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Is Royal Mail giving us a third class service?

Snail carrying mail

Our Royal Mail investigation has revealed how we’re getting a patchy and inconsistent service. If ‘while you were out’ cards and other people’s post are regularly dropping on your doormat, you’re not alone…

Royal Mail is to be privatised, but for the moment we’re all still receiving or sending items via our national postal service.

Not that there’s much that’s ‘Royal’ about it, according to most of the 500+ Which? members who contacted us during our research into the service.

Problems with the post

Admittedly you’re more likely to get in touch if you’ve had a bad experience than if you’ve had a good one. But we also asked 2,210 people to keep postal diaries over two weeks – completing 34,500 diaries in all – and they reported problems too.

Of these, 16% got a ‘while you were out’ card when they were in and 6% saw the card come through the letterbox without a knock on the door. This didn’t surprise us after many of you told us a similar story in a previous Conversation last year.

And when we surveyed 2,500 members of the general public we found that seven in ten had got someone else’s post in the last year, and over half of them hadn’t got post in the time they were expecting it.

Bring back the golden days

It all seems a far cry from the memory one Which? member had of four deliveries per day in the 1930s, or from the 1960’s experience of being able to post a letter in the morning and get a reply by the next morning.

But there was lots of praise for individual posties, and a significant minority had only good things to say about Royal Mail. There were heart-warming stories of postmen and postwomen battling through snow drifts, chatting on the doorstep, working out when post was incorrectly addressed – going the literal and figurative extra mile.

So how do you find Royal Mail? Do these findings surprise you – or ring true? What do you think of it being privatised in the future?

Royal Mail meets my expectations:

Disagree (45%, 459 Votes)

Agree (41%, 416 Votes)

Neither agree nor disagree (13%, 136 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,010

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I would love to know which areas are getting a good service. You would think that central London would be a priority, but our only delivery of the day arrives at lunchtime (slightly earlier on Saturdays). After years of sticking with Royal Mail a magazine I have delivered has now switched to a private service and the magazine arrives first thing in the morning.

Why should central London take priority over other areas? Let us consider everyone. 🙂

Duncan Day says:
16 July 2013

you may get it earlier because the delivery company only has a few customers to deliver to and they may also start their delivery at a different point to Royal Mail. I have nearly 900 calls on my delivery, someone has to be first and someone has to be last.

Duncan Day says:
16 July 2013

Didn’t you realise the world revolves around London? lol

I absolutely agree with Wavechange and I’d like to add that the postal service in Sheffield Hallam is absolutely outstanding in every way. (Nick Clegg’s constituency, but, I am thankful to say, he is a far more recent import than the superb postal service.)

One of the problems with the UK is that for a very long time now, certainly since Maggie’s time as PM but I think in fact a good while longer, anything outside of London is seen as insignificant, but when issues hit London there is hell to pay.

Royal MAil is not perfect and I know that, but it’s a damn site better than many give it credit for.

I concur. We get our subscription magazines on time, first and second class post within target times, and a cheery greeting whatever the weather. Norfolk is also famous for the Singing Postman [Allan Smethurst] – must be something in the air.

all@No6 says:
16 July 2013

We live in a village in Essex. We have a very helpful and friendly Local Post Office. Our postman Richard is extremely helpful and kind. Everyone knows him and is nice to him. He pauses briefly during his busy round to exchange a few niceties and everyone loves him.

There has been occasions when post has not turned up as expected or packages have got lost. However this is extremely rare. There are always failures in any complex process.

I collect Royal Mail stamps and the envelopes are always marked “do not Bend”. Our Richard always makes sure that they are not. In 30 odd years I have never received a damaged Royal Mail envelope and the one occasion when the stamp issue did not turn up I called Talents House and they promptly sent a replacement.

Maybe we should try thanking our postman a little more often. A word of thanks and encouragement goes a tremendous long way to boosting self esteem and hence motivation. Think of the last time your boss patted you on the back.

