Thursday, 9 September 2010

Royal Mail - mountains of junk through your letterbox



Royal Mail - again. In a saga that goes back a long way...

Junkmail
The Mailing Preference Service (MPS) is supposed to help you prevent all the wasteful junk that comes through your door. Except it is a bit rubbish, because it is run by the junkmail industry, i.e. the people sending you the unwanted rubbish in the first place. That is why they use an 'opt-out' system so that you have to go out of your way to stop receiving junkmail, rather than 'opt-in' whereby you would get no junkmail unless you asked for it, and would save mountains of paper overnight. The MPS still try and put you off opting-out first, and even then it only lasts a limited period and they do not inform you when the registration runs out. Just to show how utterly crap they are, they ignore companies who address junkmail to 'The Occupier' - their advice in those cases is "If you are receiving mailings addressed to the occupier or homeowner you must contact the company who sent the mailing directly and ask to be removed from their delivery lists" - my emphasis. Right, so you should spend your time writing to unscrupulous junkmail companies, giving them your confirmed contact details? As if that won't just increase the amount of unsolicited crap that comes through your door?



The final twist - Royal Mail run their own junkmail system and ignore whether or not you have registered with the Mailing Preference Service not to receive unsolicited junkmail. Instead they force you to register separately with them if you don't want piles of wasted paper and advertising pushing through your letterbox into your home. See the pattern here, that by making all this difficult for the homeowner they hope people will allow them to keep making money by shoving crap through your letterbox. [Note - the fact that you can even opt-out is hidden on the Royal Mail site in order to discourage you from using it. Expect a link on the first page? No chance. Even the link 'Marketing Services' - the obvious place to go to opt out of them - is a red herring, leading instead to a page that tries to persuade companies to send even more junkmail.]



Trying to stop the junkmail, 2006
I digress. Back in November 2006 I went through the process for 'opting out' of junkmail put through my door by Royal Mail. I was sick of having to sort and recycle all this rubbish, removing non-recyclable things like staples and envelope windows and enclosed pens or cards.

The email from Royal Mail first made a big effort to try and persuade you not to opt-out. Then it told you it would take up to six weeks (even though they only have to pass on your details to the local delivery office, which takes five minutes unless you are grossly inefficient). I filled in the form and returned it. I heard nothing. I emailed them November 16th 2006. Nothing. I emailed them again on November 20th 2006 asking for confirmation. Nothing. Again on December 8th 2006, saying that I was still getting unsolicited (and un-addressed) junk mail posted by Royal Mail. Nothing. Then again on January 15th 2007 saying that unless they replied I would make a complaint. No reply. At the end of January 2007 I complained to Postwatch, pointing out that Royal Mail were refusing to reply, and I was STILL getting unaddressed junk mail. Royal Mail hadn't removed my address from their junk database even though I have asked them to do so many times. I asked why I should have to go to all that trouble to stop getting something I didn't want in the first place? Junk mail is a curse, and a waste of resources. I also complained that Royal Mail stated: "It is not possible for us to separate advertising material and information that you may want, such as leaflets from Central and Local Government and other public bodies. Opting out from Royal Mail Door to Door stops all unaddressed items." Which? magazine had reported that Royal Mail were lying about this, and you will still get important Government material. Postwatch refused to do anything (email of Feb 1st 2007) - because Royal Mail had not been given enough opportunity to respond...

I gave up for some time, incredibly frustrated.



More than a year later...
The unsolicited junkmail delivered by Royal Mail piled up. I decided to try again. I emailed Royal Mail on December 22nd 2007 asking them to exclude my address from their junkmail scheme. No reply. I tried again on April 11th 2008, pointing out all the communications over the years that they had not replied to, all the times I had registered to 'opt out' and that I was still having advertising junk put through my letterbox with the regular post. I also complained that they used an 'opt-out' system which - even if it wasn't a complete failure - unfairly puts the onus on the person who never asked for environmentally-damaging and wasteful junkmail in the first place.

Guess what? No response.

I went back to Postwatch. On 16th April 2008 Postwatch's Consumer Services Officer took my case to Royal Mail. I was very pleased to have them on my side. In their letter to Royal Mail they said:
1. Please offer a sincere apology for the service failure and the inconvenience and stress caused to this person.
2. Please contact your Door-to Door department and explain why the Opt Out service is failing despite the paperwork being completed on several occasions?
3. Please investigate and explain why this customer does not receive a response to his emails.
4. Please ensure the Opt Out service is set up immediately without another form being needed to ensure no further inconvenience is caused to the customer.
5. What assurances can Royal Mail offer that the customer can rely on delivery of this unwanted advertising material to stop?
Royal Mail were quick enough to respond when it wasn't just a little customer. In Postwatch's summary of 29th April 2008 they said:
"Royal Mail has confirmed that the opt out instruction has been in place since 18 January 2008, but unfortunately, the failures you have experienced have been due to human error. This has been compounded by the fact that the delivery frames were changed and the instructions were not clearly displayed. This has now been rectified and the area Door to Door Manager has been notified of the failure. I am hopeful these steps taken will result in an immediate and sustained improvement to your service and you will receive no more unwanted mail."
Postwatch can't be faulted there. The interesting point is that even with the opt-out scheme in place I was still receiving junkmail posted by Royal Mail at the same time as delivering my letters. But surely now I wouldn't get any more?



