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Can they deliver? Unwrapping the truth about dodgy deliveries

A damaged letter

Ever wondered what goes on with your mail between the sender and you? What exactly happened to the letter you should have received a fortnight ago? Why did that parcel marked ‘fragile’ arrive in bits?

If you are nodding your head sadly, read on… The truth could be more shocking than you think.

In last night’s Dispatches programme on Channel 4, Which? reviewed secret footage filmed in a UK Mail depot in Bournemouth. The footage showed some workers displaying scant regard for your precious parcels, with packages falling off the conveyor belt, being kicked around and dropped.

The programme also followed private postal company TNT, where post delivered on bikes was shown to be poorly secured and often delayed.

Across the online shopping industry, problems with deliveries cost businesses an estimated £851m a year. With secret footage like this, you can see where some of this money may be being frittered away.

Pass the parcel – who’s responsible?

Last night’s programme reflects our findings. When we asked more than 2,000 people about their experiences of online deliveries in November last year, more than six in 10 people told us they had experienced problems. See more in our delivery rights video:

But if you’ve experienced problems with damaged goods, who is responsible? The Sale of Goods Act states that the seller is responsible for goods up until they are delivered to you. Any damage or breakages that occur en route are the responsibility of the seller. You should never be left out of pocket for damages. So don’t let companies worm out of it by asking you to take your problem up with the delivery company!

Knowing what to say when you want to make a complaint can be puzzling though – what phrases should you use to inspire action? We have a template letter to request damaged goods be replaced – you can send the letter by email or download it to print off and post.

Were you shocked by the footage on last night’s Dispatches? Have you ever tried to solve the mystery of a missing parcel or a lost letter? What did the sender say when you raised your concerns?


It is worth watching the Dispatches programme, which is available online, despite the stupid adverts.

It would be very easy to investigate the treatment of parcels by putting an accelerometer in some packages. These devices are now commonplace in many electronic gadgets. I don’t know if Which? or any of the delivery companies are using these devices in their research or quality control.

The companies that are mistreating our mail deserve large fines. That is the only measure that is likely to tackle the problem effectively. There is no reason why companies cannot use CCTV and their own undercover investigators to weed out the staff who behave irresponsibly. I feel very sorry for those staff who do their job conscientiously.

As I have reported before, I have virtually no problem with letters and packages delivered by Royal Mail. From previous Conversations, I know that I am not alone – and fully appreciate that many have not been so lucky. I did not have much time for the nationalised industries that have been privatised but I do hope that Royal Mail can be kept in public ownership.

Last week I came home to find my parcel locked inside my gas meter box. Couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been put through the letter box as it was small enough.

I suspect this is because letterboxes can be damaged by putting parcels through them and some householders get a little upset about this. Mine was damaged in this way, but its the letterbox manufacturers that deserve the blame for making products unfit for their purpose.

Some companies are just in denial, When I report issues to the Royal Fail, like packages on the doorstep etc ( in the rain). They’re only reply is “there are many delivery companies that operate in this area, its not necessarily the fault of the Royal Mail”, Yet they retreat into their shells when questioned with “so how many of those deliver packages with a Royal Mail frank on them?”

It’s high time, someone clamped down hard on bad practices.

Maybe if compensation was upped? Royal Mail offer a book of stamps, whoopiee.

When mentioning that to the local delivery manager he did agree with it but refused to request it from his management..
Having said that I get poor service from most delivery companies, I think its the targets their under, to deliver so many items within a set time, regardless of how far apart the deliveries are spread. So of course some people will just cut corners to make them.

Of all the carriers that deliver to us, we find Royal Mail or Parcel Force give the least cause for concern. The packages are usually in sound condition and fully intact, they don’t leave things with any old neighbour, they don’t put things in the dustbin or chuck them over the side gate, and they leave you a properly completed card with details of the recipient and consignor where available, state the nature of the delivery [ie parcel, packet, bulky, signed-for etc], and allow collection from the local post office. Most other carriers either do all the wrong things or else they redeliver the next working day and if you’re not in and you still want the item you have to go to their depot [30 miles away in most cases] or pay them to bring it as a new consignment.

We also have very problems with deliveries by UPS or DHL, and City Link [who seem to have been making massive losses] are also fairly good. The less said about the remainder the better – perhaps it is such a cut-throat business that they have to cut corners as well. We are frequently having to return damaged goods or complain to the consignor about the condition of delivered parcels. Unfortunately, companies often select the cheapest carrier without regard to quality of service. So often we find boxes have either been badly mishandled in the various transfer depots or obviously broken into. “Fragile” on the packaging used to mean “breakable” but now it means “broken” [when signing for things always add “Damaged” or “Unexamined”].

Regarding delays, the worst carriers are those who drop a load of parcels off at someone’s home for them to deliver as and when they get around to it in their old banger. The upside is that the items usually arrive in better condition and the delivery person is rather more courteous than the usual types for whom waiting for the resident to come to the door is clearly a major inconvenience.

Unfortunately, there was a change of programmme on Channel 4 in our region last night so we did not catch Dispatches [good title!] so, as Wavechange recommends, I shall try and view it on line.

