Written evidence submitted by Anonymous (COR001)

I work [for a Registration Service], under the regulations required by the General Register Office, overseen by the Home Office. I, like many others, have an elderly parent who is in one of the high risk categories, with COPD. Information being passed down from the GRO to Superintendent Registrars and their staff has, in my opinion, been woefully inadequate so far, putting staff and the public at continued risk of infection with Covid-19.

Today (18th March 2020) has been the first day of any significant changes to our working practices regarding registration services – birth and death registrations, marriage and civil partnership ceremonies and citizenship ceremonies. We have been told by our line manager that staff in any of the high risk/vulnerable categories should work from home from tomorrow. No other changes have been made. Not even any deep cleaning of the offices (where dozens of members of the public pass through daily). Marriage and civil partnership ceremonies are still taking place in our offices and across the county at venues, as are citizenship ceremonies at [a registered venue]. We have simply been told to wash our hands between appointments and not shake hands with the public.

Presumably, in the coming days, marriage, civil partnership and citizenship ceremonies will be postponed/cancelled?

However, birth and death registrations will still need to continue.

The process for both of these is as follows;

An informant must sit down in front of a Registrar to complete these registrations as a signature is required. We have been advised (yesterday) that we can ask for only one informant to attend ie we must tell other family members who have come to wait in Reception (a small room where the Receptionist works). This, of course, will not work for birth registrations where couples who are not married or in a civil partnership must both attend.

The entire information-gathering process in these registration appointments takes place via an online system called RON. Information is asked of the informants and the information is inputted. A register page is generated and signed by both the informant/s and the Registrar. Certificates are then produced, signed only by the Registrars. This could all be done (except the informant’s/informants’ signature/s on the register page) either by phone or via Skpye. Certificates could be sent in the post.

I note that discussions are already afoot, under the Coronavirus Bill, to change the usual process of Medical Certificates of the Cause of Death being collected by the family member and taken to the Registrar. As I understand it, it is proposed that these will be sent directly from GPs/hospital doctors straight to funeral directors to avoid relatives having to go in to GP surgeries to collect these and bring to Registrars for death registration appointments. Again, Registrars could be sent these electronically by doctors for checking and issue the ‘green form’ required for funeral directors, (usually taken by informants at the end of the appointment and then handed physically to funeral directors), via email.

In summary then, in these extreme circumstances, for the sake of a signature, and in order to keep Registrars healthy and to be able to maintain a working system of registration throughout this crisis which may last many months and even years, surely an alternative can be found so that Registrars do not have to come into contact with members of the public? For example, “Signature as declared to me by telephone” and signed by the Registrar? Or a scanned version of a signature emailed directly to the Registrar? Has there been no planning for a crisis such as this?

I have been extremely concerned for weeks at the lack of preparedness for this crisis, and total lack of guidance from the GRO to staff, pointing to a total lack of leadership and management. Is the Registrar General, Mark Thomson, even still in post? It was my understanding that he was leaving this month and still no replacement has been publically announced.

March 2020