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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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Veryhappybunny says:
22 July 2011

My impression is of generally well meaning staff operating under considerable pressure.

However the net effect is not good – I have had cards put through my door when I am in, parcels left on my doorstep, parcels given to neighbours to keep for me, but no note to me to tell me they have done that. Most frustratingly I have had a card to say that a recorded parcel will be returned to the depot in 48 hours, but if I wait more than a week in collecting it once it does get to the depot, it will be returned to sender. Given I was going on holiday the next day, that made it difficult to get hold of.

Duncan Day says:
14 November 2012

I think the limit for keeping recorded items was 2 weeks not 1 and is now 18 days.

Derek says:
22 July 2011

Remember the Joni Mitchell song “all it really goes to prove is that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone”. Right now we’ve got a seriously understaffed and stretched postal service doing a super job delivering stuff from one end of the country to the other overnight and from abroad in a few days and it costs peanuts! Just see what happens when “cherry picking” private companies take over. At the moment, as I understand it, because of their remit, the Royal Mail HAVE to deliver letters etc. from some of these companies e.g. UK Mail and they’re forced to do it at a loss! If you don’t want to risk losing mail in what is after all a massive logistical nightmare you can use Registered Post; even that is a cheap option.

The mail, whether first or second class, does get through eventually and our postmen are pretty good and helpful. However, there is not much visible FIRST CLASS about the delivery times or the number of deliveries per day. Furthermore, what they deliver includes so much junk mail (I assume some kind of subsidy to the mail service costs there!) – that we do not want and which is a huge waste of paper (it goes straight into the bin!). I suppose with so many of the younger generation not being able to write, it will eventually not be required at all!

Sarah says:
22 July 2011

I live in a rural area and according to our postie she doesn’t have enough paid time to complete her round unless it is a very ‘light post’ day, so either our post arrives late (1 pm or later is usual all year round) or we miss one day in 3. The postwoman is excellent but its chaos when she’s off. We often get post for the bungalow (called No 1 Bungalow) despite our house being a detached 2-storey house and clearly NOT a bungalow. At work, also in a rural area but on a different round, all the posties are excellent but the post doesn’t arrive until 10 am or later even in the summer (at Christmas it’s obviously busier) and as a business that is not exactly convenient – we are often waiting for the post to arrive.

I find them brilliant. Overall a superb service. I reckon I receive more than 95% of my post next day if it is first class and 60% if it is 2nd, mostly local. I have had some problems at my previous house with post being delivered to the wrong house, sometimes to my next door neighbour some times to another house with the same name and same post town. Postmen don’t seem to take any notice of the Post Code last three characters for sorting.

Mr Anomy Mus says:
14 November 2012

That’s because Postmen DON’T sort to codes in delivery offices,only to address!It’s a complete misnomer because post codes are ONLY used to get mail to the relevanth delivery office by the identified Mail centre!

As Derek said, it will get worse if it is privatised. I think that any company that is allowed to take mail for delivery should have to deliver all the mail in part of the country including the unprofitable rural post. The idea that some of them can just dump the unprofitable stuff onto the Royal Mail is totally unreasonable if there is no quid-pro-quo.

Fed up says:
22 July 2011

I agree in London the service is dire, missing mail, slow delivery, misdeliveries (and no use of the full postcode to check where the item should go. Finally my particular bête noire those “while you were out cards”. Usually delivered whilst I’m in. Now they come with the excuse no flat number but the post office defined address ignores our flat numbers and we have an entry communication system which they could use. You can’t win with the !!!! I think in London they send the cards out not the package if a signature is required. The system for redelivery doesn’t work because you cannot give an updated address on it to overcome the problem. However, where my father lives in the country I cannot speak too highly of the service, although it now arrives rather late. I have all packages I can delivered there rather than London.

Jeremy Newman says:
22 July 2011

It meets my expectations – dire. We regularly have post delivered to us that is for someone else in the road, or even an totally different road. During the week, you’re lucky if it pitches up by noon. On Saturdays, oddly enough, delivery is no later that 09.00.

Given the choice, I don’t use the post – email is far more efficient an has no marginal cost.

