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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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Nichola says:
15 November 2012

Wish i had service like @Dave i live in exeter its beyond a joke!! I had two parcels go missing last month. A parcel sent from relative in Weymouth not that far away only took 3months to be delivered. Back in july had 3 other parcels go missing. Its not just parcels having issues with letters. Postmen folding small letters that clearly will fit through letter box. Important letter i sent to Inland Revenue i ended up having to post 3 times before they recieved it. Considering its me having to pay the 60p stamp each time. So now when sending packages i use courier i get a better service. With xmas coming up i shop a lot online, im trying to buy gifts ideally from websites using couriers and not royal mail its fustrating

Thanks for referring me to the other site, Patrick. How depressing to find even more dissatisfied customers!

As I’ve said before, this problem will only get worse as parcel deliveries increase. Private contractors seem just as bad as the Royal Mail.

Can anyone think of another industry where you pay for a service you don’t get?

Uzume says:
30 November 2012

The problem with ‘drop post with a neighbour’ is, let’s say the morning postie wakes your neighbour up to deliver your parcel (I have had the postie knock on the door at 6.40am before, 7am being the earliest they are meant to). Then another post van has a parcel and the same neighbours are bothered for a second time. Over Xmas this could happen several times per week potentially.

I have several sets of neighbours, all of whom work except the older people some of whom are disabled. I do not want my neighbours feeling obligated in this way and \i do not want to be constantly apologising when several parcels arrive from different carriers of vans.

There is a perfectly workable re-delivery system in place and I should have the option to use it if I wish to. I much prefer choosing a day when I am in to have things delivered to me. Royal Mail need to look at how THEY can best serve their CUSTOMERS! For example, stop only delivering 9-5 when many people are at work. Why not employ people to deliver up to 8pm or have a means by which to specify a timed service for an extra fee. My sorting office is only open 7am to 12.30pm each day. How does that benefit working people? It is also based in the most difficult to access part of town.

The key is to look at your service first, before expecting your customers and their neighbours to solve your performance problems!

Duncan Day says:
4 December 2012

Uzume, you do have the option of using the redelivery system, you just need to get a sticker from Royal Mail saying that you do not want anything left at a neighbours or are not willing to accept items for other people then the item will be returned to the Delivery Office and then you can rearrange delivery.

Royal Mail are giving a very inconsistent service. 2 weeks ago I was posted a DVD which took 7 days to arrive, this week a different DVD from the same company has taken only 4 days. 10 years ago they’d have taken 2-3 days from the same company.

Oh, and I’m still getting my post bend even when clearly marked “Do not bend”.

And this must be the first Saturday in ages that the posted hasn’t arrived before 9am, today is was gone 12:30. I wish I knew what time of the day the post was going to arrive it seems to be anywhere between 8am and 3pm although I have had post delivered at 5pm once this year.

Here’s hoping they up their game for 2013.

2 Decembers ago I was waiting on a parcel from Royal Mail , checked the website and tracked it – it said it had been delivered. Phoned the local depot and let the phone ring for 22 mins eventually was answered. Put on hold and was then told that they had it there and that someone would deliver it in 5 mins( weird or what) . Sure enough it came within 5 mins and the guy was most apologetic and said he didn’t know how that could happen since they were barcode tracked.next morning I went out to my car and all 4 tyres had been slashed. Conclusion : person originally delivering parcel couldn’t be bothered delivering item for what ever reason ( lazyness , theft or whatever ) when I phoned he either got caught lying or someone else covered for him ( guy that came to house with parcel ) . To teach me a lesson he then slashed my tyres , THANK YOU ROYAL MAIL .

Tony says:
9 January 2013

I have been complaining on this site about the Royal Mail service since the Which? report came out. I agree the private sector doesn’t necessarily do any better, but today I had a totally different experience.
We placed a modest online order a couple of days ago. We were emailed yesterday and informed on what day the parcel would be delivered with an option to make alternative arrangements if this wasn’t convenient. Today, the day of delivery, an online tracking system told us in which one-hour time slot the parcel would be delivered and it was delivered on time. Well done the company concerned: Interlink Express. They provided a professional service, in contrast to the Royal Mail, who get away with not providing a service which the customer pays for.

