Law change will enable digital death registration, minister says

Legislation that is currently working its way through parliament will ensure permanence for remote processes initially permitted via emergency laws passed early in the coronavirus crisis, according to Robert Jenrick

Pending changes to the UK’s legislative framework will ensure that citizens can remotely register deaths.

Emergency laws passed during the early stages of the Covid crisis offered citizens the ability to register a death over the telephone – rather than having to visit a register office to do so. The legislation also enabled documents to be submitted to authorities electronically.

The law had a swift and significant impact, with 95% of all deaths and stillbirths in England and Wales from April to December 2020 – a total of 495,000 – being registered via telephone.

A government review of the Coronavirus Act in 2021 claimed that the introduction of remote processes had benefited both citizens and public bodies.

“The ability to register a death by telephone has been widely welcomed especially by the bereaved as it enables them to make the necessary arrangements without needing to travel,” the review said. “This, along with the ability to transfer documents electronically, has helped ensure the timely registration of deaths and avoided onward delays in the death-management process.”

The ability to use telephone – or digital – services to register a death will soon be enshrined in law on a permanent basis, according to immigration minister Robert Jenrick. The necessary provisions to enable remote death registration are included in the laws setting out the UK’s post-Brexit data-protection regime, he added.

“For civil registration in England and Wales, remote registration assisted both the bereaved and the registration service during the Covid pandemic with positive feedback received,” the minister said, in answer to a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Stephanie Peacock. “To continue this, a change to primary legislation is required and the Data Protection and Digital Information (no2) Bill before parliament seeks to enable this.”

Sam Trendall

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