The number of pieces of direct mail sent to deceased people annually is set to cross the 200 million mark for the first time in 2017.
According to research from data specialist Wilmington Millennium, mortality trends show that levels of 'deceased mail' will this year increase by 100,000.
A survey of 2,000 people carried out in January 2017 found that the number of households set to receive at least one piece of deceased mail in 2017 will be at around 14.1 million, totalling more than 200 million pieces altogether.
21% of people surveyed said they had received at least one piece of direct mail addressed to a deceased family member or friend last year.
In 2016, amidst a flurry of celebrity deaths, the mortality rate in the UK increased by 5.4%, its highest rise for nearly 50 years.
Wilmington product director Karen Pritchard said: “The cold hard truth of it is that there is a direct correlation between the mortality rate and the number of pieces of direct mail being sent to people that have passed away.”
Pritchard added that for every 1% rise in mortality rates, consumers can expect to receive around 20,000 more deceased mailings.
“The easiest way for organisations to reduce this number is through the implementation of best practice data hygiene. With General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) just around the corner this must become the priority, not a nice-to-have,” she added.
The new GDPR was approved by the European Parliament in April 2016 and will come into force in May 2018, replacing the 1998 UK Data Protection Act. Brexit is not expected to have much of an effect and its contents are likely to be implemented in the UK in some form.
John Mitchison, head of preference services, compliance & legal at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), agrees with Pritchard that marketers should be checking their customer database’s regularly to ensure they are up-to-date.
“Nobody wants to cause any further upset to customers by sending marketing to someone that has passed away, but unfortunately this can happen from time to time,” he said.
“The solution is to ensure marketers are using the sources available to them to easily check their customer records, for example by using deceased lists or the Mailing Preference Service (MPS).”
Leicester-based GI Solutions chief executive Patrick Headley said: “This is disturbing news both from the point of view of the distress to people receiving mail for those who are deceased as well as the sheer waste of resources and depressing effect on ROI calculations.”
Judith Donovan, chair of the recently-rebranded Strategic Mailing Partnership (SMP), said companies have "serious work to do" when it comes to ensuring data is kept up-to-date.
“When it comes to accuracy of data, mailing houses can only process the information with which they are supplied," said Donovan.
Last year, in a more positive survey for the sector, Wilmington Millennium found that 500 million more pieces of direct mail are being opened and read compared with 2013, equating to an additional £1.6bn being added to the channel’s ROI.