National funeral company Dignity, whose Scottish operations include Dundee crematorium, plunged almost £20 million into the red last year.
This came despite a big jump in deaths due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The group said UK deaths surged 14% to 663,000 in 2020 – the highest since 1918, which witnessed the end of the First World War and beginning of the Spanish Flu pandemic.
The firm’s pre-tax losses for the 12 months to December 25 were £19.6million, compared to profits of £44.1 million the previous year.
Dignity reported that it had suffered from lower average revenues, due primarily to virus restrictions imposed by the Government.
However, underlying revenues at the UK’s only listed provider of funeral-related services were up 4% at £314.1 million.
Business remains robust
Dignity is said to be the largest operator of crematoria in Britain, with nearly 50 sites.
It also has around 800 funeral directors across the UK, including in Tayside and Fife.
The firm conducted 80,300 funerals last year – more than at any stage in its history despite operational constraints resulting from Coronavirus.
Chairman Clive Whiley said: “During 2020, we have continued to be focused and resilient in the light of many changes. However, the business has remained robust.”
He added that, in a unique and challenging year, the dedication of the firm’s staff had enabled continued delivery of services, supported by a refreshed strategy and management team.
“Our people are fundamental to both the group’s success and sustainability – and I would like to thank them for their significant contribution, resilience and commitment to service during what has been an exceptional time for society, bereaved families, our people and our business.”
Mr Whiley said Covid-19 directly contributed to a total UK 2020 annual death-toll of 663,000 – an increase of 14% over 2019.
Pandemic required flexible operations
Crematoria director Steve Gant said 2020 had been an extraordinary year, and he was very proud of how the crematorium and memorial group responded to challenges never previously faced.
Mr Gant added: “Our commitment to remaining operational has been evident and we continued to provide a vital service throughout the pandemic.
“Due to the pandemic, we have needed to be flexible and make significant changes to the way we operate. This has included the provision of additional service slots during weekdays or weekends.
“Restrictions to funerals, such as the number of attendees or the closure and re-opening of cemeteries, crematoria grounds and offices to visitors, has presented the challenge of keeping the public informed about the services we were able to provide within these guidelines.
“We also witnessed an increased demand for unattended direct cremations.
“We adapted to meet this challenge whilst continuing to provide facilities for those that wanted a more traditional cremation service.”
Business development director Alan Lathbury said the funeral director market remained very fragmented, with approximately two-thirds of funeral directors being small owner-managed businesses.
There are around 300 crematoria in the UK, with two-thirds owned by local authorities.
It is estimated that three-quarters of all funerals result in a cremation, with the remainder being burials.
Dundee Crematorium, on the city’s McAlpine Road, opened in 1936.