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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?


The service here has deteriorated significantly during the past couple of months, since a notice went up in our Post Office about re-organization.
Whereas we previously received our post before noon and there were few problems, it is now delivered at 15.30ish if we are lucky.
On 24/09 we received next door’s post, along with ours. On the same day our son posted a birthday card to my wife by first class post in London – envelope is clearly stamped “24.08.11 07.44 pm.” Card only arrived today 27/08 along with several other items – we did not receive anything 25/08 or 26/08.
No wonder the country is in such a mess.

It’s usually OK package delivery round my way, but I do I end up going to pick up parcels myself more than often. Bearing that in mind the opening hours of the depot are pretty inconvenient if you work full time hours.

My gripe at the minute is I had something delivered last week and didn’t even get one of the dreaded ‘While You Were Out’ cards (don’t know what happened there). By the time I had been in contact with the seller off Ebay and sorted out that it had in fact been delivered and checked the tracking number, it had already been returned as they only hold these items for a week (another impracticality if you can’t make it to the Post Office often), so will have to be re-sent. Also, no-one at the depot ever bothers to pick up the phone. Bah.

Jonathan says:
22 November 2011

I was expecting a parcel last week, upon tracking and tracing the item it appeared that the postman tried delivering the item and left me a card – I was home all day on the said date and the postman didn’t leave any card. I contacted my post office who said that I would be unable to collect the item since no card was left and instead I would have to arrange re-delivery. That re-delivery was arranged for today, yet again, I have been home all day and the delivery hasn’t arrived. I am not happy at all. Items are sent recorded delivery for a reason. I have been on the phone numerous times to complain and will be on the phone again to complain. I will be lucky to receive the item at all – the sender will be out of the country for a month – it is likely the item will get sent back and I will have to wait another month then start this process all over again. I am not happy at all – especially when only a few days ago a Recorded Delivery Item was pushed straight through the letter-box without me signing for it first. The service offered by the Royal Mail is absolutely appalling!!!!!

pete watt says:
12 December 2011

I am sick and tired of trudging up to my “local” office, nearly 3 miles away to pick up parcels due to the dreaded red card. I left a clear message in my letterbox, designating a neighbours address to leave a parcel. The neighbour actually saw the postman read it and came out to see him to be told he couldn’t do this. It wasn’t even a signed for item, just too big for the letterbox. When I got home I picked up the card, and there in black and white, is the option for the package to be left at a designated address which I did. To rub salt in the wound, on going up to pick up my package next day, guess what, I get home to find another one through the door, despite me leaving my redilvery option note there to be seen. Every time I use Yodel or any other courier, the parcel is left exactly as I instuct, but Royal Mail, never. They are absolutely rubbish.

Whilst I understand fully your frustration, Pete, think about it from the other side. How does the postman/Royal Mail know that the instruction was left by you? It could have been placed fraudulently by somebody who is at the other address waiting to intercept your parcel. Perhaps if the message you left was inside your house but visible through a glass front door so that there was some certainty that it was only left by someone in the house this might work, but to have a record of the revised delivery address the postman would need to be able to photograph the message and it’s surround to identify the location in case of any subsequent queries.
If this is a regular arrangement with your neighbour, cannot you just have the items sent to their address in the first place?
I would have an issue with any courier who acted on a note left outside the property as I said above.
Have you tried leaving a standing instruction with the RM Delivery Office? Whilst not foolproof this would give them some way of being certain that they are delivering on the addressee’s instructions.
The option to leave at a designated address only comes into play once the card is posted through your letter box – once you contact RM with any further instructions it has to be presumed that the instruction comes from someone in the property, though I accept that this is not certain, as someone could have seen the card posted and be taking a chance on the item being worth obtaining without the addressee’s authority.
It seems that the simplest solution is to think about alternative delivery options at the time of ordering, or initiating correspondence which needs a reply rather than seek to make changes just before delivery.

Tj Pither says:
18 December 2011

The other day I was waiting for a recorded delivery parcel. I waited not far from the front door, only to find a note saying I was not in but to collect at my post office 24 hrs later. Not the first time either. And yet I had a sighn on the door ( please ring the bell or knock ) but there was nothing. And I keep getting my mail delivered to the wrong address some comes back to me and I know some went missing. I am fed up with Royal Mail, and it’s so dificult to make a complaint. When can we have a decent trustworthing postal service????????????????

