As anticipated, following the seven per cent increase in the number of deaths in the first quarter of the year, the number of deaths in the second quarter was approximately three per cent lower than the same period in 2016. Deaths in the first half of 2017 overall ended two per cent higher than the prior year. Good increases in average incomes, continued cost control and acquisitions helped underlying operating profits increase by seven per cent to £59.5 million (2016: £55.6 million).
Given stable finance costs, combined with small changes in the Group's effective tax rate and the number of shares in issue, underlying earnings per share increased by nine per cent, a greater rate than the increase in underlying operating profits, to 74.1 pence per share (2016: 67.7 pence per share).
Basic earnings per share were 72.5 pence per share (2016: 65.9 pence per share), an increase of 10 per cent.
The Group paid a final dividend of 15.74 pence per Ordinary Share on 30 June 2017.
The Group proposes to pay an interim dividend of 8.64 pence per Ordinary Share (2016: 7.85 pence) on 27 October 2017 to shareholders on the register at 21 September 2017. This is a 10 per cent increase on the previous year.
The Group continues to report strong customer survey results thanks to the continued dedication of our staff across the business. I thank them for their support at a time when they are being asked to help introduce new initiatives to further improve the service we provide.
The Group continues to expect the number of deaths in 2017 to be slightly lower than in 2016. Our financial expectations for the full year remain positive and unchanged.