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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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Neil H says:
23 July 2011

Our postal delivery folks are under a lot of pressure to conform with targets set by ‘pencil pushers’ which include the delivery of junk and unsolicited items foisted on them by privatised concerns. I have nothing but admiration for the way they cope with the workload and the brickbats and I feel that individuals are entitled to have a few mistakes along the way. Inevitably, it is the mistakes which raise the publicity which is often hyped by the popular press and other media. Well done to Horsham Royal Mail !

Kevin Cottrell says:
23 July 2011

I live in Ashford in Kent and have complained to Royal Mail on 3 occasions concerning their service. Generally speaking we seem to get only one or two deliveries a week with all of the mail being saved for these days. I have had 6 identifiable incidents of items (usually parcels but also credit cards) going missing completely and I have had christmas cards delivered in February. First class post generally seems to take a week to arrive although anything we post seems to arrive the next day, so it may be a local issue. When I have complained Royal Mail have basically said that there is nothing they can do but that if I am expecting something i can phone up the Manager at the sorting offuice to see if it has arrived. I have tried this but he is always “unavailable”. I moved here from Bristol 4 years ago and although the service there had deteriorated with the removal of the second delivery it was no where near as bad as it is here.

Beth says:
23 July 2011

I am lucky enough to live in a village with a regular postman who gives a personal service. We don’t have the problems some of your respondents report and the only downside is that we don’t get our post until lunchtime, but when you know it is one man covering the whole area and know he feels under pressure, I feel that is acceptable. As he knows everyone on his route, he can keep an eye out for problems and report to neighbours if there is anything suspicious such as a door left open and no-one around or curtains drawn when they are normally open.
There are always bad apples in a large organisation, but I feel the Post Office is doing its best to rid itself of them. I agree that there should be an element of competition but feel that sometimes its an uneven pitch with a lack of investment in the Post Office and private firms cherry-picking the most lucrative areas. (Sorry about all the metaphors!)

John says:
23 July 2011

I live in Shoeburyness Essex, Our local post lady is brilliant gives us a reliable friendly service always turns up at her regular time whatever the weather even when the snow was very bad last winter, The staff at the Shoeburyness delivery office are also very helpful i had a problem with a parcel a while back and they checked it out and had it sorted in no time they are a good example of how the Royal mail should be run all over the rest of country !
Top marks to them.

Excellent delivery service here in south Norfolk and staff at the sorting office always very helpful. My worry is when posting to friends and relations elsewhere. I let them know something’s on its way but apart from about half the first-class items not much is delivered within the target times. Have had to pay interest on credit card accounts because the time between my receiving the statement and their processing deadlines does not allow for any delay in the post.

Why don’t you manage your credit card account online? Would save on the problem you’ve stated.

I have nicknamed my delivery worker ‘Postman Prat’, a bit of a play on words on Postman Pat, but reflecting the fact that he is careless with my mail. I’ve had important documents damaged because he bends large letters, even though there has been a ‘Do Not Bend’ notice. He delivers loudly, throws rubber bands on my drive and, upon speaking to him, sounds a bit of a fool. But I suppose one positive point is that he is often smiling and chatting, seemingly enjoying his job.

24 July 2011

Last friday I sent a parcel by Special Delivery which was guaranteed to arrive by Monday 1pm.
It actually arrived today (Saturday) by 12 noon i.e. in less than 24 hours so well done Royal Mail you really excelled .

David says:
24 July 2011

I live in a rural village where the postal sorting office is part of the village stores and we have a very good team of postmen. Sometimes we are able to collect any post from the sorting office which we feel helps the postmen as they can then cycle by our gate and continue on their rounds. When it comes to anything special ordered which might be a package which might not go in the mailbox we mention and arrangments are made. Our delivery is usually before 11 of a morning, and we have no complaints. I feel sorry for them having to deliver duplicated mail and when this happens take it up with the sender.

Royal Mail should concentrate on their core service, ie., timely & correctly handling the mail delivery service – all other financial/business services are secondary.

john says:
25 July 2011

I’ve experienced first hand a drop in standards about 8 years ago! I first noticed it when a birthday card posted locally never showed up, since then I’ve had mail put through my letterbox for other streets, Mail for my street has been wrongly delivered (I live at No. 14 but had mail for No’s. 4, 6 & 10 delivered even thought though walked past them!), trhis happens several times a year. Magazines and other periodicals occasionally failed to be delivered.
I also believe that mail is being held back at the sorting office and being delivered in bundles to save on the amount that is carried. Why do I think that? I usually have mail every other day, one or two items but on one occasion nothing for 5 days then strangely 11 items were put through the door at once!

Thanks everyone for sharing some really interesting experiences on this topic.

It seems that – very much like our research for this article – there are mixed, but pretty strong views on where our postal service impresses and infuriates you, and why.

