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Is Royal Mail giving us a third class service?

Snail carrying mail

Our Royal Mail investigation has revealed how we’re getting a patchy and inconsistent service. If ‘while you were out’ cards and other people’s post are regularly dropping on your doormat, you’re not alone…

Royal Mail is to be privatised, but for the moment we’re all still receiving or sending items via our national postal service.

Not that there’s much that’s ‘Royal’ about it, according to most of the 500+ Which? members who contacted us during our research into the service.

Problems with the post

Admittedly you’re more likely to get in touch if you’ve had a bad experience than if you’ve had a good one. But we also asked 2,210 people to keep postal diaries over two weeks – completing 34,500 diaries in all – and they reported problems too.

Of these, 16% got a ‘while you were out’ card when they were in and 6% saw the card come through the letterbox without a knock on the door. This didn’t surprise us after many of you told us a similar story in a previous Conversation last year.

And when we surveyed 2,500 members of the general public we found that seven in ten had got someone else’s post in the last year, and over half of them hadn’t got post in the time they were expecting it.

Bring back the golden days

It all seems a far cry from the memory one Which? member had of four deliveries per day in the 1930s, or from the 1960’s experience of being able to post a letter in the morning and get a reply by the next morning.

But there was lots of praise for individual posties, and a significant minority had only good things to say about Royal Mail. There were heart-warming stories of postmen and postwomen battling through snow drifts, chatting on the doorstep, working out when post was incorrectly addressed – going the literal and figurative extra mile.

So how do you find Royal Mail? Do these findings surprise you – or ring true? What do you think of it being privatised in the future?

Royal Mail meets my expectations:

Disagree (45%, 459 Votes)

Agree (41%, 416 Votes)

Neither agree nor disagree (13%, 136 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,010

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Sue UK says:
29 August 2012

For Richards Dilks….
the process of complaint you itemised included 4 steps…. each one best served by putting the complaint in writing…but then you need on those four occasions to rely on Royal Mail actually delivering your letter each time!!!

I have lost count of the numerous and still ongoimg number of times that mail sent to and from me goes missing, let alone gets delivered to the wrong address even when correctly addressed, including to and from HMRC, TAX CREDITS, ORANGE MOBILE PHONE, and my employer the Probation Service.

And I’ve also several times had a ‘ you were out’ card left for me, without even a knock on the door, when I’ve actually been waiting in specifically for the delivery, having organised as best I could to have delivery happen on my days off, which as a busy working professional who shops online extensively, for even from Amazon’s grocery section, I’m a dab hand at home delivery organisation.

Communal area postboxes? Scuse me…don’t think so…… a doddle for offenders to steal the mail…..
Delivery to neighbours….. nope….. postage is paid for delivery to MY home….and it isn’t convenient nor even safe for me or elderly or disabled people to carry large or heavy packages from their neighbours…. jeeezz…. even tripping over because you can’t see the ground properly could put an elderly person in hospital with a broken hip.

How well do you really know your neighbours? Especially in certain areas. You live alone…just home from work, maybe winter…dark and raining cats and dogs…..you call to collect…neighbour invites you in while he gets it…. front door closes behind you…. NOPE

As I mentioned… I work with offenders, and thanks to my local housing agency, now even have two Class A substance users living in two seperate properties within spitting distance…..want them to offer to take in my packages or have any communal access…. NOPE

I want WHAT I PAY FOR from ANY delivery/courier company……door to door service. If I pay for it, I expect it.

I don’t go into a coffee shop, pay for a coffee and then expect to have to go and collect it from the locksmith’s shop next door!!

I work hard for my money in a very dangerous job, even regularly have policemen say they wouldn’t do my job without a stab vest, CS gas and handcuffs handy….plenty of frontline staff in the MOJ, NHS Emergency Services, MOD etc put their lives on the line every shift ……. to be able to pay our bills AND provide a service to the public which helps keep selfsame public safer and alive……

I get so sick of whinging workers……. get a grip…. do the job the public are paying you to do with their very hard earned money. And deliver my mail and parcels to me and others when I’ve paid you to do so!

