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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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In defence of Royal Mail, I have to say I have never had any problems. I do feel sorry for the staff who are clearly working under pressure, but now that it has been opened up to competition, Royal Mail has lost much of its profitable business while being lumbered with the non profitable bits like delivering to highlands and islands. No wonder the price of stamps has gone up and it’s not surprising that they run at a loss. They may have lost an Amazon contract, but Amazon still use them, and I have just had a parcel delivered from Amazon via RM – a day early. Par for the course in my experience. Other Couriers are much more of a hit or miss. The only thing which will erode my confidence and satisfaction with the service is if there is a strike, which would be totally counter productive. I’m not sure what the answer is to helping the employees enjoy better pay and conditions. Leave and try the competition maybe. I do know that it sure aint striking. That, as they say, would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.

CdeBone says:
25 November 2011

I work for a company where one of my duties is to supervise the post. We use a franking machine, and the main problem with have with Royal Mail is being charged for “applying the incorrect amount of postage for international post”. The problem is that we do not post international letters! We get at least 2 letters per week telling us that we paid 28p for a letter (90 percent of our post goes out second class) when it should have been 98p (latest letter received 24.11.11), on top of that we are
charged a handling fee of 80pence, so we end up paying £1.50. I queried this in the past and requested that any letters where we had underpaid be delivered back to us, only to be told that if they did not send the letter “..the addressee would have had to pay a surcharge, placing you in a potentially embarrasing situation with your client”.

Peter Clarke says:
27 November 2011

I rarely have a problem with first class mail being delivered. I agree that Royal Mail are between a rock and a hard place, but they might like to try a couple of things:
1) Abandon Saturday deliveries. We can live without them.
2) Consider putting up mail delivery boxes in groups to serve several houses so we all have to walk twenty yards to collect our mail. This saves the postie having to walk up and down everyone’s drive. How much DO we want to spend for the postie to deliver to our door, through all those minuscule letter boxes in Victorian front doors designed for the odd Basildon Bond envelope?
3) Oh, and replace all those loveable British character pillar boxes with new ones that will take a C4 envelope easily, and with somewhere to park nearby.

Do we want Britain to WORK or merely look pretty?

Regarding point 2 above, firstly there is the cost and secondly issue of security. Not a good suggestion!

M Oakley says:
28 November 2011

I agree with the comment from ‘Which’ in their magazine.Probably nobody wants junk mail yet we all get a load of it, day-in, day-out. Its a pest. It cuts down trees unnecessarily, it adds to waste in our bins, it takes up our time. Post Office should charge more per delivery!!

Just Me says:
19 January 2012

Put the junk mail back in the letter box. The companies have to pay a return cost to the Royal Mail, and those that have no return address are charged by the Royal Mail for recycling. If everyone in the country did this every time they got junk mail, or just once a week, you can bet your life the companies would think first before sending out mail-shots to everyone.

In reply to Just Me, to me this seems like an extremely short sighted and ill thought out suggestion.

Firstly, it seems a lot of trouble to go to a post box, when it is much easier to put the paper in one’s recycling box.

Secondly, how do you know that companies have to pay return postage or for recycling?

Furthermore, companies generate business by sending out mail shots. In this respect, I also disagree with M. Oakley’s suggestions about companies paying more for deliveries. If companies do not get business, or have their profit margins eaten into, for example as you two suggest, people may lose jobs and the UK economy may be put under further and unnecessary strain.

Finally, there is no such thing as junk mail. What is junk to one person, may not be junk to someone else. I have occasionally responded to unsolicited marketing mail. It is certainly not junk to the senders.

By far the easiest solution is: if you don’t want it, recycle it.