First line of second paragraph : please insert “few” before “problems” (incomplete delivery of mesage).

D64 says:
2 May 2013

I used Interlink Express (my supplier’s choice) and they were absolutely, absolutely, brilliant. Told me they had the order, told me when it would arrive, sent me a follow up letting me choose next day or a neighbour if I wanted. They told me the time slot it would arrive (and they were absolutely bang on time), parcel arrived completely undamaged even though not brilliantly protected. Praise where praise is due.

Same here, cannot fault Interlink Express. Beyond all others in their care and service of delivery.
Unbelivable in their contact with customers clients.

Shugg says:
5 May 2013

We have a large letterbox, capable of easily taking magazines etc and still our postman folds things over. Even happened to a birthday card once. The other one is when you get a card saying they could not make a delivery, despite us being in all day, didn’t try more like.

John says:
5 May 2013

Most of the time, I have had no problems at all, but two instances really annoyed me. The first was when I ordered a pair of gardening shoes on-line that did not arrive. The delivery man told his bosses that he had left them on the doorstep, as we were out, and so they must have been stolen from there. I told the delivery firm that this was highly unlikely as we live in a rural area, the doorstep is not visible from the road and we are at home most of the time. The delivery firm then implied that I had stolen them! On the second occasion a kitchen appliance ordered from Tesco failed to arrive. Tesco said they had a signature from me acknowledging receipt! On further investigation the signature they had was not mine and the name was different! Tesco were unable to work out where the appliance had been delivered or who signed for it, so someone got a free appliance and Tesco had to send us another.

Kate says:
29 May 2013

I took delivery yesterday for 2 ottoman beds the parts came in 6 boxes,3 for each bed. 2 boxes arrived damaged. I was not asked to sign for anything. I contacted both the delivery company and the seller to explain that nothing was signed for as no clipboard or hand held computer was brought down for me to sign. I received an email from the seller today after they contacted the delivery company to look at the delivery note. They sent my a picture along with the email that showed that the item had been signed for.This signature was not mine and it wasn’t even my name that they tried to sign, am I right in thinking this is fraud? And where to I stand? What can be done about someone signing a fake signature?

Mark CPFC says:
23 June 2013

Please can you let me know who is responsible the online store or me. There was nobody in to accept the package so it was delivered back to the depot. The depot cannot find the package so whose responsibility is it to get the refund from Royal Mail. I believe that the online store should refund me or send me the goods again and make the claim from Royal Mail as it is their courier service. What’s frustrating is I paid an extra £10 or so to have the package delivered earlier!

Polina says:
15 October 2013

I had a similar problem. The item ordered online from Juicy Couture was attempted to be delivered by DHL on 3 consecutive days over Christmas, when I was out of town, after which it was sent back to the warehouse. I was told that to receive the item from the warehouse it had to be released by the retailer. The retailer denied their power to release the item and told me they have no responsibility for the item once it has been shipped. After a month long argument over the phone with both DHL and the retailer, in which both sides blamed the other I was finally informed by DHL that the item has been destroyed. Juicy Couture informed me that this has nothing to do with them and not offered me any compensation or apology. This seems really out of order especially considering Juicy Couture’s pretending to be a quality clothing brand.

Now that Royal Mail is being privatised, is it going to become as bad as UK Mail and TNT?

For some of us its been alot worse for many years and can’t possibly get any worse.

Mike says:
12 April 2014

I think the law has to be turned on its head. First of all, once the item has been handed over for delivery, then the courier HAS to take responsibility for its safe keeping, and secondly, if the buyer opts for the cheaper, or none insured services, then he/she HAS to take responsibility. Thirdly, all items over £20 in value HAVE to be recorded, and at no extra cost….how long does it take to scan a bar code in the Post Office. Supermarkets do it all the time for free. At the moment the system is open to abuse and fraud, and it’s the (mostly) innocent seller who has to bear the cost. This is totally unfair.

Above all, couriers HAVE to accept their responsibilities, and be fully accountable to their customers. Surely they are in breach of contract if they don’t deliver or damage an item where the service has been paid for.

I agree. A change in the law would be helpful. The problem is that the delivery contract is between the seller [consignor] and the carrier; the purchaser [consignee] isn’t in it. We are just the hapless recipients of sloppy service from which the carrier’s customer [the consignor] is virtually immune as so few things get returned damaged.or completely lost. It behoves us all to reject any delivery that looks even slightly damaged on delivery [it’ll probably get another bashing on the return journey] and to cancel the order if delivery is late and time was made the essence of the contract at the time of placing the order [hard to do because sellers won’t usually entertain any deviation from their standard terms & conditions which purchasers have signed to accept although they might not have read them]. Many companies select carriers on the basis of price rather than service quality and many of the national carriers do the trunking but sub out the local delivery round to self-employed delivery drivers. Most damage happens in the trunking operation I believe because the mechanical handling in the hubs and warehouses involves goods being tumbled in chutes, dropped on conveyors, and thrown into cage-trolleys. Sellers will only take notice when they start getting a large number of returns due to mishandling.