If all internet suppliers only used carriers of this calibre, the Royal Mail would be forced to raise its game.

Sue UK says:
9 January 2013

I’ve continued to have problem with Royal Mail over The last month with more than one lost order and traders on Amazon are obviously having problems viz a vis …..
“Thank you for your e-mail.
We are sorry to hear you still have not received order 98484405, we do feel there must have been a problem with Royal Mail on the day your order was dispatched as you are not the first customer to express a lost order.  We are currently in conversations with Royal Mail to try and get to the bottom of what happened on this day. ”

But I get s
excellent serive from Interlink… and Parcel Force. The latter..parcel force is Now a seperate company toRoyal Mail, and unlike Royal Mail, when I’m out, it leaves my parcels at the local subpost office, thereby saving me a 16 mile round trip to collect a parcel from Royal Mail’s nearest sorting office!!!!!

So I now post my own parcels by Parcel Force too.

Marian says:
19 January 2013

I had an ipod go missing (stolen?) in the post over xmas. When I claimed compensation, they sent me a book of stamps as compensation! I am about to take it further but I do get the impression that the Royal Mail are untouchable and I dont hold out much hope of proper compensation

I do think this is worth pursuing, Marian. An expensive item should require a signature, so you could have a claim against the retailer, assuming that you were the recipient rather than the sender of the iPod. It is worth insuring high value items sent by post.

Some years ago, I ordered an expensive Apple computer for use at work and it failed to arrive. Neither Apple or the courier (not Royal Mail) would offer any compensation because a signature had been provided. After I demanded an investigation, we discovered that several other orders from Apple had not been delivered to the members of staff who had placed the orders. In each case the signature was the same, but the name did not correspond with anyone employed in the organisation, making it likely that there was some scam involving the courier. The losses were written off but two signatories were appointed for all computer equipment and that immediately stopped the problem with Apple products going missing.

Another problem is that online retailers often do little to conceal what packages contain. With high value products that just invites theft.

Ordinary post only ever has 1 book of 1st class stamps as compensation ( and that I think is just a good will gesture). If you bought from a shop and they posted it to you, then your claim is with them, and under the distance selling regulations they should send you a replacement. If however it was a gift sent by a friend then they should have used special delivery.

However, I think its unfair that the customer should have to pay for a higher level post just because the Royal Fail can’t be trusted to do there job properly.

From the RM website, for standard parcels:

For lost or damaged items that have an intrinsic (monetary) value, with evidence of posting with Royal Mail (such as a certificate of posting) and evidence of value (such as an invoice or receipt) you will be entitled to a postage refund plus compensation for actual loss up to the value of the item, or the sumd of £46, whichever is the lowest.

Compensation up to £2500 is also available if you use the Special Delivery™ Next Day service.

Apart from the lack of proof reading, I’m happy with this. Other insurers may offer a better deal. If better compensation was available, I expect the prices would go up.

It would be good if RM had proof read the information on their website. 🙂

In addition to Wavechange’s comments could I add that using other couriers is statistically more likely to result in loss and failure to compensate than using Royal Mail.
By chance I have first hand experience of exactly the same situation as you, but using the Yodel service, in November of last year. I too bought an iPad, which was sent by Royal Mail on the next day special delivery service. It arrived at 07:40 the next day and I signed for it. However in the same order I had ordered iPad accessories, totalling a sum of over £200, which were sent by Yodel, also supposedly for next day delivery. None of the accessories arrived, but Yodel’s tracking website showed that they had been “Delivered via letterbox”. They certainly had not been so I took it up with the supplier, who apologised and offered to send replacements. I accepted the offer, and the identical thing happened (again it was Yodel). I took this up again and the supplier tried to suggest that I was trying to defraud them but agreed to send the items a third and final time. I suggested that they sent them by Royal Mail, like the iPad, but they refused citing “not economically viable” (i.e. Yodel was cheaper for them). Again the items failed to arrive and so I reported this but said I didn’t want the items sent again. I wanted to cancel the order. When my credit card statement arrived I found that I had been charged THREE times for the missing items. I took this up with the suppliers who told me that Yodel had reported the items had been signed for and therefore they could not accept my claim of non delivery. I then sent them printed screen shots of the Yodel tracking website showing “delivered via letterbox” (no mention of signature) at which point the supplier agreed that signatures could not have been obtained, but after 2 weeks had still not refunded my credit card. I had to resort to the Credit Card issuers’ fraud department to get my money back and I would strongly suspect that the supplier never will get the goods back nor any compensation from Yodel.

