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Post Office Local – will it stamp out our post problems?

People queuing outside post office

We all need to use a post office occasionally and 90% of us apparently live within a mile of one. Have you still got one near you? If so, will it be there in a few years’ time or will it evolve into a Post Office Local?

Post office queue targets were axed in 2004, and in 2009 Consumer Focus research found that average queue times were just over six minutes, up from five minutes and 40 seconds the year before.

New Consumer Focus research is coming soon so I’ll be interested to see if that upward trend is still continuing.

Plans for Post Office Locals

A key part of the plan for the Post Office is ‘Post Office Local’, which are being piloted at the moment. One in six post offices and one in five sub post offices (97% of post offices are run by private business people as sub post offices, often in shops) will turn into one of these in the next few years, mainly from 2014.

It means many post offices will close, replaced by paired-down services going to nearby shops or petrol stations, and perhaps supermarkets – but will it help solve the many problems we experience at the post office?

Consumer Focus says the upside to Post Office Locals is longer opening hours – but it also means fewer post office services. It did research which found most people in the pilot areas were satisfied, but just over half had had to use an alternative post office because their Post Office Local didn’t do what they needed it to.

The new local services won’t let you pay your bills, send international mail over 5kg, renew your passport or do anything to do with the DVLA – hardly very useful.

Sub post offices aren’t satisfactory

As part of our Royal Mail research we heard from one member who said the standard of customer service in sub post offices varies a great deal:

‘There appears to be no standard as to presentation or access in the shop itself. There are homemade notices, a jumble of leaflets, untidy displays of stationery, advertisements and sometimes a queuing system of sorts. There used to be standards about queuing times, but nothing seems to apply now.’

Another complained that ‘post office buildings have been converted into pizza restaurants and local sub post offices are threatened with closure’. Hearing these worries about sub post offices, makes me wonder whether an even more paired-down version (i.e. Post Office Local) will work.

We had strong interest in our recent Royal Mail Conversation, so we’re keen to hear your experiences, especially with the Post Office Local service. Are you willing to give it a try or do you feel it’s a poor substitute?

What do you think of the overall service provided by your local post office?

Excellent (36%, 200 Votes)

Good (30%, 168 Votes)

OK (14%, 78 Votes)

Could be better (13%, 71 Votes)

Terrible (7%, 37 Votes)

Total Voters: 554

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My local Post Office closed in the past year. I used it only a few times a year, but since there was usually a queue I was very surprised when it closed. I will now have to drive two or three miles to post larger items and remember to buy stamps at the same time.

I can’t say that I will miss my local Post Office, which was in depressing, scruffy shop. I feel sorry for those who used to queue up to collect their pension, and wonder what they do now.

I didn’t know that, but being a Smile customer, the Post Office is the only place I’m able to pay in cheques.

What amazes me about post offices, though, is that long queues are just standard. It’s got to the stage where people expect to be queuing in a snake around the whole room – no one ever seems surprised when they walk in to a packed room. If I have to do anything at the post office I basically write off my lunch hour for doing that one task. I’m not normally one to moan about queuing, but surely there’s a better way?

Well, I’m glad the Government is making courier services a little bit richer at the expense of the public – again.

Rachel says:
2 September 2011

I love my local post office on Stoke Newington Church Street in Hackney. True, there are often queues – though they’re rarely as bad as those in the bigger PO on the High Street. And true there are some things you can’t get there (passports, for one); but for most day-to-day transactions, it’s fine. But there’s a friendly atmosphere here that you just don’t get in the bigger branches. The two guys behind the counter are friendly and helpful, and interact with their customers rather than just taking their money. They are part of the community. Stoke Newington is often said to be like a village, and this PO is one of the reasons why. So yes, I’d miss them.

Sarah says:
2 September 2011

I do have a PO in the centre of town at the back of Sainsbury’s. This is, however, the only one left within a very wide area. We are a rural area and all the village POs have had to close, which leaves a large area of population having to visit the town PO. This means that there are always long queues and one just gives up hope during, say, the Christmas period!

Rural POs are a must for their communities. It is often the only way that villagers get to see each other and to deal with their affairs. POs, like pubs, are the hub of village life and essential to rural communities.

My ‘local’ PO is the main one in the centre of Reading. This gives me all the facilities I want and its version of queuing is quite civilised. I only go there two or three times per year, e.g. to post a parcel etc. I hate the idea of this ‘local PO’ which sounds as though it will have a very limited set of facilities.

We have a local post office but its now part of our local supermarket. When queues form you can be in the way of shoppers. They have notices up about refusing payments by cheque after July. Are these now out of date? There is just one person in the post office part and he is kept very busy since the other post office closed down.

Since my local PO closed I am now used to queues of 10 – 15 at the neighbouring sub-POs. It is particularly galling to see 5 service counters but only one person serving. Feels almost soviet block.

I didn’t know that i could access my current acc. via a PO, but I guess if more people knew it the queues would be even longer…

Harry says:
3 September 2011

My local village PO is useful to me for posting awkward sized letters and buying stamps. It also has a cash machine. It’s all crammed into a tiny shop which sells stationary, newsprint and magazines and sweets.
I hardly ever use it because it flies a large flag of St George over the entrance. Round here that’s an indication of an affiliation to a political tendency which I find loathsome; so, on balance, I wouldn’t mind it if it closed.

If you think our post officves are slow you should try posting a package at one in Spain!!

Andrew Rolfe says:
3 September 2011

Our village sub post office is just about hanging on, but can deal with less and less transactions. I pay in there for our Co-op current account, but since the computer system has been changed in the last year, can no longer pay in for our Co-op business account. We have to go about five miles to a nearby small town Post Office. Also, now that Santander own Alliance and Lester(Giro), why don’t they allow all customers (not just A&L) to pay in and get cash at Post Offices? I think the Govt. has doomed the Post Offices by transfering business to shops etc, and this is damaging to village life. The Post Office has a “Big Society” role as an information and meeting place.

Ted Killick says:
5 September 2011

My main post office is slightly nearer to home than my sub. But would I use the main? Would I hell. My main would involve parking (£2.00 at least)and walking My sub is marvellous. Parking is very close; The 3 ladies all know me by name and could not be more helpful. I use it for Royal Mail, foreign currency, Cash withdrawal Via Barclays, gifts to grandchildren etc. It does not do DVLC business, but this can be carried out by post or on-line. Life would be intolerable without it.My sub is a glowing light in an otherwise darkening world.

Our local post office is now the only shop left in the village (other than 2 pubs and a cafe). As well as a post office it sells general household items and it would be a great shame if it was closed. I always try to use it to send small parcels and letters simply to support its existence. The service is outstanding and very personal even though the shop/post office is tiny.
Long may it survive – keep up the great work Tony.

The local post office in our village is very good and much used. I use it at every chance and do most of my banking and all post office activities there. It is most annoying how the government organisations encourage one to go on line or by phone with the post office often mentioned as an after thought. I really want to keep the facility and those who wish to keep a post office eed to use it more. The old saying use it or lose it seems very appropriate. Our post office and post mistress are a very important part of the village, it might not be the tidiest or the most modern office but it would be a great loss to the village if it were to go.

One local PO closed and I’m glad it did, because of the awful customer service there. I have three other local POs and in one there is hardly ever a queue if one visits at the right time of day. Furthermore, the staff are courteous. The other two get busier.