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‘Sorry, you were out’ – but is Royal Mail sorry enough?

Card coming through letterbox

Complaints about Royal Mail’s ‘sorry, you were out’ cards have risen by 25% in the past year, and a third of us have received one while we’ve been in. Is it really that hard to knock on the door?

I’m a huge fan of online shopping. It’s often cheaper than shopping on the high street, it saves you trekking to town, and – best of all –websites allow you to buy stuff while wearing your pyjamas.

But if there’s one thing that could put me off purchasing items via the worldwide web, it’s the nightmare I have often faced when they arrive – or, in fact, don’t arrive – on my doorstep.

Countless ‘sorry, you were out’ cards have been shoved through my letterbox – even when I’ve been in. And it seems I’m not the only one who wants to weep each time I get one.

Complaints are on the up

The BBC has reported that complaints about the cards have risen by 25% since 2008-09, and more than 36,000 people contacted Royal Mail with gripes about them last year.

In more than 1,000 cases, Royal Mail ended up paying customers compensation – and it dished out over £8,000 to dissatisfied consumers during the year 2009-10.

This isn’t out of synch with our research. Back in May we surveyed over 2,200 Which? members and found that a third had received a ‘sorry, you were out’ card from Royal Mail/Parcelforce when they were actually in.

Postmen have now been accused of leaving packages at depots and posting the cards through people’s doors simply because they don’t want to carry heavy items as they make their rounds.

This may or may not be true – but I’m certainly not the only person I know who’s been told I was ‘not in’ to receive a package when I was actually sitting on the sofa waiting for it.

Maybe it’s about where you live

London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Reading and Leeds have been highlighted as areas where this problem is particularly common. So perhaps my rage is simply a result of where I live?

My Midlands-based Dad loves his local postie, has a jolly chat with him every morning and is always super-enthusiastic about the standard of service he receives from Royal Mail.

Some postmen apparently claim that, where it’s often the case that nobody is in at an address, there’s little point in taking a heavy package all the way to the door. While this argument is at least vaguely logical, is it good enough when people are paying for items to be delivered in a reliable, timely fashion?

Kate says:
1 December 2014

Have just had mail through together with a red card which says there is something for you. On the back it indcates it was not delivered because it was ‘too large’ . It does not claim that the parcel could not be delivered because i was out. Just that they could not post it through my letterbox. Knocking / pressing a bell and waiting takes time. Easier i suspect not to bother, and if your performance as a postie measures success by speed and turnaround your managers implicitly teach you not to take time.
The postie i caught just in time was a bit sheepish. No regular postie now so cannot get to know them. My post also no longer arrives in the morning. But this habit of not bothering to knock/ ring should stop.


I happened to be up early (before 7 a.m.) and noticed a Royal Mail Van delivering parcels. Only he wasn’t. He merely went to the door and posted a card. This has happened to me on numerous occasions. The card is delivered really early on the presumption that the excuse they can give will be that the recipient was either in bed and didn’t hear or not quick enough. They also know that the chances are that we will do their work and collect our parcels, giving them an opportunity for a few hours off. I never use Royal Mail for anything unless I have no choice.

Susan Ripley says:
20 July 2015

As there was no 13-digit code for me to re arrange another delivery and I don’t have what’s needed to scan the QR code how do I re arrange another delivery online?

Marjorie Stevenson says:
10 October 2016

I can relate to all these stories. The amount of times I have paid for Special Delivery which never happens and is dealt with by putting a card through the letterbox – now they have resorted to putting a card through 3 days later.
Oddly, this only happens at a particular delivery office and every time I complain I get the same reply – sorry etc etc. Worse still, the Manager of the delivery office is compliant with the silly excuses.
This last complaint gave the same rubbish answer and I was told to write to the Postal Review Panel, but of course, was not given the full address.
Obviously the money paid for Special Delivery is a complete waste if the Delivery Office chooses not to comply.

steven lucas says:
12 July 2017

post office red card. i went today to pick up a parcel but had no red card as i never got one, so i never got my parcel. even though i got an email saying they had it in their depot.i even told them who it was from address and everything showed my passport and they still never gave me it. red card i saw red mist.if a parcel has your name and address on it and you show them id why can’t they just give you it,after all i paid for the item they are keeping from me,it must be illegal surely


Did you have a Track+Trace ID Steven ? , they should try a re-delivery and notify you if not contact the company you dealt with and complain to them about the Post Office delivery service.