Lucretia says:
28 January 2013

I once saw a postie coming with a parcel whilst I was washing dishes, but he didn’t see me. I dried my hands as I waited for him to knock…and a card came through the door instead. He didn’t even knock. I opened the door and asked why he had done it and he lied and said there had been no answer when he knocked. I had to point out what had happened and that he hadn’t knocked at all. At least he blushed.
Some knock so softly that I can’t hear if I’m upstairs or at the back of the house. Others refuse to wait until I run down the stairs to answer the door.

Graeme says:
12 February 2013

We have had a number of cards put through the door while in since moving to Sandiacre in nottingham. Worse than that is the fact that parcels and letters get delivered to 4 other addresses across nottingham when meant for us, the closest being about 5 miles away and the furthest over 40 miles across nottingham, address clearly marked and postcoded yet they get delivered wrongly. we now have the phone number for the closest one and ring each other and deliver it ourselves. worst case I had with parcelforce – no card left and tracking said it had been refused and signed by me, the depot said the parcel had been returned within 24 hours from local post office until i pointed out it was my name on return and i do not work for post office they then refused to talk to me further and said the manager would call me the next day, no call came and i could not get hold of him. supplier recieved item back and was told the address did not exist. finally got an email for royal mails directors and sent an email to them questioning their service and the fraudulant use of my name as a signature, parcel was picked up from supplier same day and delivered within 24 hours but never heard any more about any action to deal with this issue of staff that cannot read an address or falsify documents

Victoria says:
11 January 2014

To all the people saying they will use other mail carriers (e.g. DPD, FedEx etc) for their parcels if they order online, just be aware that they are not legally responsible for a universal service. That means if they reach capacity at busy times (like Christmas) they will pay Royal Mail to deliver their parcels for them. Thus increasing the pressure on Royal Mail, who legally cannot refuse any mail items despite how busy they may be.

We have problems with Royal Mail all the time, we get the cards or they just don’t deliver. One was a bank card with the address clearly written on it. My toddler and I needed my partners bank card while he was working away so he sent it next day recorded delivery. I didn’t even get a calling card it was sent to their “main mail office” in Northern Ireland…. Err why?? It left me and my son without electric and food for 3 days had to go to my mums….

The second is today, something is has been sent next day recorded and guess what it hasn’t arrived and the bloody postman has just said it won’t arrive today seariously wtf I payed for the delivery knowing I needed that item today!! Thanks Royal Mail I will not use them again and will get a courier service to collect and deliver for me in future

Mick says:
3 October 2014

The Recorded Deliverly Service is a waste of time and money now. Postmen put Recorded delivery item though the letterbox without a signature or worse still Doorstep them. Drivers who deliver to a block of Flats can’t be bothered to go upstairs so leave a Not At Home Card (P739 Card) for the Walking Postman to deliver later on or the next day and the person is at home and the poor Postperson gets the blame for it. Royal Mail or The CWU don’t do much about it at all.

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.

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

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I am in a queue at this very moment to collect my parcel. I got the red note on Thursday, (no need to mention that I was at home for the whole day, but OK) I booked redelivery for Saturday. They came on Monday 7
Am, I was at home, but again no one knocked or rang the bell, this time, no note in the mail, only email. So I have no option at this point to hope I can collect. But I don’t think it will happens. Aas it is 9:50 and they close at 10 am, and more then twenty people in front of me…

Toby says:
19 March 2021

I am sick to death of recieving ‘Sorry we missed you’ cards through the door with no attempt at delivery being made. It is clearly a policy and not due to individual’s ineptitude. Surely this deceit amounts to fraud? Forcing customers to collect parcels that Royal Mail have been paid to deliver. Every year the problem becomes more widespread and more frequent, now beiing the norm. How are Royal Mail allowed to get away with this? Where are the whistle blowers? I am aghast.

Post deliveries have become fairly erratic and unpredictable recently [for understandable reasons, so I am not criticising] so If we are out when the post is delivered and there is something that won’t go through the letter box a card is left with guidance on how to re-arrange the delivery. It is quite easy to go on-line and request delivery on a date that is convenient and the process has never let us down.

I cannot believe the Royal Mail deliberately holds parcels back at the depot in order to force addressees to collect them. I am not sure how it is possible to assert with certainty that no attempt was made to deliver a parcel.