Sutton Coldfield based funeral company Dignity Plc has reported an 8 percent rise in profit, which is better than original forecasts, as more people pre-pay for funerals.

Dignity, which runs 540 funeral locations in Britain, is the country's only listed funeral compay, said profit before tax was £30.1 million for 2007.

The company said pre-arranged funerals were up by 4.5 percent in 2007, with 197,300 people making plans and pre-paying ahead of their deaths.

"The group continues to be the market leader in this area," said chief executive Peter Hindley. "These plans represent future incremential business for the funeral division, as the group expects to perform the majority of these funerals."

An increase in the national death rate also contributed to the upturn. There was a 1.7% increase in the estimated number of deaths, which was slightly ahead of its expectations. Some 300,800 people died during the period, up from 295,800 a year earlier.

  
"The board's view on death rates continues to rely on government forecasts and its view on medium-term death rates remains unchanged," the company said. Dignity carried out 36,000 funerals and 21,200 cremations over the period. The company, which has bought 27 funeral locations and closed two in the past year, said its outlook was positive, with good growth prospects.

"Consistent application of our acquisition criteria will continue, ensuring only well-established, respected businesses are acquired that will contribute future growth of the group," Hindley added.