Royal Mail failed in the year to September to hit its target for next-day delivery of first-class mail in every single area of the UK, an analysis of performance figures by the Observer reveals.
Performance results for more than 120 postal areas in the UK show that none hit the target for 93% of first-class mail to be delivered within one working day. Royal Mail has already been fined £5.6m by the regulator, Ofcom, for failing to hit its first- and second-class targets in the 2022-23 financial year.
The most recent performance figures for July to September disclose that in some areas more than one in three first-class letters did not arrive the next day, including post in north-west London, Oxford, Watford, Luton, Wolverhampton and Stoke-on-Trent. The cost of a first-class stamp rose from £1.10 to £1.25 in October.
Royal Mail is now at risk of further action from Ofcom. In the six months to September only 74.4% of first-class mail was delivered within one working day. Nearly 93% of second-class mail was delivered within three working days, with a target of 98.5%.
Royal Mail has not hit its letter targets for more than three years. It has now failed to hit its first-class delivery target in every postal area in the UK for five consecutive quarters, according to its quality of service reports.
It blames higher than usual vacancy rates and sickness absences for affecting delivery in the first two quarters of the 2023-24 financial year. It has embarked on a substantial recruitment drive since the summer.
Since the pandemic, households across the UK have complained of delays in the delivery of mail, including missed hospital appointments, bank cards failing to arrive and delayed legal correspondence, prompting MPs and councillors to raise concerns.
Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, the campaigning organisation for senior citizens, said: “They have put up the price of a first-class stamp to a ridiculous price of £1.25 and at the same time the quality of service has been plummeting. It’s not recognisable from the service that we used to get a few years ago.”
He said there was a steady flow of complaints to Silver Voices about the late delivery of letters, and it appeared some short-staffed postal depots were “saving up post” and then delivering it in batches.
Kieron Macknight, 37, an IT consultant from south London, said his apartment block had many instances of delayed mail, which was sometimes more than a month late. “Occasionally we have received a bill, the first reminder and the second reminder all in the same set of letters,” he said. “We have periods of three to four weeks of regular mail, a month or two of sporadic mail, and then maybe two or three weeks of zero mail.”
He said there had been repeated complaints to Royal Mail about the delays, but managers would not acknowledge there were problems. “The management seems to have their heads in the sand about these issues,” he said.
Kris Bartlett, 80, from Kidlington, Oxfordshire, said she posted a first-class letter earlier this year to an address in Oxford, less than 10 miles away, and it took six weeks to arrive. “They’re not taking on enough people,” she said.
Citizens Advice said Royal Mail had routinely increased its prices while failing to hit its targets with “consumers getting less despite paying more”.
Under the universal service obligation (USO), Royal Mail must deliver letters to every address in the UK six days a week but it wants to move to five-day delivery, while Ofcom is reviewing the future of the obligation.
A Royal Mail spokesperson said that there had recently been “higher than usual vacancy rates and sickness absences at delivery offices”. They added that about 500 employees had been hired every week since the summer and wellbeing programmes had been introduced to support colleagues.
The spokesperson said there was an urgent need to reform the USO, adding: “Letter volumes have fallen by more than 60% since their peak. We welcome Ofcom’s review of the universal service, but the need for reform is urgent.”