Dare I suggest that we go the extra mile and bake the Postman a cake or give him some chocolates. The carrot has alweays been a much more effective enducement than the stick. What a pitty that a Conversation such as this has to degrade into expletives and poor language when it could be used to bring about a change in the General Public’s attitude and hence to Customer Satisfaction.

By the way I work in the Service Department of a major agricultural machinery supplier, so I know what it’s like to be shouted at. Believe me the carrot works every time!!

The reason why Central London is important for Royal Mail, which I should have thought was obvious, is that this is where the most business in the whole of the UK is generated and where Royal Mail would earn the most money if it could be bothered to provide a good service.

I had assumed we were discussing domestic postal services, which might be different from business services – though I don’t know about this.

Duncan Day says:
16 July 2013

For years we have had a single daily delivery, start times have been pushed back gradualy over the last few years so yes deliveries are later for some people but apparently the customers (the people who send the post) are happy with this, postmen don’t like it but the majority of us still deliver a fantastic service but our hands are tied to make it better and if it is privatised the service will probably get worse.

It is not at all obvious – nor is it correct. Most business mail originates outside of the capital and never goes anywhere near it. Anyway, we all pay the same for our service, so what makes London so special?

I am perfectly happy with a mid morning delivery; for me, it is more convenient than first thing or in the afternoon. It is nice to know that the time of delivery is quite consistent, too.

Tony says:
27 July 2013

It feels like I have been commenting on this site for years and matters don’t improve. My main complaint is that frequently no attempt is made by Royal Mail to deliver parcels & packages when someone is at home. I exempt my regular postman from this criticism: he does his job properly and courteously, but is let down by idle colleagues and incompetent management. I have complained to management and submitted two written complaints through the labyrinthine complaints system.The delivery office is Prenton, Wirral.

I have asked this question before: can anyone identify another field where you pay for a service that you don’t receive?

I still have to say yes, as I’m still getting my post which clearly states “Do not Bend” folded by the postman. I can only assume its because of artificial time constraints, as his excuse this time ( and yes I seem to get a new delivery operative every few days) was laughable, and all because he has to hold a pile of other post in one hand, he only has one hand to deliver the mail, rather than using one hand to hold the letterbox open and the other to post the mail thru it, Sigh.Who’d believe putting bits of paper through a hole in a door could be so difficult. 🙁

I have recently had two items of mail stolen, both on days when our regular postwoman was off duty. One of them was a set of stamps from Royal Mail!

Philip Adams says:
12 October 2013

I do hope Richard Dilks or another Policy Adviser is assigned to a review of postal services under privatisation. My present beef with Royal Mail is over an Unmerited demand by their revenue protectors for extra payment for an abysmal service. I think we can expect a lot more of this under privatisation. First of all I’ve got to make my case. Its pretty clear cut really, except that I have the dreaded prospect of having to navigate their multi-tier complaints process. Which needs to show an interest in this excessively bureaucratic process as well as the substance of complaints like mine. People need to hear about this.

Interestingly I’ve received three items in the post recently which have had underpaid postage, but in each case, although there was a revenue protection sticker on the envelope stating that I needed to pay £1.09, it had been scribbled through and the letters delivered whilst I was out in every case. Their revenue protection department has therefore “given” me £3.27 in total.

I’m not debating the rights and wrongs of either revenue protection or the proportional postage charges, but I will give Royal Mail credit where it’s due – clearly someone has a brain cell and is using it when they decided that it wasn’t worth pursuing an underpayment of 9p in each of the three cases (plus the £1 handling fees) …….

Or was it that knowing they were being sold down the river they just didn’t care?

