Europe

Cards, letters and hospital appointments all held up in post backlog

Royal Mail CEO discusses strike action

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Of 120 second-class letters posted, ten were delivered within the Royal Mail’s official target of two to three working days. After almost two weeks, more than half (57 percent) of the first class and 64 percent of second class letters we posted have not been delivered at all.

The performance would be laughable were the failure not so serious. People and businesses depend on the Royal Mail for timely delivery of everything from Christmas cards to hospital appointments and legal documents.

Consumer expert Jane Hawkes blamed the service for “ruining Christmas” as customers around the UK have been left without cards and gifts for loved ones this year.

Speaking to the Express, she said: “The Royal Mail delays could not have come at a worse time and they now risk ruining Christmas.

“People are becoming increasingly worried that cards for their loved ones won’t arrive in time for the big day or even worse, get lost in the backlog. For many, this could well be a Christmas to remember for the wrong reasons.”

The figures come after Royal Mail’s chairman warned first class stamps would have to go up to more than £1 unless the business can abolish Saturday letter deliveries.

Keith Williams urged Business Secretary Grant Shapps to let the company run a five day service in order to avoid a ‘considerable’ cost increase.

The Royal Mail’s management appears to be failing utterly in running a postal service riven by strike action and under competitive pressure from the likes of DHL and Amazon.

The business is in a desperate situation with reports earlier this year that it is losing one million pounds every day.

Now it is struggling with a wave of strike action over working conditions and pay, which saw more than 115,000 Royal Mail workers walkout last week. The industrial action is expected to continue on Friday and Saturday this week.

After months of frustration from Royal Mail customers who have been left waiting for weeks, sometimes months, for their post, we decided to put the postal service to the test.

We sent 240 letters, 120 first-class and 120 second-class, across three days from post boxes in London, Peterborough, Surrey, Manchester, Leeds, and Bedfordshire.

On Thursday, December 8, 120 letters were sent, on Friday, December 9, 100 letters were sent and on December 12, 20 letters were sent. The experiment was designed to recreate the experience of an ordinary user of the postal service.

Almost two weeks since the first was posted 145 of the letters, 60 percent of the total, still had not arrived as of Monday this week.

The missing post amounted to 57 percent (68) of the first-class letters sent, and 64 percent (77) of the second-class letters sent.

Royal Mail advertises that first-class letters with a 95p stamp, should arrive the next working day.

Second-class mail with a 68p stamp should arrive within two to three working days to meet official standards of service.

Suburban southern England appears to have been particularly badly struck by the Royal Mail delivery crisis, with no letters arriving in Bedfordshire for a week.

These results are far below what Royal Mail aims to achieve, or what it used to achieve.

In the second quarter of the year leading up to September 25, Royal Mail reported that around 90 percent of first-class and 91 percent of second-class mail were arriving on time.

Regulator Ofcom told the Express that it is monitoring the situation that it described as being “frustrating” for postal users.

Strike action has weighed heavily on the firm and last month it asked the Government to allow it to stop letter deliveries on Saturdays, moving to a five-day week.

Yesterday it was announced strikes by Royal Mail workers will go ahead on Friday 23 and Saturday December 24 after their Communications Workers Union said the company had turned down an offer of negotiations to resolve their dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

The strikes will be the 17th and 18th days of action in the increasingly bitter dispute.

Royal Mail has been accused of focusing on parcels instead of letters because it is a more profitable side of the business, with “mountains” of post being pictured outside Royal Mail centres. Claims have been made that rats are eating some post which is left.

Royal Mail has since denied it is prioritising parcels over letter deliveries, saying that “every item of mail was important” and it “does not operate a policy of prioritising parcels”.

Royal Mail, slamming the CWU for causing customers to “suffer”, said company leaders are “doing everything we can to deliver Christmas for our customers and settle this dispute”.

Union sources recently told the Telegraph that the “catastrophic” impact could see people waiting until February for Christmas cards because of backlogs worsened by strikes.

Small businesses have also been hit hard. Some have even been forced to shut shops because of a raft of complaints from angry customers who haven’t received their orders.

Tina McKenzie, Policy Chair, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said postal strikes are causing “serious headaches” for many small businesses, at a time when the industry is supposed to be recovering after two years of Covid disruption.

She said: “At a time of year when postbags are far heavier than usual, postal strikes are causing serious headaches for many small businesses.

“Delivery delays are intensely frustrating for small firms and have an impact on their margins if customers return items which arrived too late for a special occasion, if sellers have to pay more for guaranteed delivery, or if customers decide to shop elsewhere over arrival delay fears.

“This was supposed to be a recovery for the traditional Christmas peak trading period, especially after two years of Covid disruption.

“We’re urging all parties to come back together, with Acas if necessary, to find a resolution.

“Getting the post moving again will be a huge relief to small businesses in what should be the busiest part of the year for many.”

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “We are doing everything we can to deliver Christmas for our customers and would like to thank the increasing number of posties returning to work each strike day, temporary workers and managers from across the business who are helping to keep the mail moving.

“We’re sorry if customers are experiencing delays in getting their post because of industrial action by the CWU, and recognise it’s particularly worrying for people at this time of year.

“The CWU is striking at our busiest time, deliberately holding Christmas to ransom for our customers, businesses and families across the country.

“The dates these letters were posted fell right in the middle of a number of strike days called by the CWU.”

Lisa Webb, Which? Consumer Law Expert, said: “It’s important to remember that if something goes wrong with your parcel delivery this Christmas, it’s the retailer and not the delivery company that you need to ask to fix the problem.

“If a delivery fails to arrive, customers should immediately contact the retailer, which should either help track down their order or send a replacement.

“Unfortunately, you might not be able to claim any compensation for items or letters that are late as a result of the strikes. This is because the majority of Royal Mail services are not guaranteed day services.”

Susannah Streeter, Senior Investment and Markets Analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ‘’The share price has been battered by this round of industrial action, which has put the company in a precarious position trapped in a vicious circle of falling volumes and an exodus of customers.

“Royal Mail has been trying to resize operations as letter sending plummets and parcels deliveries have dropped from pandemic highs, but each day of action sees volumes lurch further downwards, worsening the company’s prospects.

“Even if performance holds up at GLS, the group’s more profitable international arm, it seems likely that the company will be below cash-flow break even for the current financial year.

“Already the company has warned that all options were on the table including a separation of Royal Mail from GLS and its highly likely this possibility and how it will play out in practice is being investigated.”

The CWU was contacted for comment.

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