A Rough Guide To Royal Mail
This is not a complete guide and is subject to change, but provides a simplified explanation of the function of Royal Mail and its relationship with its customers. This page was last updated in February 2011.
Royal Mail - How it operates
Firstly, the scale of the work carried out by Royal Mail is simply enormous and this site is not here to blast Royal Mail. If you do have a problem, complain to Royal Mail first as they do (on the whole) try to be helpful. However, there are some things you need to know when tackling Royal Mail and we've divided this page into sections to help guide you. Some of the suggestions here may also apply with other European operators but do consult any consumer body responsible for postal services in your country if you are not sure. We provide links along the menu bar that may prove useful.
Royal Mail, which is government owned at present and whose workers are largely represented by the CWU (Communication Workers Union) achieves a very high success rate given that they handle over 80 million items a day. That said, mail and parcels are largely manually handled along the chain so things can sometimes go wrong. For those of us who happen to lose items of mail, it can be a VERY frustrating, confusing and sometimes costly experience. The Royal Mail Complaints procedure isn't like taking your local shop to task because it sold you a mouldy loaf. This is because the postal service is covered by its own rulebook - the Postal Services Act.
Automation is being phased in as the organisation restructures its distribution network ahead of privatisation and employees now operate to defined timetables with a set amount of time given to delivering to each address. Under pressure to reduce operating costs against a backdrop of declining letters and competition from other operators (TNT said to be the largest competitor), many key mail centres are being replaced by centralised hubs which supply local delivery offices with an anticipated. proportion of 25% being part time employees.
Since the abolition of the consumer body Postwatch, Royal Mail is now required by law to deal with complaints itself, fairly and within a reasonable amount of time. Over time, it is expected that the Citizens Advice Bureau and Trading Standards will take on individual complaints as more quangos are axed but at the moment, the process starts with Royal Mail after which you can, if you wish, escalate a complaint - see here.
However, Royal Mail is a big machine and although the parcel you were expecting may well have ruined your entire week, the best you can expect from Royal Mail in the short-term is some sympathy from customer services, a claim form and a fair wait whilst they investigate what has actually gone wrong.
Given that they are legally obliged to compensate customers (where relevant) when they have failed, like any insurance company they do like to make sure that a compensation claim is valid and you MUST adhere to the procedures involved in a claim or you may lose all entitlement. The Royal Mail Complaints department does not stray from 'procedure' although will, in some cases, use discretion. Keep printed reciepts for everything - particularly Ebay items, ie proof of sale/purchase etc in printed format.
Most of us have a kind of unspoken pride in the Royal Mail. Since its inception, the mail has enjoyed a Royal appointment. An Endorsement indicating the importance in which the British Isles hold the Post Office and its services. However, this is gradually changing as email and the mobile phone find greater use and Royal Mail is shifting rapidly towards a wholly commercial basis aimed primarily at business and almost certainly to see new ownership, at which point this guide will no doubt need a major rewrite. The Royal Mail has had a major facelift over the last five years or so - much of it about 'steamlining' to optimise profits and efficiency (in that order). It is a business after all - even if state owned.
These days we can now pay more bills at the Post Office - or at least the few we have left. We can buy our car & home insurance through Royal mail, have our telephone services run via Royal Mail, buy our Euros, dollars and Yen over the counter - all great services and essential to keep our ever shrinking number of local Post Office branches open but all these services are being eroded by the online world and the future of post offices remains uncertain.
Royal Mail - Why has it changed so much?
Postal Deregulation - the brainchild of the European parliament has meant changes - and lots of them. Turning their domestic mail service into a profitable business has been their goal since deregulation in January 2006 and it has been a tough road. Not all the changes have been welcomed - particularly Post Office closures. Royal Mail continues to be a subject of controversy with respect to the ongoing drive by government to bring in commercial expertise and capital to help modernise the service, and a planned privatisation. It has also been subject to industrial relations issues.
The Royal Mail monopoly on mail has now come to an end and Royal Mail has already lost business to rivals, either through downstream access or direct competitors
What are my rights as a customer?
From a customers point of view, when we buy a stamp, we assume this creates a binding contract with Royal Mail. We pay our money and in return Royal mail ensures the safe delivery of our mail. However, it is important to understand that postal services do not fit into the same category as most consumer items and there is no binding contract as such.
