Junk mail companies have been slammed for pursuing people beyond the grave in Tayside.
One council leader is now demanding stiffer penalties for offenders to spare the agony for the bereaved.
David Fairweather, the leader of Angus Council, hit out at the “thoughtless and selfish” companies after being contacted by a number of constituents left distressed when letters have arrived addressed to a spouse or child who has recently died.
Mr Fairweather said more needs to be done to ensure companies who engage in direct marketing fulfil their legal obligations and update their records to avoid causing unnecessary distress.
He said: “I’ve spoken with a number of people who say that following a bereavement, dealing with often unsolicited sales materials addressed to a deceased relative can be particularly difficult – especially at this time of year.
“I think stiffer penalties should be in place for the thoughtless and selfish companies who double the heartbreak of the bereaved with unwanted mail to a person who has died.”
The letters come from financial services and catalogue companies, mail order clubs, utilities and holiday companies, among others.
When someone registers a death in Angus, they are given information about how to add details of the late person to the Deceased Preference Service, which companies can access and remove the person from their database.
However, not all companies subscribe to the register and keep sending out mail.
One grieving Angus relative, who asked not to be named, said: “Although it may seem insignificant to some, for many people, receiving mail addressed to a deceased loved one can trigger a deep emotional impact.
“Both of my parents died quite unexpectedly and the initial flurry of activity such as making funeral arrangements and dealing with the estate can, for a short while, keep grief at bay.
“But it is always there and while I came to accept the loss, even three years later, there are times and events that trigger a return to an earlier and rawer period in the grieving process.
“Christmas can be one of those times and it is made worse by coming home from work to find personally addressed festive offers to my dead parents, from local and national companies, on the doormat.
“Of course, mistakes happen, but I know I’m not alone in finding this situation frustrating and upsetting and the reality is it is avoidable and unnecessary.”
One estimate suggests that firms across the UK spend around £18 million per year sending letters to people who have died.
The Deceased Preference Service highlights the danger of identity theft when mailshots to someone who has passed on are intercepted and their details used to fraudulently obtain loans and credit.
John Mitchison, director of policy and compliance at the Data and Marketing Association (DMA) said:“When a loved one passes away, this can be extremely challenging time for family and friends.
“Businesses must do everything possible to avoid causing additional distress.
“No matter the time of year or circumstance, organisations have a duty to put the needs of their customers first.
“The DMA would advise all businesses to keep their databases well maintained and make use of the various deceased preference services available.
“Data is a business’s most precious asset that consumers trust organisations with on the basis that they use it responsibly.”