Sue UK says:
29 August 2012

Oh and want to collect from our local depot….. well now….. that’s a 12 miles round trip to an out of the way business park before 1pm …for the elderly, chonically sick or disabled, or mums’ with baby in pushchair who needs feeding and a nap fitting in, who don’t have their own transport to go and get to….or those whose transport method is a bicycle…….would need to make a several hours by bus round trip, and on the return carry a heavy or bulky package……and if any relatives that they have living nearby with cars are at work and can’t help…. well….. what a palaver eh?!
SO ALWAYS PHONE the depot or go online to RM website and request a redelivery!

Fred says:
29 August 2012

NO NO NO a completly mad idea I will happily go to the sorting office rather than have mail left with a neighbour.


Natalie says:
11 September 2012

Apparently Royal Mail automatically leave your parcels/packages with your neighbours now. The first I heard of Royal Mail’s decision was when I received notification from them 1 week after it came into effect. I tried to register to get a sticker for my postbox saying that I do not want items leaving with my neighbours (I live in a block of flats in London) but the website crashed every time I submitted the form.

I received a “while you were out” card yesterday – it has my name, part of my address and the date on it plus a tick to say it was a packet and another to say it was too large to fit through the letterbox. The boxes to say where it was left (e.g. with a neighbour or in a “safe place”) are blank and there is no item number or delivery officer information on the form. I suppose this item is now lost forever!

Why can’t Royal Mail simply deliver items to you when you are in or else follow your instructions (leave in a safe place, with a neighbour, or return to depot) when you are out and leave a fully completed card so you know where it is?

This new “service” is a terrible idea – it might work in idyllic, rural villages where neighbours know (and like) one another but in inner city areas it is a recipe for disaster.



“Why can’t Royal Mail simply deliver items to you when you are in or else follow your instructions (leave in a safe place, with a neighbour, or return to depot) when you are out and leave a fully completed card so you know where it is?”

It is cost and time – postmen have to walk at 4 mph to deliver mail – Other delivery systems cherry pick the delivery area – RM have to deliver everywhere for a universal cost.

I do not like the automatic “leave it with neighbour” system so I applied to opt out of it – RM sent me a sticker to sick on my door to tell the postman (who is not necessarily the same one every day) I have opted out. So it means I will have to go to the Sorting Office to pick up undelivered parcels ( I certainly do not want parcels delivered to my neighbours) But in general past experience shows I will be in when RM calls. I found that special instructions to the post man doesn’t work because the postman is rarely the same on a daily basis.

Duncan Day says:
14 November 2012

we don’t automatically do it, it often takes longer for us to do that than take it back to the office.

Duncan Day says:
9 July 2013

Why the thumbs down, it is the truth?


I was one of the earliest contributors to this site, describing my bad experiences with the Royal Mail. I have also been through the complaints system, which isn’t fit for purpose. I have every sympathy with Natalie; her experiences match mine.

My local service is still very poor: last week a parcel wasn’t delivered and returned to sender because Parcelforce couldn’t find the house, which is ridiculous; and yesterday two packages weren’t delivered at different times, one a Special Delivery. On each occasion the house bell wasn’t rung. I am now looking forward to a visit to the Delivery Office, where public parking is banned and where the counter staff are surly and express disbelief when you complain.

Do Which? monitor this site and are they going to follow up their previous report?

harvies says:
11 September 2012

i do think that if we ask when we order anything, we make sure that the company does not use the royal mail then we may have a fighting chance.


While I on the other hand would choose retailer who use Royal Mail and Parcel Force, I get perfect service from them in my locality compared to other couriers.

It does seem to vary according to locality


I have heard more horror stories from people using other carriers – and they still use a “leave with neighbour” system. So far RM has been my best choice – very few problems – though there were more when I was not retired – but then I had nice neighbours (I now am usually in when RM calls) Though I also work in the evenings well after RM deliveries.


With regard to the last two comments: my sister, who doesn’t live in the same area as me, has the same problems & doesn’t do business with companies who use Parcelforce; and the fact that some areas get a good service from Royal Mail surely indicates complete management failure in the areas that don’t.


I wonder if Royal Fails “problems” stem from the fact that many people who can remember the service they were getting 10, 20, 30 years ago, aren’t seeing the same level service now.