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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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Veryhappybunny says:
22 July 2011

My impression is of generally well meaning staff operating under considerable pressure.

However the net effect is not good – I have had cards put through my door when I am in, parcels left on my doorstep, parcels given to neighbours to keep for me, but no note to me to tell me they have done that. Most frustratingly I have had a card to say that a recorded parcel will be returned to the depot in 48 hours, but if I wait more than a week in collecting it once it does get to the depot, it will be returned to sender. Given I was going on holiday the next day, that made it difficult to get hold of.

Duncan Day says:
14 November 2012

I think the limit for keeping recorded items was 2 weeks not 1 and is now 18 days.

Derek says:
22 July 2011

Remember the Joni Mitchell song “all it really goes to prove is that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone”. Right now we’ve got a seriously understaffed and stretched postal service doing a super job delivering stuff from one end of the country to the other overnight and from abroad in a few days and it costs peanuts! Just see what happens when “cherry picking” private companies take over. At the moment, as I understand it, because of their remit, the Royal Mail HAVE to deliver letters etc. from some of these companies e.g. UK Mail and they’re forced to do it at a loss! If you don’t want to risk losing mail in what is after all a massive logistical nightmare you can use Registered Post; even that is a cheap option.


The mail, whether first or second class, does get through eventually and our postmen are pretty good and helpful. However, there is not much visible FIRST CLASS about the delivery times or the number of deliveries per day. Furthermore, what they deliver includes so much junk mail (I assume some kind of subsidy to the mail service costs there!) – that we do not want and which is a huge waste of paper (it goes straight into the bin!). I suppose with so many of the younger generation not being able to write, it will eventually not be required at all!

Sarah says:
22 July 2011

I live in a rural area and according to our postie she doesn’t have enough paid time to complete her round unless it is a very ‘light post’ day, so either our post arrives late (1 pm or later is usual all year round) or we miss one day in 3. The postwoman is excellent but its chaos when she’s off. We often get post for the bungalow (called No 1 Bungalow) despite our house being a detached 2-storey house and clearly NOT a bungalow. At work, also in a rural area but on a different round, all the posties are excellent but the post doesn’t arrive until 10 am or later even in the summer (at Christmas it’s obviously busier) and as a business that is not exactly convenient – we are often waiting for the post to arrive.


I find them brilliant. Overall a superb service. I reckon I receive more than 95% of my post next day if it is first class and 60% if it is 2nd, mostly local. I have had some problems at my previous house with post being delivered to the wrong house, sometimes to my next door neighbour some times to another house with the same name and same post town. Postmen don’t seem to take any notice of the Post Code last three characters for sorting.

Mr Anomy Mus says:
14 November 2012

That’s because Postmen DON’T sort to codes in delivery offices,only to address!It’s a complete misnomer because post codes are ONLY used to get mail to the relevanth delivery office by the identified Mail centre!


As Derek said, it will get worse if it is privatised. I think that any company that is allowed to take mail for delivery should have to deliver all the mail in part of the country including the unprofitable rural post. The idea that some of them can just dump the unprofitable stuff onto the Royal Mail is totally unreasonable if there is no quid-pro-quo.