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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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Frustrated says:
28 July 2011

In my area of Cambridgeshire the postmen & women have, in the last few years, taken to just ‘signing for’ items themselves if the items can possibly be shoved through the letterbox (or on occasions left at the back door).

They have also virtually given up leaving ‘while you were out’ cards in favour of leaving parcels at the door, and on one occasion on the roadway at the front of the house.

This is simply not the service they are contracted to provide and I now try to use suppliers who use any other courier service.

You should complain. Signing cards is also fraud, so you might like to alert Trading Standards or the police. I certainly would. These people should be sacked.

Disgruntled Postie says:
8 August 2011

A common complaint this, but in the vast majority of cases investigation shows the item not to have been delivered by Royal Mail but by a competitor.

Tony says:
29 July 2011

The complaints in the Which? report and on the website match my experience. The Royal Mail service is getting worse. Deliveries are delayed, morning deliveries have disappeared, post is delivered to the wrong address and parcels and packages aren’t delivered at all. This week a Royal Mail van stopped outside my gate while I was at home, a card was put through my letterbox saying a packet couldn’t be delivered because it was too large and the van drove off. The time on the card was given as half an hour earlier, presumably having been filled out before the van left the delivery office. I will now have to make another visit to the delivery office where public parking has recently been banned for “health and safety reasons”.

In the past I have even been left a card with the wrong delivery office address on it, resulting in trips to two delivery offices.

Complain and claim compensation. Get the person sacked. I have someone like this who delivers in my road, but he has not yet been to me.

Gina says:
29 July 2011

My post just arrived (1:15 PM) which reminded me that I wanted to raise an issue that wasn’t covered in the article in Which magazine about the Royal Mail. Yes, I too have late mail, missing mail, mail for other addresses (at least once a week, most often more) and ‘while you were out’ cards dropped through while I was in.

But they also do something I consider quite wrong. On a normal working day after a bank weekend, or even on the Monday following a weekend, I will receive no mail at all. They seem to just decide to skip certain homes or routes because the backlog of the holiday or weekend. At first when this would happen, I of course would just assume that we had no mail to be delivered. It would have been odd (as we receive what I’d consider a pretty regular medium stream of mail to the household) but not unheard of. But then it kept happening and particularly on the Monday I kept noticing no mail. And then on the Tuesday or day after the holiday I’d receive a noticeably large amount of mail. I suppose it could be proven by having someone send me a letter on the Friday before a bank holiday and see when it gets to me but at this point just on the circumstantial evidence I’d wager a bet on it that they don’t deliver to all homes following a weekend.

Disgruntled Postie says:
8 August 2011

Probably correct! It boils down to the Postie’s round ( it’s called ‘walk’ in the job) being too big. Because your local office locks up on a Saturday afternoon he has to return by a certain time. Through the week he will complete the delivery and book overtime. It’ unlucky for you that you must live near the end of the delivery route. A glaring example of the pressure being put on Postie’s and the inadequacies of R.M’s planners who are clearly out of touch with reality.

Brian says:
9 September 2011

I very rarely respond to comments i read in forums. But i wanted to after reading this one. I was a postman/ person you choose what you like the sound of for 11 years at E14 delivery office. I finally got my get out card after being medically retired through ill health. I stood on many picket lines sometimes in the pouring rain from 6 am sometimes right the way through till 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Not mine and most of those who bothered to turn up idea of fun, although we had a giggle as mates do. But we were there because those were days of industrial ACTION and were NOT a day off. And I marched in many parts of the country trying to do my bit to save my job and voice my disgust at what those who are supposedly trying to save the Royal Mail are doing to it. Look at the decisions that have been made and you be the judge. Look at the money that has been made, enough to give huge bonuses and big golden handshakes to leaving executives and chairman while still insisting that the Royal Mail was broke and needed to close post offices and offices to survive.

As for late post there could many reasons. Some days were lighter than others. And some days i knew i wouldn’t have the time to complete my duty. By the time the office work had been sorted and you had gone round to your walk frame and through your walk off. With work still coming in and with the new walk sorted work. All machine sorted and ready to be thrown up in your frame. As apposed to the pile of coded bundles surrounding you. Once you’ve done that some may have 3 or 4 redirections to do. While others like myself had over hundred which took another half an hour to complete. And try getting this work sorted and ready for delivery if you have never covered the walk before. Management often knew full well that some walks were unmanageable work loads which in some cases would mean those covering it would as we call it “cut off” meaning you stop delivery and head back to the office. Unless you want to work for free or put in for over time. So inevitably some people on a day like that would not get there post. Believe me i can’t speak for all but i did not like cutting off. And would sometimes arrive back at the office hearing the sound of delivery staff complaining to one another about there walks or drives. All about saving money and not about service.