P Hilditch says:
15 October 2014

I ordered a product on line, received it & it was not suitable.arranged for a courier to pick up from me who gave me a card with a number for proof of collection, the parcel has not arrived at the retailer but the retailer say I have to claim as its not their responsibility & the delivery firm say I can’t its the retailers responsibility who is responsible?

For the return of goods when rejecting a purchase, unless the seller’s terms and conditions either explicitly require you to use a particular method or company, or offer a free returns facility irrespective of the reason for return, you make a new contract with a carrier . Liability for performance of that contract lies with the carrier not the original seller. Generally it is a convenience but not a necessity to use the same carrier as performed the original delivery and I always use Parcelforce when there is no specific requirement to use the original carrier. Their process is easy to manage on-line and, in my experience, is both very reliable and economical.

Nurgul says:
11 June 2015

Hi i want to now i have a parcel has been lost by dhl that i have order custommade dress for one of my customer i have sold that dress for quit high money because of dhl list the package i could not give the dress to my customer had no time to wait for replacement i had to return the payment to customet again and this customer is taking me to court for me to pat for her lost but i can not get anythink from dhl can any of you tell me can i get mt danage from dhl

Nurgul, I presume that whoever instructed DHL to deliver is responsible for pursuing them. It may be that your dress supplier arranged delivery; if so i believe you should pursue them for recompense and leave them to sort out DHL.

Hazel says:
2 July 2015

My courier returned my parcels to very via Hermes instead of yodel. Very are now trying to charge me for them, as Hermes have not delivered them. Have contacted Hermes several times, but don’t have an account with them so they will not deal with me. Very keep telling me to contact hermes, even though I have e mailed them Hermes replies.

Can anyone please tell me what my rights are? Getting desperate as goods returned were ofnquitenanhigh value in total. Have also e mailed very my proof that parcels were collected, but they won’t accept this

Am I correct in thinking that the courier who collected the returns from your home acts as a local agent on behalf of both Hermes and Yodel? If so I think your action lies against that courier who you say used the wrong carrier to return your parcels to Very. I am presuming your goods were originally despatched to you via Yodel so they should have been returned via Yodel. There would appear to be a breach of contract on your courier’s part for not consigning the returned goods via Yodel, although this might depend on the nature of the instructions you gave to the courier, or on the information on the return label. Nevertheless that courier, who was the last known person to have possession of your goods, is responsible for tracking the goods down through their agency with Hermes. However, since Very are responsible for the operation of their returns system, and since you have proof of collection, I think they should be more helpful in trying to establish where your parcels are – although if they don’t deal with Hermes themselves that is another difficulty. Since Very are now pressing you for payment I think you should contact the courier without delay.

It would seem to me that your goods have either been lost in transit, mislaid by Very after receipt by them, or stolen. If you suspect that they might have been stolen then I think you should contact the police. The carriers might be more cooperative with the police than they are with you.

Douglas Tennant says:
30 July 2015

will you please help me.
who is responsible for querying the lost mail.

the sender, or the person who was supposed to have the mail delivered.

the sender refuses to give me details of where it was posted from or the post office he sent from
Doug Tennant

If somebody sends something via a mail delivery or postal service and it doesn’t get delivered the sender is responsible for dealing with the problem.

If you are waiting for something you have ordered [and possibly paid for or committed a payment transaction] then you need to pursue the sender and at the very least request that any payment or commitment is reversed pending fulfillment.

John says:
29 January 2016

Have used Hermes to deliver a parcel and because of a mixup with the address (wrong digit) I tried to contact them numerous times to rectify the no. Impossible to get your information to them or get them to ammend .
After 14 days of effort I received an email to inform me they had disposed of the parcel! .They stated that they cannot store parcels indefinitely .Is 14 days indefinitely? I will now only send or receive post via Royal Mail,I feel there is some hidden agenda going on with these couriers.

Emily says:
23 May 2016

I sell things online and occasionally buyers choose expensive items and will not pay the extra 1-3 pounds for insurance. It happened recently and the buyer’s package was destroyed. The courier refuses to compensate and she wants it to come out of my pocket. I sent it the way she requested and she took a gamble with it not being destroyed (Which is very rare as it is the first time it has happened to me in almost a year). When she refuses to insure her parcel, why must I pay out of pocket when I have passed on responsibility to another party?

So long as the insurance requirement and any reasonable disclaimer concerning liability for goods in transit were contractual conditions between you and your customer – and it sounds as though they might have been – you should be on safe ground. The delivery company has a duty of care to you and your consignment and, under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, should show reasonable care and skill in handling your goods. You should at least be able to reclaim the money you paid the carrier as they have not fulfilled their contract to you; it wiil depend on what their contract with you says.

Stuart says:
19 August 2016

I have brought a bicycle from a private sellor he has had it sent to me by delivery company. It has not been delivered to my address but shows on the tracker that it was delivered to a neighbor 2 doors up and was signed for. I’ve spoke to my neighbor and they have not received any parcel and their name doesn’t match who apparently signed for it. Who is responsible and could I get my money back ?

The seller is responsible for delivering your purchase to you and for taking it up with the delivery company he used. I think you should demand a full refund from the seller.