According to Ofcom, more than ten million parcels are delivered on an average day in the UK. However, many of our readers will have experienced delays with, or missing parcels, and found that complaints procedures, and processes to trace missing parcels, are often inadequate.  Four in ten shoppers experienced at least one problem with their courier during the run-up to Christmas 2020, according to research by Which?.

Disabled customers are even more likely to have problems with deliveries. The number of parcels being delivered is increasing, whereas letter volumes are decreasing.  The pandemic has had a major impact on service providers’ costs, but according to Ofcom, has also led to innovation.

Ofcom regulates postal services in the UK under the Postal Services Act 2011 and the Communications Act 2003.  With current events in mind, it has announced a new consultation on delivery services to 2027, with the aims of:

  • Ensuring all postal users have access to simple, affordable and reliable postal services that meet their needs. This applies not only to universal services users but also wider postal users, including all users of parcels and letters services, and both senders and receivers.
  • Supporting a financially sustainable and efficient universal postal service.
  • Supporting effective competition in the wider postal market for the benefit of consumers, but with targeted interventions to protect consumers where necessary.
  • Its proposals include the following:
  • Maintain the current overall framework for regulating Royal Mail in relation to the universal service. This aims to continue to provide Royal Mail with commercial flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances and market uncertainty, and a stable regulatory environment. This stability and flexibility will support investment and innovation, and create the conditions to allow Royal Mail to continue to transform into a modern and efficient business for the digital age, securing the long-term financial sustainability of the universal service. Last year, Ofcom fined Royal Mail £1.5m for missing its 2018/19 first-class delivery target, and £100k for overcharging customers for second-class stamps between 25 March and 31 March 2019.
  • Retain existing safeguards to protect consumers, including high quality of service standards.
  • It will ensure access to affordable basic postal services by maintaining the existing safeguard cap on second class letters, large letters and small parcels.
  • Increase its understanding of Royal Mail’s longer-term sustainability outlook for the universal service and require it to report publicly on its longer-term efficiency plans.
  • Continue to promote effective competition in the wider postal markets, by continuing to impose only limited regulation when necessary for the protection of consumers or competition. Ofcom plans to maintain the current scope of access regulation but not extend it to small parcels. It does not plan to bring tracked products (First or Second Class) into the scope of the universal service. This recognises the adverse effects that such regulatory changes could have on end-to-end parcels competition.
  • Introduce new targeted consumer protections for parcel services, given some customer experience issues Ofcom has found. Parcel operators need to make substantial improvements in customer service and complaints handling, so new guidance is proposed on how complaints should be handled. Ofcom is also proposing that parcel operators be required to have policies in place to better meet the needs of disabled consumers, as its research has found disabled consumers are more likely to experience delivery problems and are more likely to suffer harm as a result, compared to consumers without disabilities.

Of course, parcel companies do not just serve consumers, they also provide services to businesses, including both deliveries to and from businesses.  Therefore, improved regulation is likely to be a benefit to businesses who want to maintain their ability to choose which providers to use, and do not want to deal with angry consumers when their parcels go missing or are damaged.  However, some believe that Ofcom is doing too little too late, and it might be that pressure from big businesses which send parcels to consumers and are fed up with dealing with complaints, will have more influence on parcel companies than pressure from disappointed consumers and the regulator.

The consultation ends on 3 March 2022.