Now, if Milliband or Clegg (or anyone else) REALLY want to win the election in 2015, in their own right, they need to start saying they’d renationalised RM ……………

Philip Adams says:
12 October 2013

Dave D is probably spot on with his conclusion about privatisation.He may have been even more irritated if he also found the excess charges were not merited in the first place, had he checked weight dimensions against postal rates.
In my case the letter involved was stamped at a Post Office Counter after weighing etc.
My own checks on dimensions and weight confirmed the correct postage was applied
The envelope was opened at the top and partially open one side.
Brain cells were not evident in this case. If they were some sellotape would have been used in preference to REVENUE PROTECTION STICKERS.

It makes one ask how the system works: do they have targets for revenue protection which must be met regardless of how much revenue is actually lost? Something is seriously amiss here.

Tony says:
12 October 2013

I agree with the point about the complicated complaints system and have mentioned it more than once on this site. I can only assume that it is deliberately Byzantine in order to deter complaints. Delivering post ought to be a very simple process and only needs a simple complaints system.

The people rushing to buy Royal Mail shares obviously don’t realise how poor the service is in many places. They may be in for a rude awakening.

When I left the UK to live abroad, under Margaret Thatcher, we had the best postal service in the world. When I returned four years later, our postal service was on a par with that of a third-world country.

Only last week I had a birthday take 48 hours to arrive, I could drive the round trip in under 90 mins. So much for 1st class post.

One card came through the letter box at 6pm, so I can only guess that it had been delivered to the wrong house and the home owner had just got home so did the job of the postman for him ( and yes I’d had post several hours earlier so I know it wasn’t the postman making a second delivery)

Did I complain, NO. As what’s the point, a book of 1st class stamps is worthless and the service won’t improve as a result of my complaint. And I had more important things to do on my birthday weekend than struggle with their complaints service.

FYI The Royal Fail junk mail opt out complaints service is much easier to access, you just ring them up, although nothing improves having done that. Although they do extend the opt out for what good it doesn’t do.

I wish my birthdays took 48 hours to arrive 😉

Seriously, I have to disagree with one point from William: “Did I complain, NO. As what’s the point, ……”

I’m afraid that, whilst I agree that making a complaint is a thankless task and made arduous in the extreme by the systems and hoops we have to jump through, if you don’t complain to the Riyal Mail themselves, it’s no use moaning to other people. RM **MIGHT** do something about your complaint if you make it to them. They **CAN’T** and therefore WON’T if you don’t make it.

Your family, friends and readers of this board **CAN’T** do anything to help you as they are not in a position to.

It’s rather like those people who refuse to vote but then complain to anyone and everyone that they don’t like the government.

I’m the last year I’ve complained to Royal Fail probably over a half a dozen times, and nothing ever changes, so really I’d just be wasting my own time. The opt out service on its own has had phones calls from me over a dozen times in the last 3 years alone. I’ve heard the same promises for getting on for over 5 years now, and seriously nothing ever improves. They make the same mistakes and get the same complaints time and time again. It’s almost like I’ve never bothered to complain.

In fact every time I do complain I point out that instead of a book of stamps maybe they should pay me £500 and I’d bet the service would instantly improve and each time they’ve agreed. Yet they don’t so the service is still disgraceful.

The last time I complained I escalated it up to a regional Manager and yet the same issues happen again and again.

When Adam “I really have zero experience of a postal delivery service” Crozer was the head guy, one complaint I even asked if I could deliver his mail to him (just so he could experience what its like), but they declined.

My government epetition to have the word Royal removed from their name on the grounds that they’re an embarrassment to the Royal Family was declined 🙁

For a company with almost 500 years experience of delivering post they really are dreadful.

And you haven’t started to hear me moan, I was just sharing my experience of a truly awful outfit.

And having said all that I do feel sorry for postman, as I bet its the targets they’re being forced to meet that are causing most of my problems.

And with this privatisation I’m expecting to actually get worse. 🙁 I’m hoping just once I can be proved wrong, but I won’t be holding my breath.

As for helping, unless someone is my local delivery manager I doubt any1 can help.