Please keep sharing your thoughts: I know that Richard, who researched this piece, will be fascinated to read them when he returns from his honeymoon. Let’s hope all his wedding invitations arrived safely…

Netty says:
25 July 2011

On the whole, I am satisfied with the service of the postman, but the other day I was left a card informing me of a parcel that was unable to be delivered. I phoned the number to re-arrange delivery at my local Post office, (a nightmare in itself) only to be told there would be a £1:50 handling fee by that local Post office! I was outraged. I told the customer service person to re-deliver to my home address, and as I was unable to gaurantee being home, asked for the parcel to be left in the porch instead. Surely the post office should not be charging a handling fee for parcel collection.

Christine Simmen says:
25 July 2011

Like several people, I am fed up with junk mail and also ‘begging’ letters coming through my postbox…around 4-7 per week !! … don’t even get me started on charity bags !!
I just wish that more would do as I do….which is, using a RED pen, make a notation along lines of ‘…. unsolicited mail, please delete from mailing list…’ or ‘… I do not subscribe to begging letters, delete from mailng list’ –
I then place in pre-paid / enclosed envelope and post back to sender -ie they have to pay postage!!

Having worked for a large company that used mail drop procedure, i know that if only 25% of people take up offer, they have covered their costs…Now if EVERYONE returned pre-aid envelopes ALL the time, I wonder how much that would eat into their ‘profit’…worth a try ??


Fedup Waiting says:
26 July 2011

Over the past three years we have seen our dedicated postman upgraded to delivering larger parcels and replaced with Postman Prat who shows all the signs of hating his job and the customers.
With regard to use of the service, I paid £25 for the privilege of their ‘Next Day’ Parcelforce service which took 3 days to get to Scotland. I wrote a letter of complaint which they didn’t bother to reply to but phoned me up because it was more convenient. They didn’t apologise and had the cheek to tell me that they had done a good job — I don’t think so. It was left for the local postman to deliver my large parcel that would have filled his little Postman Pat Van.

I sent a recorded delivery 2nd Class, thinking that it would take probably three days to get there but arrived one week later. If that wasn’t bad enough, the parcel was found to have been opened. I sent an e-mail complaint, and received a reply that they required me to write a letter of complaint. Now I know what happened to the last letter of complaint – so I give up and it becomes one less statistic of poor service. Royal Mail wins,

A local firm sent me a contract by first class post, which is literally 3 miles away. Exactly, seven days later I received the contract, by then it was irrelevant. When I remarked about this to the postman, he now tells me that the local sorting office has closed down and letters are sent 70 miles away round trip. Is this efficiency? – because had they posted it a further 2 miles up the road it would have gone to a more local sorting office 5 miles away.

After the debacle of the 2nd Class Recorded Delivery, I paid for 1st Class delivery to Manchester and 6 days later it still hasn’t been delivered. Had I known this, I could have delivered the parcel myself a few days later when I passed Manchester on my way somewhere else.
With this level of service, I feel there is nothing left but to pay for private couriers the extra money and who have not let me down so far.
In my opinion they should not be allowed to use the Royal as I am sure the Queen would not be impressed and therefore ought to be called Black Mail.

Chris J says:
26 July 2011

I don’t think there’s much doubt that the Post Office has been going steadily downhill for years, for a variety of well-documented reasons … but I still find individual postmen and women themselves really good.

Our postman, for example, is very helpful … he always follows any requests we have, (such as leaving parcels in agreed places if we’re out) .. and he has even been known to drive round on a Saturday (in his own car, using his own petrol) to deliver a parcel that he didn’t have time to deliver on the Friday, delivered with his apologies.

I also think it’s clear that if private companies take over, we will ultimately end up with both a worse service, and a more expensive one. Realistically, the current price of 46p to deliver a first-class letter anywhere in the UK by the following day, is very cheap and I can’t see a private company staying that low for long. I think we’ll find they are keen to impress big businesses and win their contracts, but at the cost of us individuals.

Ted Heath Fan says:
26 July 2011

Very well put. Completely agree.

Privatised “services” never work in the favour of the small time (domestic) user and we have ample proof of this over centuries in a variety of types of “service”

If prices rise sharply upon privatisation, vote with your feet and either use email or another company. The one dealing with (former) RM business will have to take note if this happens en masse.

Ted Heath Fan says:
26 July 2011

I’ve read through most of this discussion thread and it strikes me that there is a serious flaw in the survey we are asked to take part in.

Asking if Royal Mail (or anything else) “Meets ….expectations” is very subjective, and indeed one commentator – Jeremy Newman – illustrates this point very well by stating that his expectation of the post is “Dire” and that the post service meets this expectation.

