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Information for Operators
An Overview of the Main Provisions of the Private Columbaria Ordinance
  • Notice on Briefing on Application Guide for the Private Columbaria Ordinance (for private columbaria trade)
  • The Private Columbaria Licensing Board (PCLB) is a statutory licensing authority. It considers and determines applications for different types of specified instruments (i.e. licence, exemption and temporary suspension of liability) in respect of private columbaria. FEHD is responsible for handling matters concerning the execution of the Private Columbaria Ordinance, including assisting the PCLB in processing applications for specified instruments.
  • The Private Columbaria Ordinance has come into effect. A person must obtain a specified instrument, namely a licence, an exemption or a temporary suspension of liability (TSOL), for operating, keeping, managing or in any other way having control of a private columbarium.
  • A private columbarium that wants to be issued a specified instrument must comply with all the applicable statutory and government requirements, including those relating to land leases or other land instruments, town planning and building safety and also submit a management plan (for application for a licence only). Please click here for details.
  • Please click here for details of the permitted business activities for holders of different types of specified instruments.
  • The type of specified instrument that a columbarium may apply for is determined by the date of commencement of operation of the columbarium. Please click here for details.
  • A private columbarium must obtain a licence before it sells or newly lets out niches. For an agreement for sale of interment right entered into on or after the enactment date, the agreement must be in writing and must comply with the requirements stipulated under the Ordinance, including setting out in the agreement the information, recommendations and essential terms prescribed in the Ordinance. Otherwise the agreement may be unenforceable by the operator against the purchaser (see section 49(2) and (3) of the Ordinance) and the purchaser may cancel the agreement by giving the seller a written notice of cancellation and receive a refund of all money paid under the agreement.
  • A pre-cut-off private columbarium which intends to apply for an exemption must not sell or newly let out niches after 8 a.m. on 18 June 2014. Otherwise, the columbarium will not be eligible for an exemption and may only apply for a licence for which more stringent requirements under the new legislation will have to be satisfied.
  • If a columbarium was in operation immediately before the enactment date of the new legislation, there will be a grace period of 9 months beginning on the enactment date of the new legislation (i.e. 30 June 2017 to 29 March 2018). If the columbarium applies for a TSOL, the grace period remains valid during the processing of the application until it is finally disposed of or withdrawn. During the grace period, an eligible private columbarium may continue to operate without a specified instrument, but it must not sell or newly let niches.
  • A person who operates, keeps, manages or has control of a private columbarium in the contravention of the requirements under the new legislation will be liable to prosecution and, on summary conviction, to a fine of $2 million and to imprisonment for 3 years, or, on conviction on indictment, to a fine of $5 million and to imprisonment for 7 years.

Timetable for Acceptance of Applications
  • Any person who intends to apply for a licence or any other specified instrument under the Private Columbaria Ordinance must read the Application Guide and use the application form to submit application together with all the supporting documents and information as specified in the Application Guide.
  • The Private Columbaria Licensing Board has started receiving applications.
  • The deadline for submitting applications for specified instruments (viz. licence, exemption or temporary suspension of liability) in respect of pre-cut-off columbaria has expired by the end of 29 March 2018.
  • For enquiries, please call 2892 2731.
  • Enquiry telephone numbers of relevant government bureau and departments are as follows.
Validity Period of Specified Instruments
Types of Specified Instruments Validity Period
Licence
  • Must not exceed the shorter of the following:
    • the remainder of the term of the lease / tenancy of the columbarium premises
    • 10 years
Exemption
  • Must not exceed the remainder of the term of the lease / tenancy of the columbarium premises
Temporary Suspension of Liability (TSOL)
  • Initial validity period must not exceed 3 years
  • May apply for extension if necessary
  • May not be extended more than once, unless exceptional circumstances exist

