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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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Sue UK says:
29 August 2012

For Richards Dilks….
the process of complaint you itemised included 4 steps…. each one best served by putting the complaint in writing…but then you need on those four occasions to rely on Royal Mail actually delivering your letter each time!!!

I have lost count of the numerous and still ongoimg number of times that mail sent to and from me goes missing, let alone gets delivered to the wrong address even when correctly addressed, including to and from HMRC, TAX CREDITS, ORANGE MOBILE PHONE, and my employer the Probation Service.

And I’ve also several times had a ‘ you were out’ card left for me, without even a knock on the door, when I’ve actually been waiting in specifically for the delivery, having organised as best I could to have delivery happen on my days off, which as a busy working professional who shops online extensively, for even from Amazon’s grocery section, I’m a dab hand at home delivery organisation.

Communal area postboxes? Scuse me…don’t think so…… a doddle for offenders to steal the mail…..
Delivery to neighbours….. nope….. postage is paid for delivery to MY home….and it isn’t convenient nor even safe for me or elderly or disabled people to carry large or heavy packages from their neighbours…. jeeezz…. even tripping over because you can’t see the ground properly could put an elderly person in hospital with a broken hip.

How well do you really know your neighbours? Especially in certain areas. You live alone…just home from work, maybe winter…dark and raining cats and dogs…..you call to collect…neighbour invites you in while he gets it…. front door closes behind you…. NOPE

As I mentioned… I work with offenders, and thanks to my local housing agency, now even have two Class A substance users living in two seperate properties within spitting distance…..want them to offer to take in my packages or have any communal access…. NOPE

I want WHAT I PAY FOR from ANY delivery/courier company……door to door service. If I pay for it, I expect it.

I don’t go into a coffee shop, pay for a coffee and then expect to have to go and collect it from the locksmith’s shop next door!!

I work hard for my money in a very dangerous job, even regularly have policemen say they wouldn’t do my job without a stab vest, CS gas and handcuffs handy….plenty of frontline staff in the MOJ, NHS Emergency Services, MOD etc put their lives on the line every shift ……. to be able to pay our bills AND provide a service to the public which helps keep selfsame public safer and alive……

I get so sick of whinging workers……. get a grip…. do the job the public are paying you to do with their very hard earned money. And deliver my mail and parcels to me and others when I’ve paid you to do so!

Sue UK says:
29 August 2012

Oh and want to collect from our local depot….. well now….. that’s a 12 miles round trip to an out of the way business park before 1pm …for the elderly, chonically sick or disabled, or mums’ with baby in pushchair who needs feeding and a nap fitting in, who don’t have their own transport to go and get to….or those whose transport method is a bicycle…….would need to make a several hours by bus round trip, and on the return carry a heavy or bulky package……and if any relatives that they have living nearby with cars are at work and can’t help…. well….. what a palaver eh?!
SO ALWAYS PHONE the depot or go online to RM website and request a redelivery!

Fred says:
29 August 2012

NO NO NO a completly mad idea I will happily go to the sorting office rather than have mail left with a neighbour.


Natalie says:
11 September 2012

Apparently Royal Mail automatically leave your parcels/packages with your neighbours now. The first I heard of Royal Mail’s decision was when I received notification from them 1 week after it came into effect. I tried to register to get a sticker for my postbox saying that I do not want items leaving with my neighbours (I live in a block of flats in London) but the website crashed every time I submitted the form.

I received a “while you were out” card yesterday – it has my name, part of my address and the date on it plus a tick to say it was a packet and another to say it was too large to fit through the letterbox. The boxes to say where it was left (e.g. with a neighbour or in a “safe place”) are blank and there is no item number or delivery officer information on the form. I suppose this item is now lost forever!

Why can’t Royal Mail simply deliver items to you when you are in or else follow your instructions (leave in a safe place, with a neighbour, or return to depot) when you are out and leave a fully completed card so you know where it is?

This new “service” is a terrible idea – it might work in idyllic, rural villages where neighbours know (and like) one another but in inner city areas it is a recipe for disaster.


“Why can’t Royal Mail simply deliver items to you when you are in or else follow your instructions (leave in a safe place, with a neighbour, or return to depot) when you are out and leave a fully completed card so you know where it is?”

It is cost and time – postmen have to walk at 4 mph to deliver mail – Other delivery systems cherry pick the delivery area – RM have to deliver everywhere for a universal cost.

