Consumer charity Citizens Advice has called on the postal regulatory authority Ofcom to investigate Royal Mail’s performance and consider enforcement action and fines.
According to Citizens Advice, which surveyed 4,165 UK adults, 28% of people experienced letter delays between mid-December and mid-January. The charity calculated that this percentage scaled up to 15 million people across the UK and of those, over half (54%) reported going at least a week without letters. As a result, 2.5 million people missed important documents, health appointments or were unable to pay a fine or bills, sometimes resulting in further penalties.
Of those who experienced delays, 3% of people said they couldn’t pay a bill, 8% said they missed an important document, and 7% of respondents said they missed a health appointment. According to the survey, people across London (35%), the Southeast (32%) and the Northwest (31%) were most likely to experience a letter delay.
Additional analysis conducted by the charity found the situation failed to sufficiently improve in January with 23% of those asked reporting post disruption. Again, more than half of those (54%) reported receiving no post for over a week. Citizens Advice’s monitoring showed disruption peaked in mid-January. On January 12 and 13, Royal Mail warned that 77 areas across the UK were hit by disruption, affecting up to 2.4 million people in England and Wales each day. Some of the most affected areas, including Chelmsford, Willesden and Upminster, faced eight weeks of disruption.
While the situation has appeared to improve, Citizens Advice has pointed out that this is the second year running that it has flagged severe Christmas disruption, with 16.5 million people affected the previous year. For situations like these, Royal Mail updates customers daily on the offices most affected on its website and also updates Ofcom regularly on its progress regarding service levels.
Like many other organizations – including rail companies and the NHS – Royal Mail saw a significant rise in Covid-related absences since the emergence of omicron with 15,000 people off sick or due to self-isolation during Christmas and January.
Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said, “A staggering 2.5 million of us missed important documents, health appointments, or were unable to pay a fine or bills due to post delays over Christmas. We understand the strain the pandemic has placed on Royal Mail. But after two years of disruption, Royal Mail cannot let poor service become the new normal. These delays can have serious consequences for those left waiting for their letters. Ofcom must now investigate Royal Mail’s performance and consider enforcement action and fines to ensure lessons are learned.”
In response to the announcement, a Royal Mail spokesperson said, “While the vast majority of mail is delivered safely and on time, the impact of the rise of omicron had a particular impact during Christmas and January, with approximately 15,000 staff members off work due to sickness and self-isolation at one stage.
“As Citizens Advice has acknowledged, the situation has significantly improved. The number of offices we have reported as being most impacted by service issues has reduced from 77 to just one today. We apologize for any delays that our customers may have experienced in the local areas affected. We are working hard to equalize performance and improve service in those areas, including spending over £340m [US$461m] on overtime, additional temporary staff and sick pay, as well as targeted support. Our postmen and women are continuing to work incredibly hard, as they have done throughout the pandemic, and we are thankful for all of their efforts and determination.”