All in all, I’d rather have Royal Mail any way of the week, imperfections accepted.

Anyone else notice Royal Fail has “upgraded” their website over the weekend ? They’ve very conveniently managed to lose the opt out of direct marketing door 2 door details.

And yes I’m still getting that stuff (after 9 or 10 complaints). Although the postman did knock on the door this morning and ask for the pile he just mailed me back. He seemed surprised that there was no “note” on my delivery frame, which I’ve been assured by the area manager was there and the woman I spoke to at the out out service last week was told was there only last week.


Since I moved to Wanstead, I have almost never received my packages – only “While you were out” cards. Some of those cards have fake hours too.

I have already complained a few times to Royal Mail – with no effect. For months I have been having all my packages sent to work, and last week I decided to test the service again and having a package delivered at home.

Today both myself and my girlfriend where at home, and we received a “While you were out card”.

The Royal Mail Postal Review Panel has rejected my previous complain – saying that there is no reason to believe that the postman had not rang the bell.

Well, the postman is a liar, the Leytonstone branch is most likely managed in a fraudulent way and Royal Mail doesn’t have proper quality checking procedures.

Not sure if it will have any effect, but it’s pathetic that I cannot receive packages at home, unless they fit in the mailbox – whether I am at home or not.

Janice abrahart says:
17 April 2013

I do ebaying and went to post office with 4 small parcels and asked for proof of posting and was told I am limited to 3 parcels with proof of posting at a time.so now I have to do a tour of the town if I have more than 3 parcels to differant post offices.Is this normal practice or is our local post office just been stroppy, and if so am I in the right to do 3 parcels then get back in the queue and do another 3 ect.I do all my ebaying on a laptop so do not have printers to print off proof of posting

You can use a printer with any laptop, and wireless printers are most convenient unless you use the laptop in one place. Print the form, complete the details for each parcel, and get it stamped.

Why do you want to keep other customers waiting just to suit your own needs?

Tony says:
17 April 2013

Janice: I thought I could no longer be surprised by Royal Mail, but your story is extraordinary. Doesn’t this ridiculous organisation understand it is in a competitive market and needs to adapt to the internet age?

3 May 2013

I use Royal Mail a lot as we have an E-bay shop and post everything by recorded / signed for. RM have lost quite a few items and try everything they can to wriggle out of paying. However I really lost it big time with them yesterday as they want me to prove how much a centre cap cost that I sold on E-bay. We are in the business of breaking cars. They seem to think that if I paid 50p for the item (although with breaking cars I can’t quantify how much each item costs me) that this is all I will get back from the. I put in the bill of sale, surely my loss is the £5 that I had sold the item for and then had to refund the customer? They said that if I didn’t respond within 10 days they would close the case – they didn’t even have the decency to offer to refund the postage paid for the lost item! Is this usual? I have needless to say after having a heated exchange on the phone sent a stinky letter! We are not talking about much money overall but it is the principle.

Just found a delivery card, which is strange as I’ve been in all day. The postie must have the quietest knock ever. (assuming he bothered to bring the item)

Oh and one other thing, the card no longer Sorry, you were out. It now says “Something for you”, who do they think they’re kidding changing the name.

Perhaps it is simply being honest. After all, we know that some people are at home when the cards are left.

Do you fancy swapping postmen? Mine bangs the letterbox very loudly when putting things through. I have no doubt that he is at my door!

I can always hear when he delivers post, as it sounds like world war 3 is starting in my letterbox (and the post can be several feet from the door when I pick it up), yet when he needs to knock, he taps very quietly.

Happened many times with me get Something For You cards through letterbox while i`m in the house and there is a bell – which i bought specially for RM deliveries – and postman never ring door bell … just soft knocking and end of story.