I do not like the automatic “leave it with neighbour” system so I applied to opt out of it – RM sent me a sticker to sick on my door to tell the postman (who is not necessarily the same one every day) I have opted out. So it means I will have to go to the Sorting Office to pick up undelivered parcels ( I certainly do not want parcels delivered to my neighbours) But in general past experience shows I will be in when RM calls. I found that special instructions to the post man doesn’t work because the postman is rarely the same on a daily basis.

Duncan Day says:
14 November 2012

we don’t automatically do it, it often takes longer for us to do that than take it back to the office.

Duncan Day says:
9 July 2013

Why the thumbs down, it is the truth?

I was one of the earliest contributors to this site, describing my bad experiences with the Royal Mail. I have also been through the complaints system, which isn’t fit for purpose. I have every sympathy with Natalie; her experiences match mine.

My local service is still very poor: last week a parcel wasn’t delivered and returned to sender because Parcelforce couldn’t find the house, which is ridiculous; and yesterday two packages weren’t delivered at different times, one a Special Delivery. On each occasion the house bell wasn’t rung. I am now looking forward to a visit to the Delivery Office, where public parking is banned and where the counter staff are surly and express disbelief when you complain.

Do Which? monitor this site and are they going to follow up their previous report?

harvies says:
11 September 2012

i do think that if we ask when we order anything, we make sure that the company does not use the royal mail then we may have a fighting chance.

While I on the other hand would choose retailer who use Royal Mail and Parcel Force, I get perfect service from them in my locality compared to other couriers.

It does seem to vary according to locality

I have heard more horror stories from people using other carriers – and they still use a “leave with neighbour” system. So far RM has been my best choice – very few problems – though there were more when I was not retired – but then I had nice neighbours (I now am usually in when RM calls) Though I also work in the evenings well after RM deliveries.

With regard to the last two comments: my sister, who doesn’t live in the same area as me, has the same problems & doesn’t do business with companies who use Parcelforce; and the fact that some areas get a good service from Royal Mail surely indicates complete management failure in the areas that don’t.

I wonder if Royal Fails “problems” stem from the fact that many people who can remember the service they were getting 10, 20, 30 years ago, aren’t seeing the same level service now.

In all honesty the only real difference I’ve noticed is the delivery always used to be before 8 am – Now it can be at any time before 2 pm. Other than that they seem to be as polite – though the Sorting Office rarely picks up the phone now. Sending an email seems to be fruitless.

I have observed the change in delivery times. My main problem now is the number of times I’ve had to complain about the Royal Fail folding post, especially when the items are clearly marked Do Not Bend and these items even come from the Royal Mail themselves. 10 even 20 years ago, when I had a smaller letterbox I had no folded post. Yes I ended fitting a longer letterbox at my expense to help them, if only they’d turn the mail 90 degrees, it would have fitted in the smaller mailbox. So short of having no door I’m still expecting my post to be folded.

And it took 5 complaints about still getting junk mail when I’d signed up to the Royal Mail opt out service. Luckily that now seems to have stopped.

Duncan Day says:
14 November 2012

Have to agree there William and most Postmen do not like it. Richard, we start 2 hours later than when I first started 14 years ago and will more than likely get even later soon, rounds are twice the size and we have less staff than before so it is no surprise that you have noticed a change in delivery times, also with one postman you may be at the start of the round, with another you may be at the end of the round depending on what is best for each postman.

lee chambers says:
9 July 2013

Obviously. And if the royal mail stopped pushing their advertising/mailing list rubbish through my door they could probably carry more letters making only the deliveries that they are paid to do and lightening my recycle bin. Bye bye royal fail, good ridden’s to bad rubbish.

Duncan Day says:
16 July 2013

it is not Royal Mails rubbish we put through the door it is paid for by advertisers and is a vital part of our income, yes we could carry more letters if people sent them.

There is something in what William says; the mail used to be a lot better and a lot cheaper. But the crucial point is that many of us are paying a lot of money for a service that we are not getting. We are talking about people who are getting paid to deliver parcels and can’t be bothered to do it and managers who are paid to manage and don’t do it. What on earth do they think they are being paid for?

Andres says:
27 September 2012

I have been working from home today because I was waiting a delivery from amazon.co.uk.

This was not my favourite option to have the delivery home and I have had nothing delivered at home in over 1 year because Royal Mail service is appaling – at least in the Leytonstone area. They just leave a “Something for you” card without even ringing the bell or knocking.

Today, I have been checking the website every one hour or so to track it, and I also went to check the phyisical mailbox at least twice in the morning. And at some point, here it is, the “Something for you” card.

The timestamp was FALSE. They DID NOT ARRIVE AT 12:02. They arrived later, and left in a FALSE “Something for you” card saying that I wasn’t there.