And as for voting, don’t get me started on that … 🙂

Well I’m sure you’re right that Privatisation will make it far worse – no doubt about that at all. Doubtless more expensive too.

I had an ipod stolen while it was in the post last xmas and they sent me a book of stamps in compensation! They know you will just give up on complaining, so just continue to send you patronising letters in response to your complaints. I have at least 1 or 2 things delivered every week from the internet and nothing else has ever gone missing apart from an ipod which could easily be put in a postal workers pocket.

I get the impression that regardless of any complaint made against them, there’s no real driving force to make them improve. So they can just ignore the complaint.

Are they even forced to publish the number of complaints ? Or can I get them to own up to the number if I ask under a freedom of information request ?

Philip Adams says:
13 October 2013

This is in reply to William’s important last comment at 6:38 to-day:

Once privatisation comes into play the Freedom of Information of Information Act (FOIA) does not apply-if it ever did with Royal Mail.(FOIA) applies to Public Bodies only.
But don’t worry about this Catch-22 arrangement-we’ve still got the wonderful OFCOM-backed multi-tier complaints procedure to make sure customers get fair play from Royal Mail.
Some sensible politicians are arguing that (FOIA) should apply to private companies who have government contracts.Absolutely spot-on.Let’s legislate now!

Tony says:
23 October 2013

Prenton, Wirral delivery office still failing to provide an acceptable service. Package not delivered.”Something for you” card left giving false time ( I checked the mailbox after the time stated and there was nothing there) and message written on card saying “buzzer not ringing” (not true). I no longer bother to complain.

Well Privatisation has made no improvement to the service. My parents have just had post delivered to them having been delivered to a street over a 2 miles away and it being forwarded on. The post had the correct post code on it too 🙁

Lets see if complaining to the Postal Review Panel makes any difference. I doubt it.

alipacino says:
4 December 2014

Belfast is shocking….went to let cat out tonight at 9pm to find important bankruptcy paperwork dumped on doorstep! Ive been at home all day so they didn’t even knock door to see if I was at home PLUS it would have fit through letterbox! LIVID TONIGHT!

Clive Flood says:
5 December 2014

For some time now we frequently receive our mail every other day, whenwe queried this we were told that due to management policy and combining delivery rounds the postman frequently cannot complete his delivery and has to cut off,as a result the next day they start from the other end of the delivery meaning those at the end of the walk will not receive any mail,when we complained it was put down to shortage of staff due to sickness but insiders have told mr that nowadays this is standard practice.
Another on going problem with the mail is the abrasive attitude of the managers, if a manager develops a good friendly working relationship with staff he is moved to another area or department iy really seems that those in charge want to bring the royal mail to its knees then blame the walking postie for its demise, doer this stink of government underhand manipulation or what?

Thea Fitzgerald says:
18 April 2016

Two parcels to the USA and one to France (posted at the same time) still haven’t arrived a month after posting. In order to keep my customers happy I’m sending replacements. Waste of time claiming compensation as the paperwork and proofs of value required take far too long to fill in and print out, and the last time I tried they denied receiving the package and the obligatory original proofs of posting. The USA parcels were sent airmail, (and marked as such in pen) but the PO had run out of blue stickers (and had had none for almost a week), so I’m wondering if they’ve gone the slow way instead. The problem could of course be at the other end, but one has to ask the question: What other company suggests insurance in case they don’t deliver the service paid for by the customer?
Read more at http://www.brandrepublic.com/article/222057/royal-mails-service-plagued-abysmal-failures#xlPmbZ8irC1Qg81o.99

Carol Roper says:
11 November 2020

I am still waiting for a signed for 1st class delivery posted on 29/10/20. Royal Mail are confusing and I don’t see why they issue a number if they don’t track the service. Also what exactly are customers paying nearly 3 times the cost of an ordinary 1st class delivery for? On top of which their complaints system is abyssmal. Nor is the information given clear. I had an email which didn’t make much sense at all. I feel very let down.