Sorry you were out – the parcel problem

Five and a half million (one in ten people) have had a parcel lost or stolen in the last year, new research by Citizens Advice finds.

In addition, over 20 million people (38% of all UK adults) have received a ‘Sorry you were out’ card despite being home, resulting in some parcels being left in insecure places like doorsteps and bins.

The charity, which is the consumer advocate for the postal sector, is warning that the parcels market needs an end-to-end overhaul.

Citizens Advice found:

  • In a single week, almost 7 million people (13% of all UK adults) experienced a parcel issue relating to driver pressure. This included the driver leaving before the customer could get to the door, or leaving the parcel in an insecure place like a doorstep or bin

  • In a single week, almost 3 million people (6% of all UK adults) missed a parcel because they didn’t have time to get to the door. This figure rises to 8% for people who are disabled or have a long term health condition and 9% of parents with young children

Despite these high figures, redress systems – like compensation – can be difficult to access. One in three consumers who had an issue said they took no action as they didn’t think it’d make a difference.

The majority of delivery companies receive no penalty for lost or stolen deliveries. Currently only Royal Mail is subject to fines if this happens, despite 58% of parcels being delivered by other companies. Royal Mail is also the only delivery company to have an Ofcom-regulated complaints process.

Consumers tend to have no choice over who their parcel company is, with that choice being made by the retailer. As a result, consumers face a lottery when it comes to fixing problems or getting compensated for lateness or loss.

Matthew Upton, Director of Policy, said:

“When it comes to parcel deliveries, the power of choice is in the hands of the retailers, not those receiving the parcels. So when we find our parcels under a bush or behind our bins, it’s easy to lay the blame at the door of individual hard working drivers.

“But the reality is that these failings are baked into the system. Overworked drivers, no routes to compensation and a lack of penalties for poor service equals a lack of meaningful consumer protection.

“Addressing the sheer pressure that drivers are under and holding companies to account is the real way to improve this essential service for the millions of people who rely on it.”

Citizens Advice is calling for an end-to-end overhaul for the parcels market:

  1. All delivery firms should face penalties for losing parcels: Currently, only Royal Mail faces a fine if a parcel is lost or stolen. Ofcom should extend penalties to all delivery firms to make sure that they take appropriate measures to keep mail safe

  2. It should be easier for consumers to get compensation for late or lost deliveries: Redress systems are complicated. Nine out of ten people (88%) that attempted to resolve an issue experienced challenges. Ofcom should extend consumer protection rules to cover all delivery companies, not just Royal Mail. This would mean all consumers received the same level of service if something goes wrong

  1. Drivers need better protections: Drivers’ employment conditions are often insecure, with unstable incomes and unpredictable working hours. These can lead to poor practices like leaving before consumers get to the door. The remit of the newly announced Single Enforcement Body should be widened to include the power to determine working status. This would make sure all drivers are on the most appropriate employment contract.

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