Clive Flood says:
3 December 2011

In Exeter the delivery methods have been changed resulting in frequently having days when our mail does not fails to arrive.In the past there was one postman per delivery or ‘walk’,this has been changed to two postmen sharing a van to cover a greatly extended ‘walk’ resulted in our mail failing to arrive,today 3rd December being another one.I have repeatedly contacted royal mail and been offered platitudes but no insight as to when this chaotic state of affairs will end,things are so bad that postmen are being drafted in from towns 40miles away,I know this for a fact as these men have told me.At least on our delivery if the postmen cannot cover our end one day they make that the priority the following day but in some areas this was not happening with the ‘end’ of the delivery not rceiving mail for days on end,and again I know this to be true as A partner of a postman,a friend of ours has suffered this.
When I have complained to royal mail as I have said no promise of any improvments just a reply apologising and saying the delivery manager is keeping a close watch to ensure this does not happen again! I did enquire about compensation but was told the public are not entitled to any and when I asked how long does this situation have to exist before royal mail are deemed to be in breach of their licence terms and conditions again no enlightenment.
I must state that I am not criticising the delivery postmen its the imbeciles in planning who have never done a delivery in their lives who frankly should be sacked

john wassell says:
5 December 2011

I ,too, have issue with royal mail.I wrote to the chief executive re a recorded delivery that has not been delivered ,and was told that a letter is not considered lost until 15 days after posting.I filled in the appropiate claim form and sent it to Plymouth on 18.11.2011.So far not even an acknowledgement.

Geralyn says:
6 December 2011

I’ve just spoken to a very rude young man at Royal Mail about mistakes they have made with my redirection (wrong dates & not confirmed redirection address, as was requested). First he refused to give his name then reluctantly gave first name only. Said there was no complaints procedure because he had already corrected the errors (actually only dates were corrected, he said they wouldn’t send written confirmation of addresses as they’d already sent 2 (incorrect!) letters. I asked to speak to his supervisor & was left on hold for 5 minutes then told she was busy. After insisting he gave me an address to make a complaint but said there was no form for this & to be honest it’s yet another waste of my time, as we all know! They make at least one mistake with this every year – why can’t they just copy details from the online form? I am paying £59 for this!

Peter Vicary-Smith hit the nail on the head with his article on page 85 of this month’s December magazine. It all started going wrong in 1969 when the two tier post system began because (ostensibly) they could no longer deliver the (then) quantities of mail the next day, Since then Royal Mail has been exposed to email and competition, and the volume of post (we’re told) has dropped. So if they’re ever going to return to anything like they once were, they’re going to have to ditch some of their long held operational practices and:
Deliver all post next day, using modern advances to return to Victorian standards.
Abandon their size and weight mantras that nobody understands, and make a bonfire of their slotted cards.
Return deliveries to early mornings when people want them, instead of ridiculous afternoon times.
Perhaps increasing the cost of 2nd class and reducing the cost of first class would generate a fair price for a return to guaranteed next day delivery which would scare their competitors.
Fat chance I should think, so their long drawn out death throes are likely to continue.

Greg Withnail says:
14 December 2011

My postman routinely folds greetings cards etc to get them through my letterbox. Customer Services insist he should never do that under any circumstances. They told me the postman concerned had been asked to take more care. He continued. I tried to record a video of him doing this, and was rewarded by a visit by two RM staff telling me that was illegal and talking about reporting it to the police. They categorically denied they had mentioned my previous complaints to the postman. They tried to blame my letterbox for being too small, saying there is a minimum requirement of A4 size. Customer Services said they have never heard of this rule. Last week I saw the postman throwing himself boldily against the stack of mail he was trying to cram into his overstuffed storage box. Presumably THAT’s regulation size?!!
Someone, somewhere is incompetent and/or a liar.

Ever since we moved into our new address 12 years ago we have had a problem with mis-delivered mail, both ours going to other people and theirs coming to us. We have complained repeatedly to both Royal Mail and the Postal Review Panel, but despite all their apologies and reassurances the problem has got worse not better. The result is we have gone from staunch supporters of both Royal Mail and post offices (to the point that even though both disabled we have stood in the snow to protest against closures) to a couple who will shed no tears when the whole fiasco folds up!