Missing post unless you’ve ordered something how do you know an item of post is missing. Monday and Tuesday were often light days in most offices. The day when the dreaded mail sort would be wheeled out and you would be told over and over today’s and good day for your door to door items.

739 cards or while you were out cards. Yes i knew people who wrote them out before going out on delivery. I did it myself, saved me time standing there writing them out on the street. I would knock, or ring….wait. Knock and ring and wait some more before the card was put through. And if i was passing again on my way back to the office i might try again. In my early days i admit i did just put a few through but as i got older and more infirm i grew up and thought i would stop doing that. Even if someone had been really rude to me the day before.

Leaving post outside your front door, to my view totally unacceptable. Sighing for items myself only if I’d been asked by the customer to do it. Good idea, probably not. But it saved them a trip down to collect it after work. Again only if i was asked to do so. Although i have put the odd one through on those days when i was fed up with the job. I shouldn’t I know but I’m human like you. Although I’d question that in some of the people i delivered to, was never sure about some of those estate agents?

Talking to some of the older members of staff. They remember when you wouldn’t get the job if they didn’t like the look of you. And when you would be sent home for not wearing a tie. Look how things have changed.

To close I’ve been tooled by old work mates that I’m well out of it. And I’m glad to be. I’m not an …..ist I’m just me I’m not on the right or left that’s an illusion created for you. But next time you might be tempted to moan about a coming strike. Of course your right to do so. And your opinion is valued. But in some countries your murdered for belonging or trying start a union. And it was employees standing up to exploitive employers that bought in health and safety into the work place. As well as employment law, laws against discrimination, and loads of other things in today’s work force we take for granted. You go to work to pay the bills well most of us do. Most in a job they dislike. Should you have to put up with intimidation and bullying to get the work done. Work that is really enough for two. But to lose you job would mean the mortgage doesn’t get paid and that enough to scare most into towing the line.

If you want a better Royal Mail get behind those on the picket lines. Most of them are proud to call themselves a postman or Woman. And enjoy there work and do it well. Are known and liked by those on there walks and drives and appreciated. If your unfortunate to get mail miss delivered well that’s because your postie is still a human despite the best efforts of some management. And sometimes makes a mistake, keeps making it well then there’s a problem. Items on door steps, or cards just put through. Complain and ask to speak to the delivery office manager. The highest managerial position in the office. I hope that helps some of those who upset with the service they are getting. And i can recommend a good book a fellow slave….sorry postman lent me. Dear Granny Smith by Roy Mayell a good in sight to life as postman.

Peter says:
29 July 2011

“The Conservative government of the early 1990s announced plans to privatise the Post Office, but backed down in the face of enormous public protest. Undaunted, British ministers and bureaucrats merely put the country’s name to a European Union scheme to liberalise all EU postal services, which would have much the same effect without too much in the way of pesky public debate.

When the branch closure programme — coupled with the abolition of second deliveries — evoked protest, the Royal Mail and the government were able to claim they had no choice, as the service had to be made leaner and fitter in order to compete with both private delivery organisations and foreign post offices.” This is a verbatim quote from page 140 of the book by Larry Elliott & Dan Atkinson entitled “The Gods that Failed”. This looks to me like a self-fulfilling prophesy.

And why were corporate Britain allowed to take a pension holiday during the 1990s thereby saving almost £18bn; although staff were forced to carry on making payments.

A report by Arthur Andersen reveals that loss-making Consignia – the new name for the Post Office – will almost certainly have to ‘make additional contributions’ to its pension fund because of the massive job cuts being drawn up as part of plans to save £1.2bn. They predicted that Consignia would probably have to pour at least £600m into the pension fund in the financial year 2002-2003 to make up the shortfall.

I think that the poor old Post Office has not been given a fair deal. It was once great!

Richard R says:
29 July 2011

Over many years we have had real problems regarding incorrect mail deliveries, simply because the posties are too lazy or cannot read! Our estate has an Avenue and a Close, with the first name of the street the same, so Avenue ad Close post get mixed!.

Only by real persistence, and climbing up the tree of Royal Mail Complaint Service has the situation now become acceptable. So my advice is, if you have a postal problem, complain, and keep on complaining! Eventually you will get past the monkeys at the bottom the tree and to higher orders of primates! Eventually, you will get to a senior manager who takes the problem seriously and kicks your local delivery office into line! Persistence pays – but it still shouldn’t be necessary!

phil says:
30 July 2011

GOD i bet your nice to live next to!!!!

“Posties To Give Mail To Neighbours”:

Another worrying aspect; your signature-required post could be left with neighbours when you’re out. There is no opt out clause.

