Monday, 9 November 2015

Death and bureaucracy

When my Ciocia Jadzia died in September, she was buried within four days. When my father's cousin died the following week, she was buried within five days. Both at the Bródno cemetery in Warsaw. So why is it my mother's funeral will not take place until nearly three weeks after her death?

My mother died in Ealing Hospital less than 24 hours after admission; this means that a coroner's report is needed before the death certificate can be issued. The coroner cannot issue the report without recourse to the doctor present at the scene. Now, my mother died at the weekend; the coroner works Mondays to Fridays. The doctor works a long weekend shift, returning to work the following Thursday night. So the earliest time the doctor could talk to the coroner was on Friday morning.

And indeed, on Friday morning, we duly received the information that all was in order; a post-mortem was not required, and we could arrange to collect the death certificate from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages at Ealing Town Hall on Monday. So we made an appointment, and then contacted the funeral director. Now, funeral directors can formally do nothing without a death certificate, but the one we are using (A. Galla of Pope's Lane, South Ealing) was sufficiently ahead of the game to make provisional bookings for the church and the crematorium.

We were lucky that church and the crematorium were both available on a Friday (a popular day for funerals) which was ideal from the point of view of family travel logistics. So Friday 20th November it is - Polish church, Ealing, cremation at Mortlake, then back to the Polish church for the wake. The earliest date we could have possibly arranged the funeral for was Tuesday 17th, which is still two and half weeks after my mother's death.

Today at Ealing Town Hall, it took an hour to sort everything out, because the system was down. But once working properly, I was amazed at the efficiency of the British State. The Registrar's office was busy, with seven other people in at the same time to register births, deaths or marriages. What documents were required by the Registrar? None. I brought along my mother's old passport, just to ensure correct spelling of her name, but it was not essential.

Once equipped with a handful of death certificates, my father and I popped into the Cooperative Bank to close my mother's current account. All sorted out in a few minutes. Across the road, the visit to Santander Bank was not a success - the queues were so long we were asked to come back later.

An online government service called Tell Us Once allows next-of-kin to enter all the details of a deceased person - just once - thenceforth informing every relevant public sector body. National Insurance, National Savings, National Health Service, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the Department of Work and Pensions, the local authority, the electoral register (and where relevant - though not in my mother's case - the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority and the Passport Office).

Just ONE form filled in ON LINE. This is thanks the the wonders of, which seamlessly links all government departments into one, joined-up, citizen-friendly, cost-effective, time-saving system. Here, all the additional information I needed was my mother's National Insurance number.

So while the wait for the funeral is longer in the UK, the amount of time sorting things out is much shorter. No visits with official documents to various offices, just spend literally four minutes online and that is that. At times like this, having a well-organised state supporting you (rather than being a time-consuming burden).

This time four years ago:
Bad news for Jeziorki rat-runners

This time eight years ago:
From Łady to Falenty

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