Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Appalling postal service – who's to blame?

Back in March 2013, Frankham resident Brigitte was alerting neighbours to the fact that letters, bank and credit card statements, cheque books, magazines on subscription were either not delivered at all or posted through the wrong letterboxes. She suggested residents visited Creek Road Sorting Office to ask them to monitor their mail, and encouraged people to make a formal complaint.

This was around the time the Royal Mail was streamlining (cutting) staff and services in readiness for the big privatisation sell-off. A Crossfields resident working temporary shifts over Christmas found himself in a shambolic organisation paying under the minimum wage. Though it's been sold in the meantime (at a loss to the taxpayer) since Brigitte complained over a year ago, things have not improved. Mail arrives as late as 3pm (an extreme exception was this morning when our post turned up at 10.30am!) and post is still 'going missing'.

Ruth in Cremer House contacted us yesterday to say her Council Tax bill, Service Charge bill, her P60, her pension forecast and hospital appointment letters have all 'not arrived' in recent weeks. She knows at least two others in her block who have also not received important mail. She says that in order to complain, you have to know what date the items were posted – the problem being that you often don't realise what it is you haven't received! 

For instance, you may not remember whether you set up paperless billing when you signed up online for a particular service, but then you'll be getting regular email notifications, right? Or are you one of those people who let the mail (especially bills and anything from Lewisham Homes or the council) pile up on the coffee table till you've got time to deal with it? This maybe a reality check.

We were just going to post up Ruth's story as a matter of public information. But this morning we got a rather officious 'Default Sum Notice' from our credit card company saying we had missed our last payment. Unfortunately, we hadn't noticed not getting the bill – it's been a busy month – but we usually get it and make a note in the diary to pay it a week before it's due (why pay immediately you get the bill, they give you two weeks, ffs).

To be sure, we looked everywhere for that bill and couldn't find it. Not paying it has resulted in charges of over £16 and the stopping of the card (and possibly a black mark on our credit rating). Needless to say, the card company would not take responsibility for us not receiving the bill, and made us set up a direct debit.

To some folk, 16 quid in charges would not be so big a deal and not worth the effort in time and call charges for getting to the bottom of it, but to us there was an unanticipated loss we couldn't afford and a matter of principle and justice...plus a worrying mystery and unnecessary stress for a neighbouring 67 year old pensioner...

So onto Royal Mail to complain and a wasted afternoon of Kafka-esque proportions...

If you ring the number given on the Royal Mail website (08457 749 740) a message sends you back to the website. If your mail was lost, delayed or damaged, it's assumed you'll want compensation, but the compensation form won't allow you to claim if you don't have full details of the amount of postage paid, a franking number, an item reference number and lots of things you won't know if you didn't even get the item. We finally found this general complaint form and submitted it.

Ruth had called a different number (08456 112446) and chosen 'complaints' from the automated menu. She asked for a reference number for her complaint and then had to ring back to check her complaint had been logged – she says that no one on the Royal Mail complaints line offers any solution and can be very rude. Armed with the reference number, she then had to fill in the online complaints form.

When we called the same number as Ruth we spoke to a (polite) Royal Mail woman who, on hearing our credit card story, asked if there was a TNT stamp on the envelope of our new bill. There was, we said, but there is also a Royal Mail stamp saying "Delivered by Royal Mail".

She explained this means that TNT collect the bills from the credit card company, sort them and then deliver them to the relevant Royal Mail sorting office, where they are then added to the local postman's load. She was certain this was the problem and gave us a number for TNT so that we could direct our complaint to them instead. She would not give us a reference number or let us make a complaint with Royal Mail!

The number she gave us for TNT put us through to TNT Express. Because our bill came through TNT Post we were then given a different number to ring. That number didn't work. Back to TNT Express for another number for TNT Post. That number answered "The mailbox is currently full and can't take any messages".

Onto Google then for another number for TNT Post. Here's what we found at the top of the search:

A one-day-old Evening Standard story about a TNT operative dumping confidential benefits information from Barnet Council as well as statements from Barclays Bank. TNT has contracts with 11 London councils. Barnet Council said, "The relationship between TNT and the Royal Mail is a complicated one and we are trying to work out exactly who is responsible." TNT said, "We have identified the person responsible for this disgraceful action..."

In the comments section of the online ES story it turns out it's not just North London having a problem, and one reader commented ruefully, "This isn't Royal Mail giving work to TNT, this is TNT stealing work from RM, cherry picking what they want, offering it to businesses at a cheaper rate, then paying peanuts and getting monkeys to deliver them."

Armed with this new information, we went back to our credit card company to see what they had to say about TNT and their lack of reliability. Apparently we were the first to make such a complaint. If they receive similar complaints about bills not being received, the charges may be retracted.

So, anyone else out there having problems with their mail?

Update 30th April 2014:

Ruth has been in touch to let us know that none of her missing mail went through TNT.  She received an email from the Royal Mail's Escalated Customer Resolution Team on Monday after contacting us. Considering she was already at 'Escalated Resolution' stage, this reply wasn't really of much help:

Regrettably, I have been unable to locate the whereabouts of your missing item as the movement of First Class and Second Class mail is not tracked in any way as it passes through the postal network.

It may also be worth mentioning that as of 1st January 2006, Royal Mail no longer has the monopoly on collecting and delivering mail. It may be worth contacting the sender to find out which postal carrier they used and whether or not if it was the Royal Mail in the first instance?
(She had already done that)

In closing, I realise that only when a reasonable amount of time has gone by without further problems arising, will your confidence in our service be restored. I sincerely hope your future dealings with us are of a more positive nature and if I may be of any further assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will be more than happy to help.

I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that if you are unhappy with my response in any way, you can ask to have your case reviewed by the Postal Review Panel. They can be contacted by writing to FREEPOST Postal Review Panel or by email to postalreview@royalmail.com.

So it seems the newly privatised Royal Mail is already in the habit of blaming its competitors. She reported to us however that her mail service has now improved as a result of her complaints. She may possibly never know what has happened to her missing mail.

But if you are experiencing problems (ie realised you haven't received bills or notices you were expecting) it may be worth paying a visit to the local sorting office first – if you have the time, it's a morning off work to get there by 1pm.


  1. Definitely a 'complicated' relationship! I had a parcel go missing recently, no sign of it at all even though another one from the same company arrived the day after it was mailed.

  2. I saw several huge bags of royal mail bundled into a private car at the top of Watergate Street opposite the sorting office. Is this legal?