FALSE. FALSE. They did not knock on the door. By the way, on the same morning I received another item from a private courier, who actually bothered to ring the bell.

It’s not the first time since I live here – it has been happening regularly. I called the complaint line, and they told me that they are going to advise their staff to follow the procedure.

Now I’m going to get my package 2 days later, because I cannot work from home again tomorrow. I subscribed to Amazon Prime to get my packages delivered the day after, not 3 days after.

I have been working from home today because I was waiting a delivery from amazon.co.uk.

This was not my favourite option to have the delivery home and I have had nothing delivered at home in over 1 year because Royal Mail service is appaling – at least in the Leytonstone area. They just leave a “Something for you” card without even ringing the bell or knocking.

Today, I have been checking the website every one hour or so to track it, and I also went to check the phyisical mailbox at least twice in the morning. And at some point, here it is, the “Something for you” card.

The timestamp was FALSE. They DID NOT ARRIVE AT 12:02. They arrived later, and left in a FALSE “Something for you” card saying that I wasn’t there.

FALSE. FALSE. They did not knock on the door. By the way, on the same morning I received another item from a private courier, who actually bothered to ring the bell.

It’s not the first time since I live here – it has been happening regularly. I called the complaint line, and they told me that they are going to advise their staff to follow the procedure.

Now I’m going to get my package 2 days later, because I cannot work from home again tomorrow. I subscribed to Amazon Prime to get my packages delivered the day after, not 3 days after.

I’m fed up with this. I can’t remember when this site opened, but I have used it to comment adversely about Royal Mail several times and been through their tortuous complaints process. Nothing seems to change; however much we moan doesn’t seem to make any difference. I recently asked whether Which? monitor the site. If they do are they going to follow up their previous report? If they do, the comments provide rish material. More importantly, do Royal Mail monitor the site? If they do, what are they doing to sort out their organisation? If they don’t, why not? This would indicate that the top management of Royal Mail don’t care about the quality of service they provide to the customers who pay for it.

Hello Tony, yes we are aware of your comments. Since we have thousands of Conversations we tend to keep a closer eye on more recent discussions. We have posted quite a few Royal Mail Convos since this one, featuring some of the comments made here, you may find these are more active: https://conversation.which.co.uk/tag/royal-mail/ I shall ask our researchers to see whether they are planning another Royal Mail investigation.

lee chambers says:
9 July 2013

Royal fail want to sell up for big money that can be pocketed by mp’s with the added bonus that it is no longer their responsibility. The NHS is going the same way – welcome to corporate Britain !!!

I am so impressed by Royal Mail compared with certain courier services that any company using Royal Mail is more likely to get my business. Many eBay sellers do use Royal Mail, though it annoys me that it’s invariably First Class. I usually don’t need First Class and would prefer a Second Class option.

There are plenty of others who are very happy with Royal Mail, but obviously the quality of service varies as there are some who are very unhappy.

I recently complained to Royal Mail when the area in which I live was selected for delivery to neighbours. I’m happy to take part but feel strongly that it should be opt-in rather than opt-out. I received a prompt reply offering to put my email on their website.

Years ago I received a letter that had been surcharged because the corner with the correct stamp had been turned over. The postman found this funny and did not charge me. I wrote to Customer Services and received a prompt apology and a book of First Class stamps.

Two complaints to Royal Mail in my life. I wish I could share my excellent service from Royal Mail with Tony et al.

With regard to wavechange’s surcharge story, this week I was surcharged £1.09 because an ordinary-sized birhday card had a badge attached to it which wouldn’t go through the very narrow slot in Royal Mail’s template; the envelope otherwise would have gone through easily. Of course, this involved another car trip to the delivery office where public parking is banned. It is almost as if the organisation has a deliberate policy of alienating its customers.

Richard has mentioned a well known problem and it would help if manufacturers of these cards put a warning on the packaging to indicate that they need postage for a ‘large letter’. I have a box of manilla envelopes that are are slightly too big to post A5 magazines, etc., so they are used for hand-delivered ones. I did prefer just weighing items before posting them and not also having to measure their size in three dimensions.

My local Royal Mail depot is nearby, there is never a problem parking and the only time I’ve seen it busy is at Christmas. Nothing to complain about, though I appreciate that some are not so lucky.

It would help if Royal Mail and other delivery services got together to provide shared facilities for people to collect mail and packages if they are out. That way, more depots could be provided. With more people buying goods online and with many buying and selling secondhand goods via eBay, etc. there is a need. They should be provided with parking and be on bus routes.