I noticed once card been handed from VAN driver to postman who deliver letters and small items to put it through my door and never bother to come up to put it himself – ofcourse he do not like me or my items , so my big item was sent back to post office to collect it from there or it never left the office at all – so i go to pick up my letters to get a lovely red surprise saying there is – some times ARE – item(s) waiting me in post office and ironic thing that it said i need to go collect it after 24 hours.

Few one or two items lost … one arrived 10 days late dirty and creased one big item lost…post man was kind and nice tried to see what is happening in his postoffice and YES he found big box with name and address and post code all clear and nice to see by eyes dumped in post office shelf saying it was there 10 days ago!!!!!!! he wrote card for me and drop it saying all details even left me note with postoffice number and date the parcel arrived in office…i did call them and they did not have answer why item with name and address still in office and never appear here in my house!!!!

Before that few weeks i did complaint online to RM about cards been left for me while i was inside the house with no door bell rang at all for few times they said will see what is happening and they feel sorry FOR ME , i did complaint again weeks later about items lost in same period of time which is not normal at all !!!!! they came back with silly excuse saying VAN driver found no entry to my building after 11am coz service buzzer not working after 11!!!!!!!!!

Normally and happened before alot when service not working they buzzer me directly and i did open door no problems …anyway RM service gone badly after i did complaint like if it was in purpose and punishment from someone coz i did contact RM customer service.

Postman is great guy and work hard .. but VAN driver…sorry..he does not deserve the job and their manager did talk to me and trying to find words and excuse and promised to resolve my problem …great .. BUT she forgot to ask my name and address :/ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry its long reply .. just frustrated 😐

David says:
11 June 2013

Im a postman and have been for 23 years, I work hard and have been stressed for a long time.
I see both sides.
I know for a fact that some not all hide behind their door when I knock and they wont open the door
until I write a card out which frustrates me and they then tell me a stack of lies about where they were and what they were doing, its also frustrating when its lashing down with rain and this happens,
and with the uk thats often nowadays.
In other cases I knock hard and get a lot of abuse saying why cant you knock abit softer so I do and then they say I never knocked, I just wrote a card out, this is where the grey area is.
When a postman/woman knocks at a door or presses a bell, how do we know where the person indoors is going to be at that moment, behind the door the noise shocks the customer but upstairs in the attic with the hoover on, they might be thankful I knock loudly.
Its a no win thing and if anyone is to blame its the government who make cuts, put pressure on Royal Mail bosses who put pressure on us so we get so stressed we cant actually do the job properly anymore, we cant go sick because they bang on our doors wanting us back to work,more stress again.
I would also like to add we have had 2 heart attacks and 1 stroke in our office, thats how bad things are in this country, does anybody care? course not.
It has to be about give and take, no one is perfect, try to see both sides and understand.

Well put, thank you.

I cannot believe that your boss comes knocking on your door when you are ill. That is disgraceful.

lee chambers says:
9 July 2013

irrespective as to why the customer was ‘hiding’, their actions are not your concern at all! Another thing dont bang on peoples door, you have no right, no knock politely.

[This comment has been edited for breaking our guidelines. Be polite to other commenters and don’t make things personal. Thanks, mods.]

lee chambers says:
9 July 2013

I think the problem is largely due to Royal mail being greedy sods and asking their post men to do to much for a small slave wage. Royal mail should stick to sending letters only as they have failed miserably attempting to compete with courier services that have invested in their infer structure appropriately. Royal mail = greedy, post man = overworked and underpaid (although a % of the workers must be thieves).

A few years ago, Royal Mail were exposed as allowing scam bulk mail to be sent from an address in Greater London (I think it was Greenford). Despite assurances, they are still allowing this. I received a scam letter from a company in Mexico pretending to publish an exhibitors’ directory. This must be a very successful fraud (the directory does not exist and the hapless “exhibitor” is charged 900 euros for his “entry”) because it has been going for at least 30 years! Letters, at least in the UK, are sent from this post office address in Greenford. The man behind the scam calls himself Oscar Romero.


I just can’t believe what I saw!