Permitted Activities for Holders of Different Types of Specified Instruments
Types of Specified Instruments Permitted activities
Licence
  • Selling or letting out niches; and
  • General operation (including interment of ashes, but the number of sets of ashes kept in the columbarium should be limited to the maximum number as shown on the approved plans).
Exemption
  • General operation, but selling or newly letting out of niches is prohibited.
  • Ashes interred in a niche before 8am on 18 June 2014 (the “cut-off time”) can continue to be kept in that niche.
  • The columbarium must ensure that the number of sets of ashes kept is limited to the total number of sets of ashes that were kept as at the cut-off time with the following exceptions :
  • (1) For ashes interred in the columbarium between the cut-off time and the enactment date, the Private Columbaria Licensing Board (the Licensing Board) may permit the ashes to continue to be kept in the columbarium provided that one of the following criteria is met:
    1. the niche concerned was purchased or rented before the cut-off time and the name of the dedicated person has been entered into the endorsed register; or
    2. the ashes were interred in a religious ash pagoda Note (as defined by section 57(14) of the Ordinance), and no fees, charges or other sums were paid, or are payable, for the interment of ashes.
    (2) If the interment right in respect of any niche purchased or rented before the cut-off time has not been exercised or has only been partially exercised, ashes may be interred in that niche during the validity period of the exemption (the name of the dedicated person must be entered into the relevant register).
    (3) For a “religious ash pagoda” in a columbarium of a Chinese temple specified by the Secretary for Home Affairs (SHA) by notice published in the Gazette, the ashes of the religious practitioners may be interred in the “religious ash pagoda” according to the conditions set out by the SHA (including the number of sets of ashes that may be interred)
    (Note: Please click here for details of “religious ash pagoda”)
Temporary suspension of liability (TSOL)
  • General operation, but selling or newly letting out of niches is prohibited.
  • Unless otherwise specified, the columbarium must ensure that the number of sets of ashes kept is limited to the total number of sets of ashes kept at the following times:
    1. if the columbarium also applies for a licence --- limited to that as at the beginning of 30 June 2017; or
    2. if the columbarium also applies for an exemption only --- limited to that as at the cut-off time.
    3. Ashes interred before the cut-off time can continue to be kept in that niche.
    4. For ashes interred between the cut-off time and the enactment date (30 June 2017), the Licensing Board may permit the ashes to continue to be kept in the columbarium provided that one of the following criteria is met:
      1. the niche concerned was purchased or rented before the cut-off time; or
      2. the ashes were interred in a religious ash pagoda (as defined by section 57(14) of the Ordinance), and no fees, charges or other sums were paid, or are payable, for the interment of the ashes.

The relationship between the operation commencement date and the types of Specified Instruments Which the Private Columbaria May Apply for
Commencement of
columbarium operation
Remarks Types of specified instruments that can be applied for Grace period
Commenced operation (i.e. with niches sold or with ashes interred in a niche) before 1 January 1990 and is still in operation Must be in operation immediately before 8 a.m. on 18 June 2014 and with ashes interred in niches Exemption and/or Licence;

May also apply for a TSOL
A 9-month period beginning on 30 June 2017 (i.e. 30 June 2017 to 29 March 2018).

If an application has been made for TSOL, from 30 June 2017 until the application is finally disposed of or withdrawn
Commenced operation on or after 1 January 1990 but before 8 a.m. on 18 June 2014 and is still in operation Licence;

May also apply for a TSOL
Commenced operation at or after 8 a.m. on 18 June 2014 but before 30 June 2017 Licence For a columbarium which was in operation immediately before 30 June 2017, a 9-month period beginning on 30 June 2017 (until 29 March 2018)
Commenced operation on or after 30 June 2017 Licence Not applicable