This could cause serious problems in cases when you don’t know a neighbour, trust them or don’t get on with them. This is exactly the sort of complaint that I have with DHL, who do this without my express consent. My view is that post that has been left at another address without prior arrangement has not been delivered. This could cost businesses a lot of money, to replace goods for non-delivery. I’d rather go to the sorting office than have stuff left with others.

Which? Please campaign for an opt-out clause, or perhaps would an opt-in clause be fairer to the consumer?

Sue M says:
30 July 2011

My parents share the same birthday. I posted 2 cards first class the day before, identical address, same postbox. My mam’s card arrived 2 days later and my dad’s card arrived 4 days after that. They only live 16 miles away. What’s that all about??!! Meanwhile I felt so bad about it because it must have seemed as though I hadn’t bothered.

Shan Parfitt says:
31 July 2011

I had a particularly bad experience during the snow last year.
Normally I walk to the post office, but I had a heavy parcel to send and couldn’t take it in my car because it was snowed in in a side road. My husband drove me to the post office on his way to a meeting. At the counter the post mistress, often grumpy, told me it was overweight and I would have to come back with the contents divided in two. I said I couldn’t take it home because it was too heavy to carry on slippery pavements, and I had no car available. She point blank refused to keep it even for a few hours, even though she had known me for nearly four years and knows where I live. When I had finally got her to see that I literally couldn’t take it home, she said I could leave it on the windowledge by the door. I thought this wasn’t sensible so I carried it next door to the hairdresser’s, who very obligingly kept it behind the desk until I could find a neighbour who could help me collect it. I complained to the Post Office who simply said that it was a health and safety rule. All I can say is, it certainly wasn’t in the interests of MY health and safety for the postmistress to insist I attempt to carry the parcel home again.

RM were hiding behind red tape to protect an incompetent employee. I’m sure that there are parcels sent that are much heavier than yours. What’s Parcelforce for?

Sarah P says:
31 July 2011

I was surprised by the article in this months magazine. Yes I agree that the current pricing system is very confusing and that the £1 charge seems unfair on the recipient and not the sender.

In 2005 I was a temporary postie for 4 weeks during my uni holidays. I have alot more respect for them now, especially with all the cuts that have been introduced.

I think that there is a lack of understanding about what it is a postie has to do other than just delivering the mail. I started at 5.30am and had to sort the post just for my round, whilst everyone else sorted the mail first into round areas and then sorted their own deliveries into order. It took me 3 hours. I then headed out on my round and delivered until I got to the last house, at about 4.30pm. I didn’t take a break either. I recall being asked at 2pm, far from the end of my deliveries, if I could please start earlier in the morning as they were used to having their delivery at 11am. I responded, politely, with “I started at 5.30am, what time would you like me to start?”. The gentleman didn’t have a response to this.

There is no time stated on deliveries (unless you pay for the guaranteed post) and rightly so, where additional rounds are covered by 1 person, only 1 round will be on time. I appreciate that for some businesses not receiving your post until the afternoon isn’t ideal, but if it’s the norm surely you could ‘adjust’ your working practices? I used to work at a company where the post usually came after 12, so we arranged to walk the 2 doors down to the delivery office and collect it at 8.30.

I certainly agree with the comment ‘Royal Mail are hopeless but our postmen are wonderful’.

What a wonderful comment. Thank you for redressing the balance.

It’s hard to believe that with vastly improved technology and seemingly improved transport and connections, the postal service should be inferior to ‘the good old days’ – but it appears to be. And it seems to be gradually deteriorating… I don’t know how much revenue has been impacted by electronic communications and how good the service would be without that nitional revenue loss. Reliable mail is fundamentally important and will remian so, in spite of email.

Hi all, Louis posted an article about Royal Mail wanting to leave your post with a neighbour, and we have now published a Conversation on this very topic.

Not at home? Royal Mail wants to leave your post with a neighbour. It’s an option I’m sure many will be keen on, but without being able to opt-out or nominate a neighbour, could this be less Royal Mail and more Royal Fail?


Clive Wall says:
3 August 2011

Used to own a Sub Post Office in small village(clovelly) try to use Royal Mail as much as possible, when things go missing(5 this year) the aggravation to get a refund is past a joke, I am sure they make it awkward and slow so you do not claim

happy says:
4 August 2011

My husband constantly buys stuff over the internet, so our poor postie is exhausted delivering to us. If we are not in he signs and leaves stuff in our garage. We are very happy with this because to collect would be a 25 minute car journey and parking fee. He did ask us if we where happy for him to do this. We let him know when we are on holiday and he then leaves everything with our neighbour until we get back. We are more than happy with this arrangement and as we always have the same postie there is never a problem. Common sense and talking to your postie works both ways. We give the royal mail a big thumbs up