My regular postman recently tried to deliver to someone in my road an item that was too thick to go through the letterbox; the residents were out. Instead of attempting delivery to a neighbour or taking the item away, he dropped the item onto the ground and then repeatedly stamped on it. He then forcibly shoved the item through the letterbox, taking at least half a minute to get it through.

I had thought about complaining, but then I doubt that Royal Mail would care and do anything about it. Yes, they might apologise and say that they will discipline the postman, but I really do not trust RM.

This is the same postman, by the way, who delivers mail carelessly and noisily; it’s a wonder that my letterbox flap (and that of others) is still hanging on.

This man has done nothing to alleviate the bad image that RM has. I doubt that things will get any better with privatisation.

Duncan Day says:
16 July 2013

please report him, he gives the rest of us a bad name. Believe it or not the very large majority of us really care about the job and the service we provide but people like this and a management that wants to erode our service keeps setting us back.

It was by no means intended as a general comment on Royal Mail, merely about the behaviour of one individual.

In many organisations there will be some bad apples amongst all the good ones.

Duncan Day says:
16 July 2013

granted but he still needs reporting.

Done. I will keep you informed if anything comes out of this.

I have now received a reply from RM, so this is an update. I will copy the RM reply and my response into the next post.

As you can see below, RM is as useful as a chocolate teapot. All the negative comments on this forum seem justified.

Sorry, Duncan Day, but no hard working and good ‘on the ground’ employee like you can make up for an organisation whose infrastructure is rotten.

You will also notice that I have made RM aware that I was going to post to this forum. I suggest that we email RM customer services en masse. Thousands of voices are louder than just one.

I will email Which? suggesting an investigation into RM and an article in the magazine.

Royal Mail:

“Thank you for contacting Royal Mail. I was sorry to hear of an incident you witnessed regarding a postman “stomping” on a neighbour’s package. I can appreciate the concern and your reason to contact us.

However, I would like to explain that under our license agreements we are obliged to ensure that all complaints are submitted by the person that encountered the problem. In this case, that would be the neighbour who received the item. I understand that you are unhappy with the service but the reason for this is so that the information we feedback as a complaint is as accurate as possible.

If the recipient contacts us regarding the complaint then we will be more than happy to log the complaint. I understand this may not be the response you wanted but hopefully my explanation will be satisfactory. If you do want to contact us again then feel free to do so and we will endeavour to help wherever possible.”


“Thank you for getting back to me quickly. I am unhappy with your response and I would like to take my complaint further. Please advise me on the procedure.

I do not speak to the neighbours in question, so how can they know about the problem and tell you, as they were out? You state that, “so that the information we feedback as a complaint is as accurate as possible”. How more accurate can it be than from someone who saw what was going on?

I cannot help thinking that you are hiding behind a smokescreen of bureaucracy, to protect unacceptable behaviour by one of your employees.

Just to make you aware, I belong to Which? Conversation. This is a forum of thousands of people who discuss topical issues. One hot topic at the moment is the atrocious service received from Royal Mail.

I will post your reply and my response to you on this forum.”

Before Margaret Thatcher we had the finest postal service in the world, five deliveries a day in central London, three a day in outer London. Our current postal service is one of the worst in the civilized world. I just had a book sent to me by second class mail which has not arrived three weeks later, I would never send ANYTHING second class, it is as uncertain as expecting to win the lottery. There have been several exposés of the postal service on TV and I know of several police investigations of valuables being stolen. The post office is rotten from top to bottom, from sloppy recruitment of untrustworthy individuals to appallingly low pay for the postmen who do an excellent job.

>>> I would never send ANYTHING second class, it is as uncertain as expecting to win the lottery. <<<

Tell you what then. I will send you a 2nd class letter. If it arrives, you pay me £1 Million. If it doesn't, I'll willing give you a few £'s.

P.S. Margaret Thatcher died earlier this year. We need to find someone else to blame for everything that is wrong with Britain.

The fact that Margaret Thatcher is dead does not make her any less liable for ruining the postal service. When I left this country for the USA we had the finest postal service in the world and she had just become prime minister, when I returned four years later, she was still prime minister and our postal service was as bad as that of the USA maybe worse.

Some of us are still enjoying excellent service. RM just need to sort out the poor areas.