Exhumations are generally rare and tend to be traumatic for the family involved. They can take a long time to arrange and are usually expensive. For these reasons, it is always best to consult with all the relatives before proceeding

Exhumation in its simplest term, means the removal from the ground of a body or cremated human remains. It also covers the disturbance of remains within a grave, particularly when a grave is re-opened for burial.

There are many applications per year to exhume human remains for varying reasons. These can be from personal family reasons to mass exhumations for town developments. To exhume human remains, you must first apply for an exhumation licence before it can take place. There are 2 types of licence available for exhumation - a Bishops Faculty and a Home Office Licence. Normally you will either need one or the other, although there are certain circumstances where you may require both.

Within burial grounds, the land is termed either Consecrated or Unconsecrated. The term 'consecrated' means dedicated to the service of God according to the rites of the Church of England. A Bishop to the Church of England carries out consecration of land.

The type of ground from which remains are to be exhumed, and also where they are going to be exhumed to, determines the exhumation licence that is required. If human remains are to be exhumed from a grave in consecrated ground to be re-interred in consecrated ground in another burial ground, you will only need to apply for a Bishops Faculty. Under certain circumstances where remains are being moved from consecrated ground, to be re-interred in the same consecrated grave plot or unconsecrated ground, both a Bishops Faculty and a Home Office Licence will be required.

If an exhumation is to be carried out from unconsecrated ground to either unconsecrated/consecrated ground, only a Home Office licence is needed. A Bishops Faculty can be obtained by application to the Church of England Diocese for the area where the deceased is interred. The address can be found in the 'Crockfords Clerical Directory'. There may be a charge for the application which can take 4 to 6 weeks to come through.

You can apply for a Home Office Licence from:

Floor 5, Allington Towers,
19 Allington Street ,
London SW1R 5EB.
Tel: 020 7035 5530
There is a charge for this licence.

An application may not take very long to come through. Part of this form must be filled in by the burial authority. Written authorisation must also be sent from the cremation authority if the remains are to be cremated after being exhumed.

Normally, a specialised exhumation firm will carry out the removal of the remains. They are generally carried out early in the morning and an Environmental Health Officer for the Local Authority will be in attendance along with a Funeral Director and council burials staff.

The Environmental Health Officer will also ensure that:

  • the correct grave is opened,
  • the exhumation commences as early as possible in the morning to ensure maximum privacy,
  • the plot is screened as appropriate for privacy,
  • health and safety of all workers is maintained e.g. protective clothing including masks and gloves, task lights and all other necessary equipment,
  • everyone present shows due respect to the deceased person and to adjoining graves,
  • the nameplate on the casket corresponds to that on the licence,
  • the new casket has been approved by the Environmental Health Officer,
  • all human remains and all the pieces of casket are placed in the new casket,
  • the new casket is properly sealed,
  • the area of exhumation is properly disinfected, and
  • satisfactory arrangements are in place for the onward transmission of the remains.

    If the conditions of the licence cannot be met, or there are public health or decency concerns, the exhumation may not proceed.