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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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susan says:
18 August 2011

My husband and I run a small business from home, we have never had a morning post, its usually between 12.30 and 14.00, and we dont get post on a Saturday. Last year the postman started putting our post in the derelict house next door, we had to break in to get it.(we have now sealed the letterbox). We also get other people’s post so presumably some of ours goes astray too.
We have never a morning post, even when there were supposedly two posts a day we only got an afternoon one, and we are not in an isolated position but on the edge of a small market town.

Mary says:
21 August 2011

The postman is usually excellent and to be able to collect parcels from a local depot is really necessary. I recently used the internet to purchase clothes from Hobbs and was not in when it came. I rang a number and got an answer phone so could not discuss delivery times. I ended up driving 20 miles 40 miles round trip to get to the depot and when I eventually found it the parcel was filthy and it took them some time to locate it. The postoffice in the town has been taken over by WH Smith and it is far worse the wait times are longer. Royal Mail is not perfect but it is better than the alternatives I have experienced.

Eamon says:
22 August 2011

I have the same negative attitude to the alternatives as Mary (21/8/2011) has. As a resident in the center of Dublin, Ireland, An Post is the equivalent of Royal Mail which RM use for deliveries here. I
always advise suppliers in The UK to use Royal Mail as the An Post delivery people always find my address. with letters and parcels. I cannot say the same for FED, DHL or any of the other courier companies. I find it maddening dealing with courier companies and, when they are used, generally have to get onto the supplier find out who is delivering, then get on to the courier and arrange to collect the item from them myself. Postmen deliver to me every day. They know where I live. Couriers are Frustrating to deal with.

Fiona says:
23 August 2011

I feel compelled to write in defence of my local Posties. I moved house about 4 years ago. The previous owners had built themselves a new house on what had been their large garden, and they kept their number (3). We bought their old house and became 3A. Alliance and Liester find it quite impossible to address our mail to 3A, but despite this our Posties use their common sense, recognise the name and put our mortgage correspondence through our door, and not the neighbours.
There’s more. For a year after moving we arranged a redirection from our old address. Fabulous service and very easy to set up on line. The redirection lapsed years ago now, but despite this I continue to receive mail from my old address, presumably because the Posties have remembered. Very impressive.

There’s more. Living in NE Scotland we value the universal UK price to use Royal Mail services. Many online sellers (particularly Ebay sellers) charge extra to deliver to this area because apparently we are in “the Highlands” which is not true. These charges vary between £15-£50 plus the standard deliver charge, and are completely unjustified. Perhaps Which should investigate that!!

Giselle Hampton says:
24 August 2011

My postman is efficient and charming but the Royal Mail service is anything but! So many items go missing and I have had to resort to paying a fortune for Special Delivery just to make sure items find their way to the right person.

The complaint forms are overly complicated because you have to get in touch with the sender and enquire where and when they sent it, how much postage was paid, you need original proof of posting (how many of us get this as routine when we post all our letters??).

I have not got time to do all this, I am stressed enough as is it without having to re-arrange to send out post or get senders to re-send.

Royal Mail offer a terrible service and now do everything I can NOT to send anything by post.

Clive Wall says:
24 August 2011

Totally agree with most comments the Posties are very good in our area West Cornwall. It is the Hierarchy who are now closing another 3.000 sub post offices, and offering them 18 months wages if they do not want to keep extended shop hours.The Royal Mail have not just lost another parcel(7 this year) but have also lost half of the paperwork I sent in supporting the claim. They will not accept copies of what I sent in, so have being given 6-1st class stamps in recompense for a £30 item.

Roger Ramage says:
2 September 2011

I find a visit to a post office these days very depressing. There are many reasons but here are a few:

More often that not long delays

Badly laid out offices

Staff pressurised to sell other products (why don’t they get the basic service right first)

As for the post service a return to an early delivery and maybe another would go down well

A lack of machines/automation and simple clear instructions so customers can avoid having to wait for a counter

Heather Wedderburn says:
3 September 2011

While not doubting the problems described in so many replies to date, I have to say that they do not reflect my own experience over many years. Are the problems much more localised than general? I have lived in Newcastle upon Tyne and, more recently, two small towns in Northumberland. Except for the difficulties resulting from national policies – closure of small post offices, no Sunday collection and only one daily delivery(which is not really a hardship) – I have always received an excellent service both from postmen and post office staff. Orders which I make by internet in the afternoon regularly arrive by Royal Mail the following morning, usually from the other end of England. A magazine arrives regularly every Friday, the only delays, as can be expected being at Christmas.