Kate Ford says:
21 December 2011

I sell on ebay and need proof of posting for my parcels. The Post Office no longer has the nice forms which I used to fill up at home and have stamped and signed at the Post Office. The new system is not consistent and would be easy for an unscrupulous trader to get round.
One local village Post office will give me only a printed receipt with no address on it. “you can write the address on yourself”. They will not give me a receipt for mail which is already stamped.
Another village Post Office hands me the same printed receipt and watches me write the address on – but there is nothing to show that they have checked this. For prepaid mail, I can give them a list of addresses which they stamp with the PO stamp – very easy to add another address once I am back home.
The main town Post Office uses the same printed receipts but the clerk writes the address on. They are happy to give me one for pre-stamped mail. Unfortunately the queues there mean that I avoid it wherever possible.
So far I have not needed to use these receipts to claim for a missing parcel, but I am not convinced they would work.

In response to the title of the article, definitely yes.

Royal Mail has resorted to fraud.

I was supposed to receive a Special Delivery packet by 13:00 on Tuesday and two hours after the deadline I called a customer services employee who said that I could claim compensation as the deadline had been missed. Throughout the day, the tracking information was showing as still in transit, with a time past the deadline.

The packet finally arrived at eight o’clock yesterday morning. I have just checked the tracking information and it has been backdated to before the delivery deadline.

This means that I cannot claim compensation, as it will be my word against theirs. My only regret is that I did not save any screenshot from when the tracking info was showing the truth.

I am totally fuming over this. Who needs RM when private companies do a better job? I received a package from the same sender via a private carrier, ordered at the same time as the item delivered by RM. The carrier sent me an email first thing in the morning advising of a one hour delivery slot and then their driver turned up on time and within their express delivery deadline.

Mrs Jay says:
2 January 2012

When sending Christmas cards I colleagues and family put 2nd class stamps on our local and smaller cards and 1st class on others. Something we have done for years.

On the 23rd of December I received a card from Royal mail to say a package was waiting for collection from the depot,due to a 12p shortfall.

On arriving at the depot I joined a very long queue with everybody having the same problem ‘Christmas cards received without the full postage being paid’.
The card we received was posted locally on the 9th of December, (two weeks before). The card was A5 size and had a 1st class stamp on it.

How would the sender have known the full price of postage without going to the post office? Which not everybody has. You can only buy 1st or 2nd class stamps which cost more than the 12p shortfall.

Lots of people over the Christmas period had the same problem, I witnessed it in that queue.
Obviously this system isn’t working, or people just don’t understand it.

Mel C says:
3 January 2012

My postman repeatedly leaves mail on my doorstep. I live in a basement flat, there are a few stairs to walk down, but the letter box works perfectly. It is evident walking down the stairs is not the problem as some packages are left in a little niche opposite my door, which is out of site from on lookers but does not protect packages from the weather.

Most recently a book was left on the doorstep and as a result has been damaged, other items left on the doorstep have included packages to large for the letter-box, magazines, children’s books(these had been personalised as Christmas presents), invoices from gas and electric companies as well as letters which are clearly sent by the bank (the latter could quite easily be stolen and could lead to identity fraud).

I’ve now made 2 complaints to the Royal Mail and will continue to complain and progresss through the complaints procedure for as long as the problem continues.

I respect that the post men and women have a difficult time consuming job and their time is limited but putting other peoples property at risk is not fair or reasonable.

Sounds like laziness on the part of the postman/woman. I can’t stand lazy people.

