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Royal Mail referred to regulator over delivery issues

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

The postal service has been accused of failing in its duty to deliver letters six days a week.

A committee of MPs has questioned whether Royal Mail’s management is negligent in regard to ‘systemic letter delivery failures’.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee has published a report in which it questions whether Royal Mail is meeting all of its statutory requirements under the Universal Service Obligation (USO).

The committee has asked Ofcom, which has the power to impose penalties, to open an enforcement investigation following the publication of the report.

The committee said that when it discussed certain issues with Royal Mail’s senior management, “our concerns were not allayed: in fact, they grew.”

The report said that some of the statements made by Royal Mail’s executives during oral evidence “provoked a huge response from postal workers, who contacted the committee directly, claiming that the committee had been misled”.

The committee then took the unusual step of recalling Royal Mail in order to clarify or correct the public record, asking witnesses to take the oath.

The BEIS report accused Royal Mail chief executive Simon Thompson of being “not wholly accurate” in answers he gave regarding on the use of technology to track and discipline workers, following numerous complaints on the issue raised by staff.

Prioritising parcels over letters

The committee also had concerns about reports that Royal Mail employees had been told to prioritise parcels over letters, and that this could have affected the capacity of Royal Mail to provide a daily delivery of letters six times per week as is required under its statutory Universal Service Obligations (USO).

Thompson told the committee in evidence in January that these reports were “absolutely not true”. But postal workers from across the country sent MPs photographs of posters and handwritten sheets, and audio and video recordings, all showing local managers giving essentially the same instructions to prioritise parcels.

The report said: “We believe that Royal Mail has deprioritised delivery of letters as a matter of company policy and that it has systemically failed to deliver against parts of its USO. The evidence suggests that this practice has taken place not just during periods of industrial action but since the start of the pandemic, if not earlier. We therefore call on Ofcom to undertake an enforcement investigation into Royal Mail’s delivery of the USO and to report to this committee by the end of 2023.”

Royal Mail says it lost about £200m during 18 days of industrial action that took place last year. A further 24-hour strike planned for February was cancelled after a Royal Mail legal challenge.

However, since then, Communication Workers Union members have voted in favour of further action in what the union described as the biggest mandate for strike action since the 2016 Trade Union Act.