Royal Mail may no longer enjoy the statutory monopoly it held for 350 years, but its grip on residential customers still amounts to a quasi-monopoly.
I've been looking for a new job in recent months and although most applications these days can be submitted via email, a few require the post be used. I learnt long ago to get a certificate of posting for every item entrusted to Royal Mail. I also know to use recorded delivery for any item that is of any importance. Yet even I have been astounded by how appalling their service has become of late.
First there was the job application sent by recorded "first class" (sic) delivery. It took five whole days for it to be transported a mere 35 miles up the main delivery route to London. Five days for first class recorded was, of course, a day or two too late for my application to be considered.
Then there was the "first class" letter sent to me a week before I needed the contents for a meeting that I was to attend. The letter has never arrived. Fortunately, in that case, since I was expecting the letter, I was able to have a duplicate sent via another means.
Then, most recently, another job application. This time sent not only by recorded "first class" delivery but also sent a full week early so that if it remained undelivered after five days, I would still have time to arrange an alternative delivery. Twenty-fours hours later, the Royal Mail's online tracking showed that it had been successfully delivered. However, TWO WEEKS later, I had a phone call from the prospective employer. Had I hand-delivered a job application to them earlier that afternoon? No, Why? Because a hand-delivered envelope had appeared on their front desk after lunch containing my job application, for a job that had already been decided even though I was clearly a very strong candidate. Not only that, but the envelope had no stamps, no recorded delivery sticker, and on further inspection turned out to be a different envelope than the one I used and with someone else's hand-writing! But, hold on, two weeks earlier, Royal Mail had confirmed the delivery of my item. Did they have a signature showing who had received my letter? Ah, no, for some strange reason they did not, though they should have... So, it would appear someone mistakenly registered my letter as having been delivered, two weeks later discovered it, switched the envelope (to destroy the evidence, presumably), and hoped nobody would notice.
By this point, I've just about had it with Royal Mail, so I decide to file a complaint. Easier said than done. You used to be able to submit your complaint online through their website. Not any more. Now you have to pick up an old-fashioned form from the post office. Not as convenient (which, presumably, reduces the number of complaints they receive) but when I eventually have cause to visit my local post office (to send another recorded item ... you'd have thought I might have learnt better by now, but what alternative have I got?) and ask for a complaint form, I am told that the post office does not have any of the forms and that in order to obtain one I will need to go to the main post office on the other side of town!
Increasingly unimpressed at how difficult Royal Mail is making this, my wife happens to be going across town a couple of days later, so I have her stop by the post office and bring me home a couple of complaint forms. These may be sent in by post or handed in to your local post office. I no longer trust the postal service, so decide to make a special trip to my local post office. Sorry, sir, we are unable to accept complaint forms - you will need to hand it in to the main post office (on the other side of town) or else send it in by post.
I give in and send it by post. A couple of days later, my complaint form is returned to me. They need the original proof of posting, not a photocopy. I had deliberately kept the original because I didn't trust them not to lose it but ... as they wish. Which brings us to yesterday's letter:
Dear Dr Hayward"Enclosed: Book of 12 stamps" Might have been nice, but said book of 12 stamps was nowhere to be seen. "Our system does not show any reason for the delay" Sheer incompetence, then? "If you can supply the envelope or packaging, showing the address, postage paid and date of posting" Well, I can't, can I, because the envelope, as I explained in my complaint, was switched and I have already sent the proof of posting!
Thank you for your complaint. I am sorry to hear about our delay in delivering an item of mail addressed to ...
Our priority is to provide a good quality service and we aim to handle all mail very carefully to make sure it is delivered safely and on time. Every item of mail is important to us, but problems do arise.
Unfortunately, our system does not show any reason for the delay.
Please accept the enclosed book of 12 stamps as compensation for the delay, along with my apologies. If you are happy to accept the stamps, there is no need for you to take any further action.
The envelope or packaging can sometimes tell us why there was a delay. If you can supply the envelope or packaging, showing the address, postage paid and date of posting, you may be entitled to compensation of £5 or £10. If you want to take up this potion, please sign and return the form below, along with the book of 12 stamps and the delayed envelope or packaging.
I see from your claim that you have experienced problems when trying to set this complaint through your local post office. I can only apologise for that as you should have been able to hand this form over the counter. Should you wish to make a formal complaint about this matter,please refer to Post Office Counters at 08457 223344.
I apologise for any inconvenience you may have been caused and I hope that you are satisfied with the action I have taken. If you still have concerns, please get back in touch quoting our reference number from the top of this letter.
As for the item sent to me that never arrived, about which I also submitted a complaint, the letter of response has suggested that since Royal Mail is no longer the only postal carrier, can I be certain that Royal Mail were really responsible and could I contact the sender of the item and, if appropriate, submit a fresh complaint? Do they think I did not contact the sender in the first place before taking the effort to submit a complaint?!
Needless to say, I shall be contacting Postwatch today. As for Royal Mail's strike today, I can only imagine that the brand will be further damaged, though warnings that "Most big post offices are going to provide a very, very tiny service if at all" would seem no different than any usual day when they do work. It should come as no surprise that business customers would want to switch to an alternative carrier and Royal Mail's recent loss of an £8m contract with the online retailer Amazon surely won't be the last. If only we domestic customers could do the same.