An Overview of the Eligibility Requirements for Different Types of Specified Instruments
Application
eligibility requirements
“Pre-cut-off columbarium” (Note 1) Non pre-cut-off private columbarium
Temporary suspension of liability (TSOL)(must also apply for a licence and/or an exemption) Exemption Licence for “pre-cut-off columbarium”
(Note 1)
Licence
Building-related requirements
Planning-related requirements
Land-related requirements
Right to use the premises
Management Plan
Ash Interment Layout limited to that as at the cut-off-time
Ash Interment Capacity limited to that as at the cut-off-time
  • if the applicant also applies for a licence:
not applicable
  • if the applicant also applies for an exemption:not applicable
Ash Interment Quantity limited to that as at the cut-off-time If applicant also applies for the issue of an exemption:(Note 2)

(Note 3)
If applicant also applies for the issue of a licence: Ash Interment Quantity limited to that before 30 June 2017.
Extent of Occupation of Land limited to that as at the cut-off-time
Commencement of columbarium operation
  • if the applicant also applies for a licence: before 8 a.m. on 18 June 2014;
  • if the applicant also applies for an exemption: before 1 January 1990
Before 1 January 1990 Before 8 a.m. on 18 June 2014
No sale of or newly letting out of niches after the cut-off time if the applicant also applies for an exemption:
if the applicant also applies for a licence: not applicable
Requirements relating to deed of mutual covenant

Note 1:A “pre-cut-off columbarium” means a columbarium that was in operation, and in which ashes was interred in niches, immediately before the “cut-off time”. The “cut-off time” means 8 a.m. on 18 June 2014.
Note 2:The Private Columbaria Licensing Board may decide not to refuse an application even if ashes were interred in the columbarium since the “cut-off time” and before 30 June 2017, provided that one of the following conditions is satisfied-
  1. the concerned niches were sold or let out before 8:00 am on 18 June 2014; or
  2. the ashes were interred in a religious ash pagoda (as defined by section 57(14) of the Private Columbaria Ordinance), where no fees, charges or other sums were paid, or are payable, for the interment of the ashes.
Note 3:See note 2. Moreover, if the interment right in respect of any niche purchased or rented before the “cut-off time” has not been exercised or has only been exercised partially and the name of the dedicated person were entered into the relevant register, ashes may be interred in that niche during the validity period of the exemption. Ashes may also be interred in niches fulfilling the requirements for “religious ash pagoda” . For detail, please click here.

Proper handling of interred ashes
The operators of private columbaria must dispose of ashes properly
  1. A person who has operated, kept, managed or in any other way had control of or operates, keeps, manages or in any other way has control of a columbarium (hereinafter referred to as “the operators”), must not improperly dispose of ashes interred in the columbarium. Any private columbarium falling within the following situations are required to carry out the “prescribed ash disposal procedures” ( “PADP”) as stipulated by the Ordinance:
    • it commences operation on or after 30.6.2017, but without holding any valid specified instrument;
    • it was in operation before 30.6.2017, and continues to operate after the grace period while no specified instrument is in force in respect of it;
    • it is abandoned or ceases operation.
  2. An operator may apply to the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene (the “Director”) in writing for an ash disposal plan setting out alternative ash disposal procedures which are as effective as the prescribed ash disposal procedures. A person is treated as having carried out the prescribed ash disposal procedures in respect of a columbarium if the person has carried out the procedures specified in an ash disposal plan approved by the Director in respect of the columbarium).
  3. An operator who illegally or improperly disposes of ashes commits an offence and is liable to a fine of $2,000,000 and to imprisonment for 3 years on summary conviction; and to a fine of $5,000,000 and to imprisonment for 7 years on conviction on indictment.
  4. The Ordinance also requires a person who takes possession of a columbarium premises (such as the owner, mortgagee, liquidator or trustee) to notify the Director in writing within 7 calendar days after the date of taking possession and carry out the PADP as soon as reasonably practicable (while some categories of persons in possession may invite the Director to carry out ash disposal for them) (see section 75 of the Ordinance).
  5. This webpage aims to provide guidance to those persons who are required to carry out PADP under the Ordinance with a view to facilitating them in understanding the relevant legal requirements of the Ordinance. The information in this webpage should not be treated as a substitute for the Ordinance. In case of doubts, the trade shall consider seeking legal advice to ensure that they comply with the legal requirements under the Ordinance.

