/ Home & Energy

‘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?


Someone also needs to tell all the posties to make sure they write CLEARLY the 13-digit number on the back of the ‘sorry, you were out’ card. Not sure if it’s just my postman that has particularly bad handwriting but, on several occasions when I’ve tried to arrange a redelivery online, my reference number hasn’t been recognised because I’ve had to guess at some of the digits. This has happened when I’ve tried calling too (an automated, not manned phone line incidentally) to arrage a redelivery. I’ve only been successful at doing this once…so now I get everything delivered to my work.


Forgot to add…it’s all well and good being told to go to the collection office but when you work full time when are you meant to collect it? The ‘sorry you were out cards’ never tell you the opening hours of your local office and even if you do manage to get there at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning (the only time mine seems to be open), there’s always a huge queue with only a single person manning the desk. I once spent close to an hour waiting to collect a recorded delivery letter…


I am a fan of on-line buying – In the last 10 years only two of the 1000 or so items went missing – one turned up three months late and I didn’t trust the seller for the other

The rest of the items have arrived “on time” – only one was not delivered properly – that is a card put through letterbox when I was in – you see I have dogs that will tell me someone has opened the gate and approached the house. Usually I can open the door before the postman uses the letterbox or rings.

But to put this in perspective the post office delivers millions of letters daily – 36,000 complaints in a year is insignificant – somehow I doubt if a privatised company will do as well. I’m often asked to ‘sign for’ items for completely different addresses from other delivery systems.

Sophie Gilbert says:
1 October 2010

I too am getting things delivered to my work. I’ve given up on having things delivered to my home address for the same reasons as nomosaic gives, illegible reference numbers, insufferable automated phone line, unmanageable delivery office opening times.

And I too wonder whether the Royal Mail will do any better when is privatised.

Damn Young says:
1 August 2011

I once had a 16 foot canadian open canoe delivered to my workplace, causing much interest. Not by Royal Mail though.

SueC says:
1 October 2010

I am considering just paying the extra for courier delivery – twice this month my redelivery hasn’t turned up. The first time the postman ‘forgot’ to pick it up so had to wait an extra four days. This time again it hasn’t turned up and a week later they haven’t bothered getting back to me with their promised phone call. Their complaints process over the phone is a misery involving 15 minutes of computerised prattling prior to 1 minute of an uninterested call centre operators time, plus the cost of the call itself. I become more demoralised by their service by the day.

Maria says:
1 October 2010

The frustration of being in but getting a red card through the door is made worse now that the office used to collect the parcels from in my area has been moved to an industrial site with no bus services making collecting the parcels a ridiculous trek, and the cost of getting the item redelivered to a local Post office has shot up from 50p to £1.50 per item (why per item when the overhead must be the same for one or more items?). Looks and feels just like a way of raking in the money to me.


Bitter experience tells me that the likes of DHL and other couriers are many thousands of times worse than Royal Mail.

Oddly, I have never had a “when you were out card” whilst I was in from the post office, but meter readers leave them every time without fail …. and they HAVE been privatised …. the shape of things to come with the mail maybe?

It’s not perfect but privatisation won’t help


The practice of leaving parcels, when I am not in, in my front garden or just near my front door where all on sundry can see them really annoys me. Anyone could take them and also the weather could damage the contents of the parcels.


My local sorting office – and I believe the Post Office in general allow you to designate another address or a specific place to leave your parcel if you are out. I have a “hidden” box in the front garden for this. Works well though sometimes slightly too large items for the letterbox are left under the mat (to save writing the red card?)

So far I have found DHL and UPS to be excellent on REdeliveries – whereas the Post Office has been totally appalling if you phone the ‘central office’. I had a red card so phoned for a redelivery – then tried the web site – giving two different days that I would be in – Eventually AFTER the week’s allowance was up I received an e-mail to say it was at the sorting office which I knew it was anyway!!!!!!!
The problem is at one time I could phone the local sorting office to arrange a redelivery – but now they no longer answer the phone.

Kevin says:
6 October 2010

Another problem I’ve encountered is the total non delivery of an item. ie: I was out. The postman had not got any delivery cards on him. So he simply took it back to the depot where it stayed. Somehow I am expected to know he tried to deliver it and that I need to go to the depot to collect it before it got returned to the sender. Really not good enough……..

Sara says:
24 October 2010

Perhaps this explains why our postmen do not always leave “sorry you were out cards” – they have used them all up on people who were in. I have had to report items bought on the internet as missing, which meant the suppliers had to refund me then start lengthy investigations into possible theft. It turned out the items had been waiting at the post office for me to collect for weeks, and I only found out when I went there for something else and the lady behind the desk asked why I hadn’t collected my parcels which had been there for weeks.