I think the British public has persuaded itself that an efficient postal service should also operate very cheaply and postal charge increases are greeted with disproportionate complaints by people who accept other increases as part of life. How do our prices compare with other European countries? Sweden, for example, with SEK12 for a card, is much pricier. To give a fair report I suggest that “Which” should print a table of comparative charges. If we were prepared to pay a little more, perhaps the difficulties in some places could be resolved. As it is, I have no complaints about the level of service, and a standard charge to send mail anywhere in UK, regardless of distance, is surely something to value. How would this be improved by privatisation?

could not agree more! “wise words”, just wait until this” wonderful” government gets there greedy hands on it, what the british public forget is that royal mail is a public owned company NOT govenment owned so should not have any right to sell it and like many many people have said before look what a greedy mess the trains and utility companys are in now (PROFIT BEFORE ANYTHING) got to keep selfish share holders happy and bugger the customers!!!

After letters of complaint about Royal Mail’s failure to deliver parcels and lack of response by the delivery office, deliveries to my house have resumed. This is good and demonstrates that a persistent complainant can get results, but why should customers have to spend time, effort and money to get the service they have already paid for?

Well – I have no complaints about delivery by the Post Office.

But I don’t think Privatisation is the answer – Look at how bad other essential services have become after being privatised – Like Railways

Harry Edie says:
2 October 2011

Parcelforce offers a next day delivery (at extra charge); I recently attempted to use this service but the parcel took two days to be delivered by our normal postman (not Parcelforce). Investigation has revealed that Parcelforce deliver the parcels to Berwick Post Office, and do not deliver them to the consignee. By the time they are left at the sorting office the post has already left on its rounds, so delivery is always a day late. This has been going on for years, and there are many complaints, but Parcelforce appears to do nothing about it. This seems to me to be a case of misleading (illegal?) advertising, as the system used in Berwick clearly cannot achieve a next day service. It is quite shocking that we should have to put up with this type of disgraceful service.

Keith Kirby says:
3 October 2011

Is it just because I don’t live in a city – or because I live in Wales? The postal service is beyond belief brilliant. The staff are friendly and cannot do enough for you. The contrast with the many private delivery companies is extraordinary. They drive dangerously, park where they like – no matter who is inconvenienced or put at risk – and unless you stay in all day you find a card telling you your options are to stay in for the whole of the next day or drive 50 miles to their depot. If it weren’t for Royal Mail, I wouldn’t be able to get a daily newspaper. I am so upset at the plans to privatise and thus destroy this truly wonderful service – it will impact my life very negatively.

phil says:
3 October 2011

just like to comment on keiths comment about brilliant service, i was a postman that did that sort of service for our older members of the public that lived out in the sticks and found it difficult to get out and about and more so in the winter,i got there papers from the local newsagent every morning and at the end of the week they give me the money and i would go to the newsagent and pay there bill and one old chap i used to put on his bet in the bookies once a week!. now im an artic driver for royal mail. can you imagine when its privatised that private company letting the postman do them sort of things!! I THINK NOT there no profit in doing things like that!!.

Rosemary Collins says:
6 October 2011

On Tuesday 4 October 2011 – the last day for mailing Christmas surface mail to Australia and New Zealand – I posted 16 cards and 1 calendar, with the correct postage for surface mail. In fact, the stamps were for 68p instead of the 66p needed. Today, 6 October, 10 of the cards were returned to me, with a Royal Mail red label stuck over the addresses, stating that “There isn’t enough postage on this Airmail item so we are returning it to you. To resend it please take it (with this label still in place) to a Post Office branch and pay the missing postage or contact us: 08457 740 740.” This I did, and spoke to a man who informed me that it was my problem, because I had not written ‘Surface Mail’ on the envelopes. Note: there were no bright blue Airmail labels on the envelopes, nor had I written Airmail on them. (Three years ago I had this problem, and it was resolved, finally, by the Post Office, who saw my point of view.) The stamps have all been franked, so there is no way I can simply take off the red label and then write surface mail on the envelopes. No, I was informed, I must re-envelope them and re-post them at the cost of another £6.80p. When I tried to make the young man understand what I was saying, he simply talked loudly through me. I then asked to speak to his Manager. This he ignored the first time, and only on my second request, when I said that I was going to make a complaint about him if he did not put me through did he do so, with the accompanying words “Oh, scary”. The man who said he was the manager but did not give me his name, repeated what the first man said, and said it was my fault. I doubt he was a manager!
I have never seen a notice stating that Surface Mail should be labelled so. They do not have printed labels that can be put on mail.
I now have to fill in 3 pages of a form, in order to get past the rottweilers on the Customer Service desk.

