Bereavement services

How services are provided

Services to the bereaved are provided by the statutory, commercial and voluntary sectors and it can be helpful to understand the differences between them. This information may seem self evident but can easily be overlooked when we are having to cope with all the practical tasks involved after a death when we are also struggling emotionally.

Statutory sector

This includes all services provided by central and local government and the National Health Service.

Most of these services have a basis in law e.g. the NHS was created by law to provide free healthcare to all at the point of need. This means that they have a duty to provide their services. However they often also have a role in ensuring all the legal procedures after a death are properly completed.

Although these services are provided at least partially through central and local government funding, part of their funding may comes from fees e.g. there is a charge for certified copies of death certificates.

The key areas that provide services to the terminally ill and bereaved are:

  • Emergency services
  • General practitioners and community health services
  • Hospitals and some hospices
  • Death investigation - coroners are employed by local authorities but are independent judicial officers of the crown
  • Registration of death - registrars have a legal responsibility to ensure deaths are registered according to the law
  • Local authority bereavement services - how councils are structured varies in different parts of the country. Many councils provide burial grounds and crematoria and they also have a duty to provide funerals for people who die that have no-one else to make the arrangements. Often councils call this department bereavement services but they may be part of a larger department such as environmental health
  • Probate registries are part of the courts system
  • Government departments such as Department of Work & Pensions and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs

Commercial services

These services are provided by companies which need to charge for their services to meet their costs. Most will be expected to make a profit for their owners/shareholders and to be able to develop and expand their services. In the area of bereavement they will regard quality of service as vitally important but they are also selling their products to you. When you are very distressed it is easy to pay less attention to value for money or to ‘shop around' in the way you might do at other times. However there often are variations in prices and what can be provided between companies so do not feel at all embarrassed about seeking information and taking time to make a decision.

It is absolutely essential to remember that once you have entered an agreement with a company you have entered a legally binding contract. Please pay attention to the ‘small print' or ask someone who you trust to read and check it for you.

Services provided by commercial companies:

  • Will writing
  • Pre-payment funeral plans
  • Funeral directors and memorial masons
  • Some cemeteries and crematoria
  • Probate
  • Legal representation at inquest and litigation
  • Banking

With regard to will writing and carrying out probate, legal professionals work in a variety of settings which include high street solicitor practices and also specialist firms such as probate services and the legal departments of banks. Legal professionals may be either solicitors who are registered with the Law Society or legal executives who are registered with the Institute of Legal Executives.

Voluntary/third sector

This sector includes the services provided by charities and not-for-profit organisations. Because these organisations often depend on grants and charitable donations there may be limits to when telephone lines are staffed although there will usually be an answering machine at other times.

Many of the support organisations will have a small number of, or even no paid staff and provide their many of their services through volunteers. Sometimes this means there may be a waiting list especially for counselling support.

This sector includes:

  • Many hospices and some home nursing services
  • Most bereavement support and self-help organisations
  • Many advice agencies

More articles