Our postie is excellent – the only time she leaves cards is when excess postage needs to be paid (she feels too embarrassed to ask people for the money!).
Couriers on the other hand are a real bug bear for me. I cannot count the number of times I’ve tried to buy something and paid premium for next day delivery. Wait & wait for said item the next day but it doesn’t arrive. Eventually I’m informed that as we have an AB postcode (Aberdeenshire) next day delivery does not apply.
I am presently having a massive argument with BT as it maintained that I could get next day delivery from DHL and it was DHL’s error that I didn’t receive my order as it DEFINETLY did next day here (despite 2 DHL staff insisting this was not the case). After a few weeks wrangling, BT now admit it was mis-informed.
I am still waiting to find out if it has actually changed it’s website to this effect or if it’s still taking additonal money and making promises it’s couriers do not offer.


According to Royal Mail, all items requiring a surcharge now have to be collected from the Sorting Office so that the postmen do not have the responsibility of handling cash and accounting for it when they return to base. They do not differentiate between a small amount for underpaid postage and larger amounts for, for example, customs charges


On the subject of Royal Mail, around 8,500 managers are to vote on whether to strike due to anger at plans to slash 1,500 jobs. So you might be lucky to get a ‘Sorry you were out’ card through your door.


I dont know why postmen dont come in the evening!! Almost everyone is out at work, how the **** are we supposed to open the door? Postmen should deliver packages from 6-8 in the evening and packages ONLY!!


This sounds like a good idea in theory, but in practice working outside the usual 9 – 5 would involve extra costs, whether existing staff are used on overtime, or additional staff are employed for this specific role.
This would then increase the cost of postage.
Why does anyone quote an address where they know that nobody will be to take delivery? Why not quote a work/family/friend’s address – or for £1.50 you can collect from a local Post Office.

Becca says:
19 November 2010

Getting a while you were out card would be nice. I’m lucky if I even get that. On two occaisions in the last couple of months I have not even been left a card. The first parcel got returned to the sender with a note written on it saying ‘not collected from sorting office’. Having learnt from this, when my next parcel failed to arrive 2 weeks after posting I went to my local sorting office and was told they did not have anything for me. 2 weeks after that the parcel got returned to the sender (again). Think I may be going down the same path with another parcel this week. The limited opening times, massive queues and bad attitude of the staff at the sorting office mean that when it is offered I choose an alternate courrier for my deliveries especially if I know the parcel will be too large for my letter box.


Several times I have had cards left when I was definitely in and they don’t leave it at the time they were supposed to have attempted the delivery but leave it with the Postman to deliver the card next day and of course you get nowhere if you mention it at the Delivery Office …..Earlier this week I got a card saying they had attempted a delivery the day before but the street was inaccessable ( presumably due to snow ) which is a nonsense as cars and vans have been in and out of the street since day 1 of the snow and ,in fact ,I even saw a RM van there one day !!! I then went online and arranged redelivery for Saturday but has it arrived ???..no of course not …absolutely pathetic …


Royal Mail let’s me down yet again at Christmas time, last xmas they took over 3 weeks to deliver a xmas present and this year they are struggling again. Yes the weather is poor but i beleive it is simply the volume of parcels and they are simply not equipped to deal with it. Next year i will use internet shopping but will not use companies who use Royal Mail the likes of M&S and HMV because it takes weeks rather than days for deliveries over the xmas period that is my experience

RM Fan says:
3 August 2011

Why would the Postie issue a “sorry you were out” card? Completing the form takes time, a precious commoditiy in the delivery business. Also, the parcel has to be taken back to the Delivery Office with more, albeit minor, paperwork.


That presumes that the parcel came out of the Sorting Office in the first place! If the postman has a number of items which won’t go through the letterbox and he knows there is usually nobody home, he may well leave them behind and just deliver a ‘sorry you were out’ card. The recipient then knows the item is available and can collect it or agree a time when there will be somebody available to take delivery.
I agree that it is a nuisance to those who have made a special effort to be at home for a particular delivery and may well breach Royal Mail requirements, but in the cases of those who were actually out, the postman is actually saving time as he does not have to wait pointlesslly outside the door of an empty house!

Parisian says:
19 August 2011

I was left a ‘while you were out card’, popped in to collect my items the following day and they couldn’t be found. This was on the 20th July and they still haven’t turned up! I put in a complaint, including a photocopy of the card and received the standard reply and 6 1st class stamps. To add to that they said that the contents of my item were listed against the prohibitions and restrictions for sending mail in the UK.

My missing items were a charm bracelet, some wedding sweets and wedding bubble favours! I can only assume that the soap bubbles were prohibited????

Lynn wright says:
20 August 2011

I am very annoyed at the postal service today,not only have they have lost my post in the past,but last week i posted a birthday card and a light parcel to two different houses in the same district on the same day and time..My friend received her birthday card,but my son hasn’t received his parcel yet,it’s been six days now. I posted them both first class,and they were both weighed. I just don’t trust them.


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