Tony says:
18 October 2012

Has anybody attempted to use the Royal Mail’s website to make a complaint? I tried and failed, but then my IT skills aren’t the greatest. Instead I am using snailmail to register yet another complaint about a non-delivered package. Enjoyed a visit to the delivery office where I was able to read 3(!) notices on the wall warning against abusing staff. I wonder why they need 3 notices! I was also able to admire a new, and, no doubt,expensive barrier preventing customers parking in the delivery office car park.

I took exception to being expected to opt-out of delivery to a neighbour. I am happy to get involved, but feel that it should be opt-in rather than opt-out. I think I used the Royal Mail website and had a prompt and helpful exchange of email with Michelle at Ofcom.

Sadly, some people cannot behave in a civil manner and these warnings are needed. Speak to anyone who has to deal with the public and they will explain the problem.

Years ago I could phone my local sorting office to arrange a re-delivery of a parcel with no problem at all – Now they do not answer the phone – Some time ago I tried to get a redelivery by e-mail to the website – after a day and a half of sending e-mails – the ONLY response was that the parcel was at the sorting office – even though the red card stated I could arrange a redelivery. – My numerous complaints were unanswered. The people at the sorting office at the counter are polite and helpful

I instantly applied for an opt out sticker for non delivered parcels – the tiny sticker arrived rapidly – can only say that so far all parcels have been delivered properly.

As a teacher I can confirm that a great many parents and children are incredibly rude and totally uncooperative towards most teachers. I don’t have the problem because years ago I showed convincingly that I could – using my armed forces unarmed combat skills – have anyone in my very slum school (except possibly a similarly trained person) writhing on the floor in agony using two fingers – and then break their foot.easily. Somehow this demonstration stopped all but polite cooperation – (sometimes called “respect”) 🙂

Duncan Day says:
14 November 2012

The amount of times I have stood on a door step banging on doors and windows for 5 minutes before writing a card out only to be chased down the street by the customer saying they didn’t hear me or the times I have seen the customers through the window but refuse to come to the door so the customer has to take some of the blame too.

lee chambers says:
9 July 2013

Your required to knock once, loud enough to be heard, and then leave the card. Not bang on peoples windows ?! why not apply some common sense.

Perhaps it would help if more people fitted doorbells. I have a friend who has a cordless bell, which she puts outside the door when working in the back garden, mainly to avoid missing the postman.

We have an excellent and easy-to-press bell-push [it even has “Press” printed on it] and it creates a perfect ding-dong. But the postie will not use it – he prefers to tip-tap on our door with his little finger. Of course, the door is much thicker than he thinks, so we barely hear it. If I don’t run downstairs within five seconds he discovers that he can get the letters and packets through the letter box by separating the bundle into manageable batches. This is a minor irritation. The postal delivery service is usually very good and the posties are mostly friendly and efficient.


You should not bang repeatedly on doors and especially not on windows. It can make people justifiably aggressive and could put you in danger.

I live in South Yorkshire and I’ve several times seen statistics showing we get the worst postal service in the country.

I’ve got to say that in 44 years I’ve only ever had one problem with the delivery service, and that was a long time ago (1987).

I do have a very large volume of mail so it surprises me that, if the Royal Mail really is as bad as everyone says, I’ve not had many more.

Are we really sure things are as bad as we say?

I don’t understand this mismatch between statistics, hearsay and experience.

@dave, I’d happily swap the postal service I get with what you describe. I dream of having a service like that. If you want to experience it yourself start collecting 1st day covers, and see how long before they’ve been bent down the middle, when clearly marked Do not Bend. As an aside, I bought a 1st day cover from New Zealand last week it arrived within 4 days and there was a piece of card in the letter to stiffen it. I’ve suggested the Royal Fail do that on numerous occasions but sadly with no joy. I dream of parcels from play.com arriving within 4 days, again I’m frequently disappointed. Several years ago things would take around 3 days, not not any more. Post Mon- Fri delivered anytime from 09:00 – 14:30, on a Saturday 99% of the time around 09:05. A few years ago post would always be between 07:00 – 07:30 Mon-Sat. I could go on but I’ll stop there.

I am one of the lucky ones, like Dave. Sometimes envelopes can get a bit battered and some of the posties fold envelopes before pushing them through the letterbox, but nothing has ever been damaged. Frequently, items ordered online are delivered the next day.

When ordering online I favour traders who use Royal Mail. I have had fun with various delivery services, including one that dropped an expensive external hard drive over a six foot fence into my back garden and did not even leave a note to inform me.

Over the years, I have had a fantastic milkman, a couple of mediocre ones and one who was so unreliable that I stopped having milk delivered. There is a lot of luck involved and I have always been lucky with Royal Mail.