Janet Cribb says:
22 July 2011

We had our post redirected when we went abroad for 4 months last year. There was no facility to make the redirection for less than one year, so a week before we arrived back we cancelled the redirection on the Royal Mail website. Well, it didn’t happen. Royal Mail were still sending our post to Malaysia 2 weeks after we got back. Important post was unavailable to us (including my bus pass, which they forwarded twice!) Bank statements and letters from the DWP. The previous year I had my camera repaired and it was sent back next day delivery, in time for our annual trip. It was not delivered in spite of the fact that we were in, the first I knew about it was finding a card in my mailbox (it was a Saturday) sayiong call the PO after 9 on a week day to arrange redelivery. We were airborne early on Monday morning. It was returned to the repair man, who then sent it on to our overseas address by registered post. It never reached us, somebody nicked it somewhere along the wayand that was the end of that. Very annoying as we had paid for the repairs. I have voted that Royal Mail comes up to my expectations, which are very low.

Chris says:
22 July 2011

I live in a small block of 26 Sheltered Housing Flats.We USED to have two excellent Posties and then they were all shifted around and one of the ‘replacements’, in particular,seems to think it’s funny by posting the mail through all the wrong letterboxes,even although the flats are clearly numbered,or,on other occasions, just leaving all the mail in the enterance area.The majority of us are housebound so if the mail is dumped at the enterance there is not alot we can do about it.( we depend on one of our more ‘mobile ‘neighbours to kindly sort it all out and deliver it to the right flats,this neighbour is 87yrs of age).If the mail is put through the wrong letterboxes, by the so called ‘postperson’, then the CARERS very kindly exchange it for us. We’ve complained on numerous occasions but alas it is STILL ongoing . Whatever happened to ‘taking pride in ones work’ ?

mel says:
22 July 2011

I think that the postal service does a great job under progressively harder circumstances, while it seems sometimes that having a pop at postal workers is a national hobby. They don’t get paid much, and most people aren’t in to receive a lot of mail these days, especially in cities. It’s a good idea to get to know your postie personally and have a chat with him or her if you’re having problems. The phrase ‘thankless task’ comes to mind….

Ken says:
22 July 2011

Like Sarah we live in a rural area and our post does not usually arrive until about lunchtime. We have a great postie and unlike Sarah we also have great relief posties, so no delays or missed post during breaks. There were a lot of problems at the end of last year with the introduction of new systems which none of the posties thought would work, and they were proved right (and this was nothing to do with their thoughts). For several weeks our local delivery office featured in the local press and it was usually bad press!

So, in short, we are very pleased with the service from Royal Mail to our address, but we do have worries about what will happen on privatisation.

Paul says:
22 July 2011

I can honestly say Royal Mail has lost the PLOT!!

My experience of the Royal Mail is Terrible, I have had Letters 3 To 5 days late even on a 1st Class service Not so First Class!! Cards Posted through my post box for wrong People Clearly Written for one of the Neighbours, And something that is not acceptable is Having my Contents stolen from Packages including Gold Piece, Fragrance and CD’S, When challanging Royal Mail the response you get is ‘Sorry’ Nothing to do with us, no wonder the Royal Mail are in constant talks of being Floated, Lets hope D.H.L OR U.P.S Take soul Control of our Postal Service Here in the U.K

Nick says:
22 July 2011

I’ve been staggered by the increase in postal charges in the last couple of years since the complicated package system has come in. and in fact ever since they stopped printed the cost of a stamp on the stamp! they just seem to increase it all the time! So if I want to post a package say once a month, every time I have to carefully check the increased cost so that I don’t land someone the other even with a big fine! I always try to get whatever I want into a post box to avoid the slow queues and grumpy staff in the post office. It’s the only bad thing about sellling stuff you don’t need on Ebay, it’s trying to post it!

denniboy says:
22 July 2011

I don’t think that the Royal Mail does a good job .I have lost faith in it’s integrity. .Sometimes the postman is not seen in our area until 4-30pm and invariably it is a different person each day.We have had other people’s mail pushed through our letterbox many times..I often wonder if the postmen are confused,because even the smallest of envelopes are doubled up and stuffed through the large sized letter-box On wet days it seems that the letters must have been carried around immersed in a tank of water,We are lucky if they do not disintegrate when breaking the suction from the tiles.
It is obvious that no attempt has been made to keep them dry…Such a lack of pride is to be pitied
It might seem that I am exaggerating to wind people up, but I am not. It is all true.