The Guidelines in carrying out PADP
If any person who is required to carry out PADP in a columbarium premises, they may make reference to the following guidelines.

Guidelines for carrying out PADP

Abandonment of columbarium not allowed
The Private Columbaria Ordinance has come into effect. Whether or not a specified instrument is in force in respect of a private columbarium, once a decision is made to cease the operation of the columbarium, the operator should carry out the prescribed ash disposal procedures stipulated by the Ordinance. Non-compliance with this requirement constitutes an offence.

If the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene (Director) or an authorized officer suspects that a columbarium is not in operation, he / she may give a notice about suspected abandonment. Unless a “specified response” is given within 2 months after the date of the notice, the instrument holder/ the person who has operated, kept, managed or had control of the columbarium is liable to prosecution for abandonment of columbarium.

The meaning of “specified response” is as follows:
  1. the person concerned informs the Director or authorised officer, in writing, that he/she continues to operate the columbarium according to the specified instrument issued;
  2. the person concerned applies for renewal or extension of the instrument issued; or
  3. the person concerned gives to the Director or authorised officer a written undertaking to carry out the “prescribed ash disposal procedures”.

Application for an occupation order
If section 68, 69(1), 70(1), 72, 73 or 75(2) has been contravened, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department can apply to a magistrate for an occupation order to enter and occupy the columbarium premises to carry out the steps that are considered necessary for disposal of ashes and to arrange for the return of ashes and “related items”. The Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene will recover all expenses incurred in carrying out the steps which are necessary for the disposal of ashes from the operator and other persons liable under the Ordinance.

Major offences
Private columbaria operators must comply with the new legislation. Contravention of the following requirements will result in an offence having been committed:
  1. Operation without a specified instrument
    • Any person must not operate a private columbarium without a licence, except it is a pre-cut off columbarium issued with an exemption or TSOL and does not sell or newly let out any interment rights.
    • For “Grace Period” arrangements, please click here.

  2. Improper disposal of interred ashes
    • Any person who has operated, kept, managed or in any other way had control or is operating, keeping, managing or in any other way controlling a private columbarium (hereafter referred to as “operator”) to which any of the circumstances specified below applies but failed to carry out or finish the “prescribed ash disposal procedures” is regarded as having improperly disposed of ashes:
      • a private columbarium that commences operation on or after 30.6.2017 and is in operation without any valid specified instrument;
      • a private columbarium that was in operation immediately before 30.6.2017 and is in operation after the grace period while no specified instrument is in force in respect of it;
      • it is abandoned or ceases operation.
    • Any operator who disposes of ashes does so improperly unless he/ she complies with the following requirements:
      1. For the person, who holds a specified instrument or was operating a columbarium immediately before 30.6.2017 and disposes of ashes during the grace period: the ashes are disposed of not because of cessation of operation of the columbarium; the ashes are disposed of in accordance with the terms of any agreement for the sale of interment right and in compliance with other requirements under Section 68(3) of the Ordinance; or
      2. The disposal forms part of the “prescribed ash disposal procedures” carried out in respect of the columbarium.

  3. Abandonment of columbarium
    • A person suspected of having abandoned the columbarium must give a “specified response” within 2 months after a “notice about suspected abandonment” has been issued.

  4. Failure to comply with the specified response given
  5. A person must (a) comply with an undertaking to carry out the “prescribed ash disposal procedures” given in a specified response; or (b) operate the columbarium after he/she has given a specified response to inform the Director/authorized officer that he/she will continue to operate the columbarium.

    The above offences are liable on summary conviction to a fine of $2,000,000 and to imprisonment for 3 years; or on conviction on indictment to a fine of $5,000,000 and to imprisonment for 7 years.

Religious Ash Pagodas

For application for specified instruments in respect of religious ash pagodas, please click here