Of grave concern: burials on private land

The number of burials that take place in the UK on privately owned land is relatively small. Indeed many people are surprised to learn that it is possible to arrange a burial on your own land, rather than in a churchyard or cemetery. However, if you did want to arrange a burial on your own land, what permissions might you need, and what records should you keep to ensure that future owners of the land are made aware of the presence of a grave?

Since the Land Registration Act 2002 it’s no longer possible for details of burial to be ‘noted’ on the title documents of a property, where the title to that property has been registered at the Land Registry.

The title register that is held by the Land Registry records specific rights and interests relating to a property, but not everything that affects land can be registered at the Land Registry. The law relating to burial plots on private land is one such example.

However, there are other requirements to be considered.

The consent of the owner of the freehold of the burial site must be obtained, and it is also necessary to check that there are no restrictive covenants affecting the property which prohibit burials.

The person responsible for the burial must obtain a Certificate of Authority for Burial. This will be issued by the local authority’s Registrar of Births, Marriages & Deaths (or if a Coroner is appointed to investigate the death, from the Coroner). This certificate must be obtained before the burial takes place, and a notice must be returned to the local authority’s Registrar after the burial.

The Environment Agency and/or local authority’s Environmental Health Department should be consulted as it may be necessary to obtain their authorisation for the burial, in particular as a burial site must not be within certain specified distances from water.

The owner of the freehold land on which the burial has taken place must prepare and keep a “Burial Register” pursuant to the Registration of Burials Act 1864. This Burial Register must be kept in a safe place so that it can be passed onto future owners of the land. A Burial Register is a document that records details of the deceased and of the burial, including an accompanying plan showing the grave’s location.

Lastly, the presence of a very small number of burials on an area of private land would generally be unlikely to require planning permission from the local authority, on the basis that it would not be viewed as a “material change of use” of the land. However we would always urge caution. Furthermore, the potential exemption from having to obtain planning consent only applies to the burial itself – if a gravestone, memorial or other erection is also proposed, advice on planning should always be sought.

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