Dignity sees profits rise as it conducts more funerals during pandemic

Funeral provider Dignity saw profit rise 11 per cent in the first half of the year as it conducted more funerals due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Emstrey Crematorium, Shrewsbury
Emstrey Crematorium, Shrewsbury

However, the firm said the average price per funeral fell as people chose simpler services during lockdown.

The Sutton Coldfield-based group operates crematoria at Shrewsbury, Telford, Birmingham and in the Wyre Forest.

Dignity had stopped providing church services or limousines for mourners and was operating with limitations, including a smaller number of funeral attendees due to the coronavirus shutdown.

The firm, which owns about 800 funeral locations and operates 46 crematoria in Britain, said the number of deaths in the six months ended June 26 rose 23 per cent and its underlying pre-tax profit grew to £26.5 million from £23.9 million a year earlier.

Underlying revenue also grew from £155.3 million to £169.1 million.

Average income per funeral came in at £2,461 compared with £2,919 a year earlier.

Clive Whiley, executive chairman, said: “The turbulent trading conditions experienced in recent months have reinforced the need for businesses to be managed proactively in order to respond promptly to unexpected events.

"In particular, I would like to pay tribute to our staff, whose tireless efforts to support each other and our clients during these testing times has gone some way to allowing adequate closure for the bereaved.

"Their professionalism and flexibility have been crucial to providing respectful, high quality care to the deceased and their families notwithstanding the daily obstacles presented by the pandemic: whether it be high levels of colleague absence, the costly challenge of sourcing personal protective equipment or managing the pressure on mortuary space.

"Their resilience leaves me in no doubt that the conclusion of our root and branch review of the business will ensure the group is ready for any challenge in the future. In the interim, our focus on controlling discretionary spending will enhance covenant headroom, which together with appropriate cash management will provide the time necessary to implement those plans without the need for external capital.

"With the exception of business rates relief, we expect to complete 2020 without any direct financial support from shareholders, nor indeed Her Majesty’s Government, without furloughing any employee and having reinvested any benefit from business rates relief in the protection of the welfare of our staff and our clients."

Dignity had cancelled its dividend a year earlier after profit fell, and had paused its transformation plan pending the outcome of a probe conducted by Britain’s competition watchdog into pricing in the funerals sector.

The company said a search for a new CEO was still progressing after long-time chief Mike McCollum abruptly stepped down in April, leaving Mr Whiley in charge.

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