ones.

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Factoring in the gift amount when arranging your cover will ensure the pay out amount will be sufficient to provide your loved ones with this selfless gesture.

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According to SunLife, the average cost of a UK funeral is now £4,417, whilst the total cost of dying is £9,493.

This is a 130% increase over the past 16 years and shows no signs of slowing down.

A significant cost which should be factored into the amount of life insurance you secure.

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If you are one of the 65% of the UK who are lucky enough to have savings, this could be used as protection if you were to pass away.

Any pay outs from existing life insurance policies and investments can also be used as financial protection for your loved ones if you were no longer around.

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The cremation process FAQs

How is a body prepared for cremation?

The person who’s passed is 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 dress the deceased in their own clothes and jewellery. Jewellery tends to be removed before the cremation (as it can't be recovered afterwards).

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

The funeral director will also ensure that pacemakers or any other type of implant is removed. These could explode during the process and significantly damage the cremator.

What can you put in a coffin for cremation?

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

Items made of glass, metal, PVC and plastic shouldn’t be, as they may damage the cremator.

Larger items that take longer to burn 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 also provide advice.

When a body is cremated what happens to the coffin?

Some people believe that coffins or the fixtures are resold after cremation, but this isn’t true.

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

Do they cremate multiple bodies at once?

No, cremations are carried out individually.

It’s a common misconception that multiple bodies can be cremated at the same time and it’s against Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities (FBCA) regulations.

After a cremation, the remains are carefully removed from the cremator before another coffin goes in.

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

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 deceased.

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

Popular things that can be done with ashes include:

  1. Being buried in a crematorium or graveyard
  2. Scattered at a special landmark/beauty spot
  3. Being kept or buried at home
  4. Turning them into jewellery
  5. Scattering them at sea or planting them with a tree, bush or flower[2]

Secure over 50s life insurance to help cover cremation costs

If you haven’t thought about how you, or your loved ones will help to pay for your cremation funeral, then now may be a good time.

Reassured can help you secure over 50s life insurance. This is a type of policy which pays out a sum assured once you pass away.

If you’re aged between 50 - 85 and a UK resident, you’re guaranteed to be accepted. No medical information is required and you could secure up to £20,000 of cover (depending on your personal circumstances and budget).


The below tables show the premium prices a non-smoker looking for £4,000 of cover could receive:

Age SunLife logo v2 OneFamily logo transparent
50£13.75£12
55£15.48£14
60£17.35£16
65£20.67£20
70£27.36£27
75£38.75£39
80£53.54£65


With the current cost of dying averaging £9,200[1], why not give yourself peace of mind?

An over 50s plan can contribute to your funeral expenses and help your loved ones with this costly financial obligation.

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

Sources:

[1] https://www.sunlife.co.uk/funeral-costs/

[2] https://www.purecremation.co.uk/blog/what-to-do-with-ashes

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

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