Alan Millard says:
4 August 2011

Your August issue comments on the Royal Mail and its service and asks for other experiences. It is the unreliability of the service that is most troubling. Here are examples experienced this year:
1. Mother’s Day cards were posted in Honiton, Devon, with First Class stamps on the Thursday but only delivered on the following Monday in Amersham, Bucks, and Leamington Spa, which rather robbed them of their purpose.
2. Documents posted on Thursday with a Large First Class stamp in Stratford on Avon were not delivered to my address in Leamington Spa until the following Wednesday, by which time they were useless as they were needed for a meeting on the Tuesday.
In each case adequate time for delivery had been allowed by the senders, so the purpose of posting and the cost of postage was wasted.

ex-employee sacked for delaying parcels for 53 minutes .How could they do this when only to-day postman tells me parcels left in office again. Its the managers that want sacking after all who are they. Shock horror ex-post persons who could not do a walk .These same people harass and bully staff. If they say they need help,and are backed up by there managers because guess what they were useless on delivery .This company would run itself it does not need dare i call them Managers to operate we did it as a exercise quite a few years ago and guess what EVERYTHING! in the delivery office was delivered by 1300 if not sooner .It used to be a serious crime to mis-deliver not anymore.Staff morale at all time low .Full time job done with part time staff rushing to get to there next job no disrespect RM will never offer them full time contracts

phil says:
5 August 2011

i agree with your comments shaun!, the top brass in there ivory tower(moya green) may come out with all the good words about “how we value our employees” etc etc but the direct line managers are on a completely different hymn sheet! there on there own agenda they get a bonus on how many hours they save in the year, and what is the easy way of saving hours get rid of staff and as we no the uk employment law are the worst in europe when it comes to getting rid of people and they no!, it i don’t like calling them clever because there not more devious to there agenda!!.

Clive Curtis-Wall says:
7 August 2011

Yet again Royal Mail astound me, not only did they loose my parcel, but they lost the invoice and proof of payment when sent in. Cost to me £29. received in compensation from Royal Mail 6 – 1st class stamps.

trish says:
9 August 2011

We never have the same postman, and I have experienced all the failures mentioned, and only by friends letting me know they’d sent me something, did I know I hadn’t received it. Often no notice is left , and as stated above, often I’ve been in when the postman has ‘tried’ to deliver a parcel.
Saying that, if I have been left a note, then once I’ve telephoned them, they do deliver as requested.
My great concern, is what about the post I don’t know has gone missing.
My elderly aunt sent some money in the post recently, ( I know she shuldn’t have, but at 93 , it’s what she’s used to doing) and surprise surprise it never got there.
Where have the days of the postman being an honourable profession, with anything being safe in their hands. I don’t trust the post at all now, and always ask for a proof of postage, and always ask my freinds/relatives if the letter/parcel has arrived safely. How sad.

Martin Punch says:
11 August 2011

The postal services, both the organisation and staff, have really deteriorated in my Haringey area and I am not sure I have been receiving all my mail. My mail has been delivered to my neighbours and their mail has constantly been delivered to my address and we have to correct the errors ourselves. I recently failed to receive several CD’s from suppliers who claimed that they posted them.

It is not unusual to have letters delivered and 15 minutes later to hear letters being dropped through the letter-box by the same postman. I blame this on poor working practice or what may be called ‘walk sorting’. I worked in the RM during my student days the late 60’s as temporary delivery staff in the Hampstead area and we had to arrange our deliveries before leaving the PO. Now I think they just leave with them and sort them as they walk and because the staff is changed so regularly they do not really know their clients cannot deliver letters that have just an item like the number missing

Recently, I expected to hear from HMRC regarding my tax position (calculated refund) and when I called them about the very long the stated that the posted the letter about 20th May 2011. I still had not received it at the end of July and have to wait until September for the results of their investigation. My only hope is that the expected refund has not landed in the wrong hands.
Many a morning I have to rush to the door to try and stop them for forcing large parcels through the letter-box but I decided not to complain to them or the RM for fear of “reprisals”.

There is no courtesy and greetings go unanswered and I now reluctantly offer a greeting and a curt ‘thank you’ when absolutely necessary.

That’s the problem. If you complain, you have no way of knowing that the postal worker will not retaliate by withholding some of your post.

phil says:
11 August 2011

“reprisals”!! what a nice place you live in, is your postman some sort of mafia leader! horses head in ya bed etc

Tony says:
17 August 2011

Fellow sufferers might be interested in a letter I have just received from the Royal Mail contact centre, following a complaint, which states “Of the huge volumes of letters and packets we handle, very few encounter a problem along their way”. Perhaps they haven’t heard of the Which report or this website.
However, I have today encountered the same problem with the non-delivery of a package that I complained about when I wrote to them. So, here we go again…