I agree with Wavechange and I certainly actively boycott organisations who use the alternative delivery services, having had extremely bad experiences with the likes of FedEx, HDN, THT and so on. This has included fragile high value objects being dropped into the wheelie bin – on bin day! (FeDEx and HDN), a small dry stone wall being pushed over by a HDN driver trying to force a 20kg sack of bird seed between the wall and an iron fence, 20 3m lengths of galvanised steel conduit being left on the public highway by a Tufnell’s driver and various small items from Next catalogue being launched over a 6 foot iron gate onto the concrete yard … not all fo them clothing and some of them breakables.

By contrast the Royal Mail’s worst offence has been to take back to the sorting office a small number of items which had been marked “If out please leave at side gate” – but I’d rather fetch a few that could have been left than have things taken by the bin men, broken or my property damaged by delivery people.

Re William’s point about FDC’s – I do actually collect a few of these – less snow than I used to – and all mine are purchased from the Post Office at Bletchley Park (Station X). All have arrived next day from ordering, or the day after issue in the case of advanced orders, and touch wood none have yet been damaged or dirty.

Wavechange is right though: it is luck of the draw in many ways, but I really can’t understand how diabolical the service seems to be for some people: it’s quite ridiculous taht there shoudl be such a variation in standards, even within only a mile or two.

Various people have referred to the the fact that it is a matter of luck whether one gets a good postal service or not. Of course, it shouldn’t be like this. Royal Mail are supposed to provide a national service and we have a right to expect uniformly high standards. Put another way, if some delivery offices can provide a good service, why can’t they all? When is the Royal Mail going to sort this out? If they analyse the complaints they get, they must have a pretty good idea which are the underperforming delivery offices. If they don’t analyse the complaints they get, why not?

There are problems with letter deliveries, but the main problems are with packages and parcels. Royal Mail seems to be making a profit now because of the increase in online shopping and it seems likely that the volume of parcel deliveries will continue rising. Unless something is done about the quality of Royal Mail deliveries in some areas, there will be a crisis.

I accept the points made about the poor quality of some private carriers, which is compounded by the remoteness of some of their depots, but that doesn’t invalidate serious criticisms of the Royal Mail.

Perhaps Royal Mail could provide details of the number of complaints they receive, which would help identify offices that are performing poorly. If RM is unwilling to provide this information, a Freedom of Information request could be made.

I suspect that some people may be slightly exaggerating their problems because of bad experiences in the past. Maybe Tesco and Microsoft are not quite as bad as I think they are. 🙂

Well I for one, have given up complaining to Royal Fail. It makes no difference whatsoever. And chances are many other people don’t complain either. Now if they offered more than a packet of 1st class stamps, I could be tempted to complain more often.

One time I did try, I just ask what “targets are the delivery people working against” and was told that’s not appropriate to discuss here, kinda explains why we get problems, I suspect targets are to take some blame.

They’re just so dismissive about complaints, “oh there’s a lot of other couriers operating in the is area, it probably isn’t us”, Yet they offer no comeback to the “do they deliver items with a Royal Mail frank on them then ?”. And I like your idea of publishing complaints.

Complaining on this site may be excellent therapy, but it obviously isn’t making any difference to the service. If the Royal Mail isn’t taking complaints seriously, what about Which? taking some action? What about Which? putting in a Freedom of Information request seeking a breakdown of complaints by delivery office?

If Which? aren’t going to use the wealth of material that has built up on this site, I don’t think I can be bothered to comment any more.


You are concerned about the inefficiency of the service offered by Royal Mail. Dave and I think it is fantastic and so do some others – though I concede that you are in the majority.

My hobby horse is the Sale of Goods Act. It is very difficult to get retailers to face up to their obligations. As a result, we dispose of mountains of faulty goods, some of which have failed just after the warranty has expired. This costs consumers money and is bad for the environment. I want Which? to deal with this problem, possibly by pushing for a ten year parts & labour warranty on all major purchases.

We are all clamouring for Which? to take up our concerns, as you will see if you read through the Conversations. It’s obvious that Which? has limited resources and therefore cannot tackle all the problems we would like it to. It is still useful for us to be able to discuss a broad range of issues and to me it is evident how certain discussions have helped with Which? campaigns.

Hello Tony, thanks for your comment. We are keeping an eye on the comments made here – I have passed your idea for an FOI request to our research team. We do have more recent Royal Mail debates running as well if you’re interested: https://conversation.which.co.uk/tag/royal-mail/


I suggested asking for information before submitting an FOI request. I know one organisation that has invited people to do this because they have had to deal with many FOI requests, which involves extra work. It also seems courtesy to ask first.