The Royal Mail lost a 9kg. package that was posted on 11 th. June.
Since the claim form was submitted to Plymouth Sevice Centre on the 6th. July, all I have received is a letter asking for 30 days grace.
I then sent a recorded delivery letter on the 22nd. July, still no response.
My final letter as of today (24th. October), has been sent to the Customer Resolution Panel, (address unknown so sent to Plymouth)!!! The website failed to inform me of this but loads of just about everything I did not want to know.
From now on I will be using another delivery company.

Hi all, we have a new Royal Mail Conversation I thought you might like to go and comment on:

Royal Mail free to set its own stamp prices – yay or nay?


Stamps could soon see the most dramatic price rise in years. Ofcom has said Royal Mail should be able to set its own first-class stamp prices, but is it wrong to put such power in Royal Mail’s hands?

David says:
8 November 2011

I have to say that over the last few weeks I have seen clear evidence that post is taking far too long to arrive. I have been waiting for letters from both businesses and personal post that I know has been sent first class yet it has taken between 1 and 8 days to arrive. I have also tested the post by sending out letters to friends to monitor the time it took and first class is averaging 3 days for delivery which is the worst I have ever seen. Our post is delivered regularly after 1pm so the combination of slow post and late delivery for me adds up to a failing service. In two cases post has also gone missing, one item I posted myself and the other from a major financial institution. Not sure how long we are going to have to put up with this service (or lack of it). Certainly I am putting more via email now as it is the only way I can guarantee receipt within a reasonable time.

Paul Maloney says:
19 November 2011

See below letter of complaint sent 19th Nov 2011. Not earth shattering i know but nonetheless I think another indicator of the downhill trend of a famous institution.

Dear Sir/Madam over recent years I have noted a decline in the level of service offered to stamp collectors. This culminated in a poor experience I recently had at the York (Main) Post Office, Lendal, York.
I collect first day covers and for each issue, I collect each set of stamps with the traffic light colour indicators attached. No problem for 40 years.
On Tuesday 8th November 2011 I go to get the Christmas issue of stamps and I was refused a set of stamps with ‘traffic lights attached’. The counter assistant was polite, but there wasn’t going to be any Christmas spirit at York Post Office, because even though I could clearly see the stamps I wanted, she refused to sell them to me. The excuse given was ‘my manager has told us that stamp sheets are not to be split up’.
Why, after 40 years is this a problem?
My collection now comes to a halt, the post office refused to sell me the stamps I wanted, and I am saddened and disgusted that it has come to this at the post office.

William Ford says:
19 November 2011

On Friday 28th October, I expected two cheques in the post, one for £23250 in respect of the takeover of a company in which I had a shareholding , and the other, an ordinary share dividend of £110 from a different company . Although I received a postal delivery that day, neither of the cheques were included. Subsequent to telephone conversations with the registrars concerned, I learned that replacements would not only take some time, but would also be at a cost to me. Now, fast forward to 9th November, four envelopes delivered, all bearing the same handwriitten comment, ‘Delivered to the wrong address. Please re-direct.’ The contents of these four items were, my two cheques, a new replacement debit card from the bank, and a piece of junk mail. Since when, has delivering a letter to the address shown thereon, become so difficult……?

john wassell says:
19 November 2011

On28.10.2011 I posted a 2nd class recorded delivery letter,about an important medical appointment to a hospital about 5 miles away, to date (19.11.2011) it has not been delivered. I had to pay bus fares to deliver a copy by hand.A complaint to Birmingham head postmaster has not even resulted in an acknowledgement.Royal Mail do not even consider that any delivery problem exists until 15 DAYS AFTER POTING