Jim Smith says:
17 January 2012

I have been having problems with my mail for 2 – 3 years with the Royal Mail not seeming to care about the ‘small fry’ one bit. Despite several complaints to Royal Mails customer services and the Escalated Customer Resolution Team who cannot even be bothered to acknowledge my letter of complaint of missing post, damaged post and items missing from envelopes and only once have damaged post been given to me in ‘Damaged Mail Envelope’ and this was because I went to the sorting office and spoke the the Manager. I thought that this had finally been resolved when over the Christmas, post that I sent ‘recorded delivery’ has gone missing and when I phoned Customer Services to complain the lady was quite dismissive and told me that no-one would tell me what was being done as it was not their policy, I asked her to get the Escalation team to phone me back but after a week with no reply I again phoned customer services to be told that my complaint had not even been logged from the previous call. I have once more sent a letter to the Escalation Team and even if they do reply it will be their ‘bog standard’ letter with 12 first class stamps and ‘after investigation it is just one of those things’ and once again swept under the carpet. The funny thing is that all bar one of my ‘problems’ are to do with stamps as I am a Stamp Collecter

Royal Mail is not the only company to ignore customer complaints. I’m sick of complaining to another company and these being ignored (been trying since August 2010). The company is Kleeneze.

To redress the balance, I have also come across some excellent (much smaller) companies in terms of customer service. It seems to be some of the big companies who think they are too big to care about individuals.

In defence of Royal Mail, I think that it is unfair to generalise and say that RM is bad. There may be many employees who do an excellent job and who take pride in doing so.

Here are two examples.

My daughter, who lives in another city, posted a first class letter yesterday evening. It arrived this morning.

My regular postman is often jolly and very friendly with people.

How about these for good service?

i think royal mail is asking too much for its postal service, its fist class postage is a joke. I sent 2 parcels for my granddaughters birthday well in advance they did not arrive until 2 days later i was getting worried they might not get there at all.Birthday cards are a nightmare as the different colours leave clues and on many ocassions have arrived in a plastic mail envelope saying unfortunally, got caught in the machine No Way had they got caught you can see they had been torn open. Something should be done, i now send them in a different envelope as do my son who has had his tampered with aswell.

Karen says:
2 March 2012

Dreadful service. Royal Mail tried to deliver a package that was too large to post through the letter box. They left a card which suggests you arrange redelivery on line. I went on line, the screen asks for a 13 digit number which apparently should be on hte card, I only had a 4 digit number so could not rearrange my delivery, instead I was faced with sitting on the phone to them, where you are continually told to do it on line, I gave up in the end as I don’t have the time to sit waiting for over 20 minutes. I then tried to make a complaint on thier website, which does not give you ANY option to make a complaint. Lots and lots of screen which take from one screen to another but no option to actually send them a complaint. Its absolutly appaulling. How do they get away with such disgraceful customer care servcies.

phil says:
2 March 2012

“DREADFUL SERVICE” ok then lets wait until our wonderful government privitises the royal mail and some overseas mailing company buys it ie DHL TNT etc i work with these companies and service is a dirty word to them profit is king! i know royal mail is not perfect but its far better than them and after all its them companies that has made royal mail what it is today by using its network “down stream access” its called and royal mail is not allowed under the postal regulations to charge a profitable amount because its classed as an unfair advantage that RM has the infrastructure, so like all companies they need to make profit to invest in a better service!. when royal mail has gone to one of those companies then you will see “DREADFUL SERVICE” and v.expensive service!!!.

Roy says:
15 March 2012

I think Royal Mail is too important an institution to lose. But I think we are seeing a deterioration in service, later deliveries and higher charges as a result of European laws on postal competition, and two Governments who seem to want to destroy this part of our tradition and history. Other developed countries have maintained their reserved monopoly on letters to keep costs down for all. In the UK, householders now subsidise business mail. When its privatised we will have a worse service. Only a few countries have done this. Argenitina had to renationalise the service, the Netherlands apparently have a very poor, expensive service and in Malaysia and Singapore, the mail companies still have a monopoly so they can cross-subsidise the services and keep costs for consumers down. We will have the worst of all options, full competition and a company struggling to make a profit.

mummam says:
19 March 2012

Yet again non delivery of mail. My mothers day card from my son posted last Wednesday, his is just another non delivery to add to my list of 1st class 2nd class and recorded delivery over time. It’s not as busy as Xmas so why non delivery? You complain and get a the usual ‘get out reply’ of we deliver millions of items….blah blah blah