Home Burials

You may have a lot of questions when considering a home burial for yourself or a loved one, this page should help you make an informed decision.

Considering a home burial

Are home burials legal? Who you should contact? Will you need planning permission? What to do if you are selling your house?  
You may have a lot of questions when it comes to considering a home burial for yourself or a loved one, so we have put together this information sheet to help you make an informed decision.  There are also other things that you may not have considered, such as what happens if the property is sold and making sure the location and ground conditions are suitable.

Hopefully the following guidance will answer your questions, however if you have further queries please email environmental.health@eastherts.gov.uk

What is a home burial?

For the purposes of this guidance, a home burial is where you decide to bury your loved one at home or on private land instead of in a cemetery.

Are home burials legal?

Yes, providing:

  • you have followed all the legal procedures for registering the death, including obtaining a Certificate of Authority for Burial from the Registrar of Births and Deaths (or Coroner) before the burial takes place;
  • you have permission of the land owner (freeholder, not leaseholder);
  • there are no restrictive covenants attached to the title deeds or registration of the property that prohibit burial; and
  • the land owner (freeholder, not leaseholder) for the land on which the burial has taken place prepares and keeps a “Burial Register” pursuant to the Registration of Burials Act 1864.

Who should I contact if I am considering a home burial?

Environment Agency

  • You must be able to satisfy the Environment Agency that the burial will not take place within certain distances of specific types of water; i.e. No burial to be permitted within 50 metres of a borehole, well or spring, 10 metres of drain, ditch or watercourse, a minimum of 10 metres from any ‘dry’ ditch or field drain and minimum of 30 metres from any spring, running or standing water.
  • The Environment Agency have intervention powers if there is a risk of pollution to groundwater or a nearby watercourse, so you must check with them beforehand.

Environmental Health

  • If there are any infectious disease concerns relating to the deceased person, then you must inform the Council’s Environmental Health team and follow their guidance on burial arrangements.

Solicitor

  • As the land may be developed at a later date, it is recommended that an 'informative' be added to the land register and to the deeds of the property, so that a permanent record of the burial ground is made for future purchasers.
  • Your solicitor can check that there is no covenant for the property

Mortgage Company

  • You should inform your mortgage company if they still have an interest in the property.

Do I need planning permission?

No, you do not need planning permission for a home burial for a single grave, as long as there is no material “change of use”. Planning permission may be required if large monuments are erected. 

If you are unsure you should contact the Council’s duty planning officer. Please see the Guide to the Planning Service page on our website.

What happens if I sell my home in the future?

Before deciding upon a home burial, it is worth taking some time to consider the future implications for you, or your next of kin, if the property is sold in the future:  

  • you may experience problems when you come to sell a house with a grave in the grounds.
  • if you do sell the house you will not have right of access to the grave.
  • if you wish to take the body with you, you will need to obtain an exhumation licence from the Home Office, and it could prove difficult to exhume the remains if they have been in the ground for some time.  Details of how to applying for an exhumation licence are on the GOV.UK website.
  • the new owners of the property may not wish for the body to remain on the site and could apply for an exhumation licence to have the body removed, this would not require your permission and you may not even be consulted on the matter.
  • as the land may be developed at a later date, it is recommended that an 'informative' be added to the land register and to the deeds of the property, so that a permanent record of the burial ground is made for future purchasers.

There may be legal ways to ensure that the grave remains undisturbed but this will involve costs and you would need the services of a solicitor, for example:

  • it may be possible to request that the deeds to the property contain the instructions that the body must never be disturbed or removed from its resting place.  This is called a restrictive covenant and would ensure that any new property purchaser could not apply for an exhumation and reburial of the deceased.  
  • it may be possible to create a right of access for grave visits by way of an easement.

Are there any physical constraints that I need to consider?

Location

  • The burial plot should be away from the house and away from services such as drainage, cables and gas supplies.  This is especially important if any extensions or repairs are carried out in the future, to avoid disturbing the remains.

Grave

  • An open grave can be hazardous, and should be adequately protected before the burial takes place.
  • The burial plot should be deep enough to prevent foraging animals from disturbing the body, and should have at least one metre of subsoil below its base and at least one metre of soil above the coffin.  
  • The burial should not take place in waterlogged or poor draining ground.  The grave should therefore not contain any standing water when it is first dug.
  • The grave should not be dug in very sandy soil (to reduce the likelihood of the walls of the grave caving in when excavating the ground).

Groundwater

  • Further advice on groundwater pollution and where to position burial plots in sensitive areas is available on the GOV.UK website.
  • The Environment Agency have intervention powers if there is a risk of pollution to groundwater or a nearby watercourse, so it is worth checking with them beforehand.

Useful Links

Apply for an exhumation licence on the Apply for an exhumation licence page on the GOV.UK website.

See the Guidance on Cemeteries and burials: prevent groundwater pollution on the GOV.UK website.

See the Registration of Burials Act 1864 on the government legislation website.