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UK's Dignity expects changes in funeral services as COVID-19 curbs ease

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By Yadarisa Shabong

(Reuters) -Dignity Plc said on Monday it expects to see changes in the last rites services it offers bereaved family members as coronavirus-led restrictions on funeral services begin to ease in Britain after it recorded a rise in first-quarter profit.

The company, which owns around 800 funeral locations and 46 crematoria in Britain, performed 23,800 funerals in the three months to March 26, a 19% rise from a year ago, while the number of cremations rose 21% to 22,600.

It reported a 35% jump in underlying operating profit to 26.1 million pounds ($36.68 million) for the period on more funerals and cremations conducted and more pre-arranged packages sold than expected.

The UK experienced a devastating second wave that peaked in late January, but numbers of new infections and deaths have plummeted since then helped by its mass vaccination programme and strict lockdown measures, which are gradually being eased.

“As the limits on mourner numbers begin to ease, we expect to see a change in the services we are able to offer,” newly appointed Chairman Gary Channon said.

Dignity had stopped providing church services and limousines for mourners and has been operating with limitations such as a smaller number of funeral attendees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to this, Dignity recorded a fall in average revenue per funeral to 2,565 pounds in the first-quarter from 2,823 pounds a year ago.

“The relaxation of numbers of funeral attendees should help average pricing in Q2, but we expect the death rate to be sharply lower,” Peel Hunt analysts said.

Shares in the London-listed firm, which saw a management shake-up since top investor Phoenix Asset Management led a vote last month to oust its chairman, were down 1.4% in early trade.

The company is expected to outline its future strategy next month at its annual general meeting as it deals with a probe by a UK watchdog over concerns about transparency in the funeral industry and new regulations next year that could affect its prepaid funeral unit.

($1 = 0.7115 pounds)

(Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Jacqueline Wong)

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