Shocking footage uncovered from inside Royal Mail sorting offices has exposed how postal workers are prioritising lucrative parcels over crucial letters.
An undercover investigation by The Sunday Times found posties were forced to leave behind envelopes with first-class stamps, government and NHS correspondence, bills and fines in favour of parcels.
Royal Mail must deliver letters to every postcode from Monday to Saturday under the Postal Services Act 2011. It was a condition of their privatisation, which began in 2013.
One journalist was offered a conditional job over the phone less than five hours after sending an application, while the other was given the same after less than five minutes. They went undercover in Wandsworth, south London, and Southampton.
At a sorting office in Wandsworth, when one Royal Mail worker was asked why parcels were being taken ahead of letters, they replied: ‘You’d have to ask Royal Mail that. They prioritise parcels. They’re not supposed to, but they do prioritise parcels.’
The investigation found that some letters had been stacked up for two to three days, with many visibly important.
In Southampton, when the undercover reporter asked why so many letters were still stacked up, his manager replied: ‘We’ve got a lot of sick and a lot of vacancies. So I’ve been here four weeks. So I’m learning myself.
‘What I’ve noticed here is that loads of vacancies. Sick is high. That’s why we’ve done a big recruitment. So I’ve recruited you guys. About seven of you now, I’ve got.
‘I’m trying to convert the agency and it’s Christmas so parcels have gone through the roof.’
The reporter in London also went out with an experienced postal worker on a delivery route.
During the shift, he told her: ‘If you know you might not complete a round, what you need to do is bring it back or… they will decide what to take out. Leave the letters, take the parcels today. They will let you know that.’
Back in Southampton, another Royal Mail worker admitted that ‘you’re not supposed to’ prioritise parcels, adding: ‘Legally it’s against the law.’
He said it ‘definitely’ happens ‘more often that what it should do’. ‘But yeah, no it is against the law and they shouldn’t be doing it,’ he added.
The reporters – who were hired after minimal checks before starting training after a four-hour induction course, also found that some postal workers were even being sent out without letters at all, leaving the future of the Royal Mail uncertain.
The Mail’s own investigation this week found that depot managers are accused of telling staff to focus on shifting ‘premium products’ such as Amazon deliveries ‘at the expense of letters’.
Posties say it means parcels containing trivial items such as buckets and vapes are being delivered more quickly than hospital appointments and cancer screening results.
Tens of millions of Christmas cards are due to be sent this month, but insiders warned they will be ‘sacrificed in favour of parcels’ and sit undelivered in sorting offices.
‘Come January, people will be getting Christmas cards,’ a postman based in the North of England said. ‘They’ll have been sitting in the [sorting] frames going nowhere.’
Following the investigation, postal workers accused the Royal Mail of misleading the public after the company denied claims it is prioritising parcels over letters.
A senior Royal Mail executive this week rejected suggestions that parcels are being given preference after the Daily Mail published the extraordinary claims from posties that households are missing out on important letters in favour of trivial packages.
Hard-working postmen have now hit back at the Royal Mail’s denials – and this newspaper has heard a recording of a depot manager allegedly telling a postie to ‘definitely’ prioritise parcels over letters.
‘It’s just straight-up lies,’ said the south-east postman, who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of losing his job.
‘I’m sick of it. I just want to get these letters out to all of these people that are suffering over Christmas, but we’ve been told not to.’
On Monday Nick Landon, chief commercial officer for Royal Mail, denied that parcels are being given priority, telling the BBC: ‘Absolutely I can say, I sit on the board, we are not prioritising parcels over letters.
‘Clearly in terms of investment, letters are decreasing worldwide every year. Parcels are increasing really rapidly, so a big focus on making sure we can cope with that growth in parcels we have across the network,’ he said.
Mr Landon made the comments while standing in a large Royal Mail hub dedicated to parcels.
One postman pointed out: ‘He wouldn’t go to a mail centre [for an interview] because it would be stuffed to the rafters, it would be messy and dirty.’ Under the Universal Service Obligation, the Royal Mail is legally required to deliver letters to every address in the UK, six days a week, and parcels five days a week.
But postal workers say they have been struggling to fulfil the legal obligation for months as depot managers are more concerned with delivering tracked parcels quickly, meaning letters are sacrificed.
A spokesman for the Royal Mail said: “We will always do our utmost to ensure both letters and parcels are delivered on time. The run up to Christmas is our busiest time of year, with more than double the normal number of letters and parcels passing through our network.
‘Average parcel sizes have grown by around 30% in recent years, and in any typical week parcels take up around 90% of sorting space in our delivery offices.
“We have always been clear that at busy times such as Christmas it may be logistically necessary to clear parcels first to avoid network issues, keep the mail moving and ensure the safety of our colleagues, especially in small delivery offices.
‘These measures have been shared with Ofcom who have not identified any suggestion that Royal Mail senior management have directed the prioritisation of parcels over letters outside of recognised contingency plans.
“We have taken steps to improve quality of service and deliver Christmas, including recruiting 16,000 seasonal workers, opening five temporary sorting centres and launching a quality of service incentive scheme for all operational staff.
‘The vast majority of mail is delivered on time and our latest published quality of service figures show that three quarters of first class letters arrive the following day, and 96% are delivered within three days of posting.”
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