If you do not receive an item, the dispute is between the SENDER and Royal Mail, meaning that as the recipient, your dispute will be with the sender and you'll be wasting your time chasing Royal Mail if your goods have not arrived. Only the sender can raise a complaint directly with Royal Mail. The exception might be if the delivery was placed in an insecure area and was stolen, in which case you might have good cause to complain.
The onus in more recent years has been for Royal Mail to sell it's more expensive insured 'Special Delivery' service where items being posted have some intrinsic value but customers still seem to purchase the cheaper 'Recorded Delivery' service which is primarily to record the delivery of documents, does not have insurance cover and does not have the same levels of security. For low-value items such as ordinary mail, the most you would get in compensation (if at all) is a book of stamps, so it is important that you select the RIGHT service if the item you wish to post is something you cannot afford to lose.
Can I get compensation?
We created a specific help guide on compemnsation and disputes relating to online or mail order items which can be found here
What alternatives are there to Royal Mail?
There are alternatives to Royal Mail, certainly for parcels, including the point-to-point service handled by HDNL via Collect+ access points, often convenience stores. You might also like to check the menu bar as there are numerous post and parcel operators listed.
My post is being delivered to the wrong address, what can I do?
Having been in this position myself, its worth pointing out that as Royal Mail continues to drive down costs and amagamates delivery rounds (know as 'walks'), you may well get a delivery worker, or even several over a period of time that are not familiar with your area or make mistakes on road names. Royal Mail, in its infinite wisdom, chose to funnel all complaints to its helpline rather than (as used to happen) allow customers to ring their local delivery office. This can mean repeated calls, to bring the problems to an end (if there is an end). That said, it may just be simpler to have a friendly (and I do mean friendly) word with whoever is delivering to your area. The helpline route doesn't always solve the problem as much as it pains me to say it, you sometimes have to tackle this one at source but do be tactful.
More recently, 'door to door' services, the junk mail side of Royal Mail has been given the go ahead to increase junk mail to five days a week as part of a 2.9% pay deal (plus an extra 1% incentive package). Since we already deal with a million tons of junk mail in the UK and the only way to stop it coming through your door is to write and ask them to stop delivering it, junk mail looks likely to snowball - at a time when we have to seriously consider just how much stuff we throw away and what can be recycled. The fact is we simply don't have enough demand for waste paper in this country and much of it still ends up in landfill. As things stand, only 25% of the materials we consume go to be recycled and it remains questionable just how much IS actually reused and how much still ends in landfill.
The move on the part of Royal Mail to increase junk mail was to help offset a decrease in mail volume for all the reasons outlined above. You can find out how to 'opt out' on this page.
So who is the Royal Mail officially accountable to?
We have often heard it said that Royal Mail is accountable to no one and that they hide behind their public service status. When you do wish to complain it can sometimes feel as though you're up against the might of a massive company and indeed you are, but Royal Mail certainly does have to be accountable - even if only on the larger issues. As an individual you may have less weight and if that parcel of shortbread that you were expecting from your Aunt in Scotland is missing, you generally have to complain to Royal Mail direct - at least in the first instance. The process is decribed here:
Essentially if you get no joy with Royal Mail's customer services, you can contact the 'Postal Review Panel' and failing that, the Postal Redress Service (POSTRS).
Royal Mail is a plc and owned wholly by the British Government - for the moment. Basically we ALL own it. It is under licence from the regulator (PostComm) which requires that Royal Mail demonstrates that it has adequate measures/facilities in place to ensure the safety of mail and that they are complying with the 'Quality Of Service' agreement. Granted this may not help a great deal when it comes to the shortbread, but at least in the grander scale of things there is a body which can directly intervene and ensure that Royal Mail is on a reasonably even keel - or at least that is the theory behind it.
From the individuals perspective, any complaint still has to be dealt with by Royal Mail in the first instance so it is important to stay calm, ensure you have any supporting evidence and allow Royal Mail to invesigate on your behalf. With lost or missing items, you'll need to allow a certain amount of time to elapse before Royal Mail regards your complaint as valid although theres nothing stopping you getting on to them as soon as possible and getting the ball rolling. If after that, you remain miffed, consider the suggestions above for escalating a complaint.
© Hellmail.co.uk (Updated January 9th 2011)