I remember the time when postmen wore uniforms,with a flat peaked cap..and a red stripe down the seam of their trousers. Now it seems that anything goes… with shorts being quite popular.
However,we are not getting the service that once was. Bundles of letters that were once tied tightly with string,with a bow for easy access ,are now contained with red elastic bands,which unbelievably litter the streets and can be followed back to the postmans starting point..What private employer would employ such wastrels.

Mail has been going missing at an alarming rate.and many employees have been sacked.in recent years. Even so we still read occasionally of postmen stashing thousands of letters in their homes.
How strange. A post-person should never be allowed to enter private premises. Most certainly not their own homes. Who interviews such people ? Incompetence is everywhere!

philip says:
23 July 2011

ive been a postman for the last 23years and i must agree with you that i think that as well “who interviews these people” when i started you had iterview after interview then a sorting test then another sorting test all of which lasted about six months if you didn’t come up to scratch you were out!!. now management don’t care if you can speak your name and you no were you live thats good enough for them i no thats sounds a bit depressing but these people generally don’t last the course but there is still a lot of postmen\women like me who do care what happens to the publics mail.as for the decline in the service and items that take along time to go through the system an example i can give you is i order from a company which uses royal mail and i always got the items the next day or occasionally the day after,now it takes five days and the reason why is the company i order from still charges me first class but sends it through another courier who uses royal mail for the “final mile” but it has now got to go to there depo first then the next day go to royal mail or if its a friday then it stays with the courier until monday!, you get hacked off because its taking for ever to get to you you blame royal mail “crap service”etc the courier gets no blame for giving you a second class service and has not got to abide by the universal postal obligation which royal mail has too so the courier is in a win win situation and they don’t even have to bother to deliver said item!. only in england would we have a crazy system like that!!!.

Clifford says:
23 July 2011

In terms of mail delivery I’m reasonably impressed with Royal Mail. Admitedly most of what they deliver is junk, but without it they would not survive. Lets face it nothing is wasted the junk goes straight into recycling. They sometimes get things wrong, but if you take into account the billions of items delivered every week, I think they are entitled to few boo boos.
I’m also a long term stamp collector and Royal Mail send me presentation packs and stamp booklets regularly as they are issued. We have the best stamps in the world by a long way. I would hate to see that dissapear through privatisation.
A word for our postman: Well done Richard, you’re best!

Jim, Maidstone says:
23 July 2011

The mail in my area is seldon delivered within the published times. We are lucky to get first class mail within 3 days. Often there are days where no mail at all is delivered in our area as I have previously discussed this with people living around me and find that the days when I get no mail, they also get no mail. We can only assume that the Post Office ‘save it up’ so they have fewer trips to make.

alan says:
23 July 2011

The staff in most cases dont care as long as they get their amazing benifits Third rate service for first class payment If they retrieved the red rubber bands they drop they would save 3.5 milloion in a year

Disgruntled Postie says:
8 August 2011

What benefits?!

Don Forder says:
23 July 2011

I think the Royal Mail gives an excellent service: although our post rarely arrives before lunch these days, most of it arrives the next day whether it is first or second class. Occasionally we get a misdirected letter for our neighbours in the next street, although this is at least in part due to Leeds City Council’s habit of using the same name for many streets in the same area. (Check out the A-Z of Leeds if you don’t believe this.)
I think Royal Mail would be far better off if it didn’t have to deliver mail for all the private companies as well as their own. Many private postal organisations get their mail delivered by Royal Mail, but they don’t pay the same as you and I do for the service, so RM’s profit margin is much less on this wholesale post.

Disgruntled Postie says:
8 August 2011

Totally appreciate your comment regarding time of delivery. you might be surprised to hear that in my office Postie’s aren’t due to go out on their duties until 10.00 a.m. Not so long ago mail in urban areas would have been delivered by then, and even rural Postie’s would have been well on into their deliveries. You can’t halt progress, eh?

Tash says:
23 July 2011

A good work force demoralised by very poor management. I sent 2 1st class recorded deleveries neither were reported as delivered up to now 6 weeks afeter the last one posted. Try to register a complaint on the web. So convoluted you give up management tool to reduce complaints??. Our postwoman used to deliver between 8-9am now after umpteen restrictions on her and added duties to cover shortages it can be up to 3pm before we have a delivery. I have had 3 items sent and not delivered over the past year.