The survey results – currently fairly evenly spilt – are therefore pretty meaningless because there is no way of knowing whether all the people who agree are of the same mind-set as Jeremy, or of whether all those who disagree actually expect a much poorer service than they get and therefore the expectation is not met by virtue of being exceeded, or, as is highly likely, how many people in each category have voted with the implied intention of the survey and how many have interpreted it in their own unique way.

I think the staff in charge of setting up the survey and the discussion really should be more careful with things like this – it’s not the first time it’s happened and in response to pressure from commentators staff at Which did have to reset and change a previous survey on a different topic because it was confusing in a similar way.

Tempers are clearly frayed and emotions running high on the topic – there are a good few comments on here that are highly inflammatory against the post system and the staff thereof and against other commentators. I think it is very sad (in the true meaning of the word, not the modern recent meaning) that comments such as these are allowed to be posted and that they go unchallenged.

As for my own view, I think I have expressed it clearly in my “reply” to Chris J, just a little above this. Chris has summed up the situation very well. I have been a Tory all my life but the Thatcherite and, I might say, Blairite, trend for privatising services which actually we, the taxpayers, already own, has long since gone much too far and the result is the sort of mess that people are arguing about over fuel prices, rail services, bus travel and, even though the Post Office isn’t yet privatised, here on this discussion. When a service is required to serve the whole country and all the population thereof it is impossible to have competition and still deliver the service, and that is why the post is in the mess it is in: pre-privatisation the post office is being forced to compete with other providers, who don’t have any of the costs associated with doing the job because they hijack the post office’s infrastructure. Of course such providers can do the job cheaper – they don’t have the overheads. If or when the post office is privatised and starts to compete on a level playing field, all providers, including the post office itself, will have higher overheads because they’ll all have to pay towards the up keep of the essential infrastructure. It’s exactly the same as the railways now that each transportation provider has to pay towards the upkeep of the stations and the tracks, instead of one organisation owning everything and the cost of travel being used to pay for all parts of the system and not for shareholders dividends.

The post office staff have my greatest sympathy: they are being asked to do the impossible without any support at all.

Patricia says:
27 July 2011

1pm delivery is early for us. 3.30 is the usual time on the days we do receive post. At least once a week we have no delivery, presumably the postie’s day off and no relief available. Our postman is over-worked and looks frazzled, frequently running over his paid time just to complete his round, which is over-long (not just his view but confirmed by other local posties). He is extremely reliable, however, and will go out of his way for you. He delivers parcels to my workplace (which is nearby) when I am not in at home. On the days we have relief postal workers we receive a variety of other people’s mail. Consistency makes all the difference to establishing a relationship with the face of Royal Mail. We fear for yet another reorganisation and yet another new postal worker who will only just have learnt the round when they are replaced or, god forbid, privatised.

I think we are fortunate in having postmen who care in this area. They are genuinely helpful in approach, and concerned about the neighbourhood. This in complete contrast to private delivery firms such as Yodel and City Link, who often employ drivers who can’t be bothered to deliver in this area and very often leave the “While you were out” cards-even when you are in!

A,E.Mann says:
28 July 2011

Following a diagnosis of arthritis some months ago, my husband has become a member of Arthritis UK and receives their magazine. They also supply free booklets on various aspects of Arthritis care.
Not once, but twice, their booklets have arrived in a Royal Mail plastic bag (with apologies) due to the A4 envelope being badly ripped along the side. He submitted two complaints forms at our local postoffice and has heard back from RM with a book of stamps by way of apology, but no explanation.I wonder of any other Which members have had their Arthritis UK booklets treated in this way ?
A week or so later he sent off for another booklet and when this did not arrive rang Arthritis UK( in Chesterfield) and was told it had been sent off. The replacement he asked for then Did arrive.
I sent a postcard to my grandchildren (Llandudno to Royston) which did not arrrive. What a waste of money as well as a disappointment.

JohnH says:
28 July 2011

I’ve had two issues with Royal Mail:
Some years ago they started to abandon “slips” on pillar boxes. I think these are important – if you have urgent mail and can see you’ve missed today’s post, you can look for a late box – sometimes at a sorting office, but sometimes a box which happens to lie on the van route between local and main sorting ofices. I found RM had given an undertaking to a consumer organisation to keep the slips, and kept at them locally until they reinstated slips (I’m not claiming it was due to me!). But I still keep an eye on them, and if I find a slip that’s out-of-date, I remind them, using the contact information on the box.
The Xmas arrangements for collecting packages from our local sorting office are dire – although they have several staff, they all have to work from one paper file – spending more time waiting for the last person to finish using the file than they do in recovering the parcel once it’s their turn at the file. Quite incredible in the 21st Century. Regretfully the official reply to my letter complaining about this dreadful management failure gives me no confidence at all that there will be a better system next Chrismas!