Saturday, February 24, 2024

The great Christmas post fiasco: Royal Mail is setting aside festive cards and even cancer scans to prioritise lucrative parcels it can cash in on

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Christmas cards and cancer scans are piling up in sorting offices as postal workers are told to prioritise money-spinning parcels.

Depot managers are accused of telling staff to focus on shifting ‘premium products’ such as Amazon deliveries ‘at the expense of letters’, despite it being a breach of the Royal Mail‘s legal duties, a Mail investigation uncovered.

Posties say it means parcels containing trivial items such as buckets and vapes are being delivered more quickly than hospital appointments and cancer screening results.

Tens of millions of Christmas cards are due to be sent this month, but insiders warned they will be ‘sacrificed in favour of parcels’ and sit undelivered in sorting offices.

‘Come January, people will be getting Christmas cards,’ a postman based in the North of England said. ‘They’ll have been sitting in the [sorting] frames going nowhere.’

Tens of millions of Christmas cards are due to be sent this month, but insiders warned they will be ‘sacrificed in favour of parcels’ and sit undelivered in sorting offices. Pictured: File photo

Posties say it means parcels containing trivial items such as buckets and vapes are being delivered more quickly than hospital appointments and cancer screening results. Pictured: File Photo

Last night charities and MPs hit out at the ‘immoral’ prioritisation of parcels.

Royal Mail bosses have long denied that the company – which was last year forced to pay £26 million in compensation to customers who experienced poor service – put lucrative parcels before letters, and the regulator Ofcom found no evidence of it being a formal policy during a review last month.

But the Mail has spoken to staff at depots across the country. They said managers routinely told them to ‘ignore’ letters in favour of parcels.

All spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear for their jobs.

The price of a second-class letter starts at 75p and £1.25 for first-class. But the Royal Mail can charge businesses between £2.99 and £10.99 for a parcel, depending on weight and size.

One postman in the South of England said an elderly woman recently asked him where her post was because she was expecting cancer scan results. After waiting for nine days, she had to collect it herself from the local depot.

‘If you’re waiting for anything important, you’re not going to get it, but I can deliver parcels,’ the postman said. ‘It was a metal bucket this morning to a house next door… because that’s tracked, it’s more important than [someone] waiting for cancer screening documents.’

A postie in South Yorkshire said the service was at ‘rock bottom’. An elderly man she serves waited for an NHS referral for six months, but missed the appointment because it didn’t arrive on time.

One postman in the South of England said an elderly woman recently asked him where her post was because she was expecting cancer scan results. After waiting for nine days, she had to collect it herself from the local depot. Pictured: File photo

One postman in the South of England said an elderly woman recently asked him where her post was because she was expecting cancer scan results. After waiting for nine days, she had to collect it herself from the local depot. Pictured: File photo

A colleague based in rural North Wales said it was ‘carnage’ in her sorting office.

‘A person on one delivery got their cancer appointment letter a few days after the appointment and now has to wait until January for another one. It’s awful,’ she said.

An ex-postman, who recently left the Royal Mail after more than 30 years, said: ‘Parcels are being prioritised over letters, it’s that simple. On a daily basis, we were told to leave letters and take parcels.

‘As much as Royal Mail say they don’t [prioritise parcels], they do.’

One postman said: ‘If we don’t deliver your parcel and you’re a firm, you can say okay, I’m going to use a competitor. There are no competitors for delivering letters. It’s a captive market, so it doesn’t matter how late your letter is.’

Under the Universal Service Obligation, Royal Mail is legally required to deliver letters to every address in the UK, six days a week, and parcels five days a week. But postal workers say the company hasn’t been undertaking the obligation for months, with one saying there is ‘a constant backlog of letters’.

Delivery workers said they got complaints from residents waiting for other important documents such as divorce papers, mortgage paperwork and bank cards.

Dennis Reed, from the charity Silver Voices, said he regularly received complaints from elderly people about the Royal Mail’s ‘erratic’ service, which was ‘breaking down’.

Tory MP Siobhan Baillie, whose Stroud constituents regularly fail to receive mail on time, called stories she had heard 'upsetting' and 'deeply frustrating'

Tory MP Siobhan Baillie, whose Stroud constituents regularly fail to receive mail on time, called stories she had heard ‘upsetting’ and ‘deeply frustrating’

‘The experience is terrible, it’s not a service we should expect for the cost of a postage stamp. It’s a very poor service these days,’ he said.

‘It’s immoral and it’s been going on for longer than just recently. It’s been obvious that you can get a daily parcel service from the Royal Mail, but not letters.’

Tory MP Siobhan Baillie, whose Stroud constituents regularly fail to receive mail on time, said: ‘Some stories of missed appointments are really upsetting, deeply frustrating and are countrywide.

‘Local posties are still well loved but there is not a lot of faith that things will improve, despite several promises.’

A spokesman for Ofcom, which issued the Royal Mail a record fine of £5.6 million last month for failing to meet delivery targets, said: ‘We will continue to closely monitor Royal Mail’s performance, including following up on our concern about the oversight of local delivery offices.

‘Should Royal Mail’s poor performance continue, we will consider taking further enforcement action.’

The Royal Mail said: ‘We do not operate a policy of prioritising parcels.

‘At particularly busy times, like this festive period, we will need to prioritise the health and safety of our employees.

‘Parcels are large, take up space and restrict movement. For this reason, especially in small delivery offices, it may be necessary to clear parcels first for the safety of our colleagues and keep all mail, including letters, moving efficiently.’

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