Yeah, right.

I continued to get leaflets pushed through with my post. It was not possible to get back in touch with the Royal Mail staff who had finally responded to my query - I asked Postwatch for the contact details to save time but they said (in an email of June 9th 2008):

"Unfortunately, I cannot give you contact details for any of the staff mentioned in Royal Mail's response as the department we deal with is non-customer facing."
A surprisingly apt (if unintentional) choice of words there. Without a direct contact in Royal Mail my only option was escalating things to Postwatch! I sent them photos of the junkmail I had still been receiving, all delivered with my normal post.

On 26th June 2008 Postwatch wrote to Royal Mail again, asking them to:
1. Please investigate this matter fully and advise why the latest failure occurred despite Royal Mail’s previous assurances.
2. Please interview the Delivery Officer responsible for the failures and inform Postwatch of their comments.
3. What guarantees can Royal Mail offer that matters of this nature are taken seriously and the customer will not receive material of this nature in future?
Postwatch forwarded me the reply they received on 16th July 2008, and Postwatch's Consumer Services Officer added:

"I am glad that Royal Mail have apologised for the upset and inconvenience caused by this matter and have again reported the failure to the Delivery Office Manager. The reserve Delivery Officer who made the mistake has been interviewed and the whole Delivery Team has been briefed to ensure they are aware of your decision to Opt Out of Door to Door deliveries. Furthermore, the Special Instruction Card has also been highlighted to alert all staff to this escalated complaint. Royal Mail are confident that you will not receive any more direct/advertising mail. I appreciate that Royal Mail have offered these assurances previously, however, I hope that the improvement is immediate and sustained as a result of this complaint."
The last bit rang warning bells.

I just want to add something here. All along I was annoyed at the Royal Mail policy of making money by adding to the junkmail we receive. The decisions to do this, and to make opting out almost impossible are taken by management idiots at the highest levels of Royal Mail. I'm sure that the postal workers who sort and deliver mail are under huge pressures to do their jobs. I never wanted them to get told off or to have to deal with more complicated systems. I just wanted to stop getting junkmail, and it is obvious that current Royal Mail system does not enable you to do that.



Did it work? Did I stop getting junkmail?

Since I first tried to opt out in 2006 I have continued to receive junkmail. I took to taking photos of some of it, in case I ever felt like 'opting out' again and wanted to show what I had received. I have interspersed a selection of the images throughout this post and below to show that I continue to receive it four years later. I should add - avoid ever using any of the following crappy companies who pay Royal Mail to deliver their crappy junkmail. It is their fault that ridiculous undirected marketing systems like this continue to thrive.




What is needed?

The current system is hidden and ineffective and is a hassle, so something needs to change so we don't remain prisoners of endless junkmail. The amount of time and paper wasted nationally with unsolicited junkmail is irresponsible, and Royal Mail and the MPS should not be putting the onus on the person receiving unwanted junk to do something. One of the following systems would make it easier for people to avoid mountains of wasteful junk.
  1. If you register with the Mailing Preference Service not to get junkmail then the request should automatically go on to Royal Mail and they should act on it. After 5 years the MPS could write and tell you it will expire, and give an option to extend it for another 5 years via post, email, web or phone.
  2. The opt-out system is obviously flawed. An even better option is that Royal Mail (and the MPS) should switch to an opt-in system i.e. if you want junkmail you request it. Then everybody is happy.
  3. The final option would be that once every two years Royal Mail would put a freepost card through every door saying that if you want to opt out of junkmail you can tick it and put your address on and post it back. Even better, the MPS would have access to the database and act on it too. Then no-one who doesn't want junk would get it, for the cost of one recyclable (and recycled-material) card as opposed to the bags of junkmail at present.
We have written to Royal Mail, the Mailing Preference Service and Postwatch about this issue, asking what they intend to do. We will award our usual 'crap scores' later, and then take the issue on to MPs and Government Ministers if we are not satisfied.

Update 16 September 2010: After seven days Royal Mail finally replied - with a standard cut and pasted response about something other than the issues we raised. How do I know it was a cut and paste job? It is identical text to emails received over a year ago. What absolute crap. Royal Mail's Customer Services don't even read and respond to your letters! Amazing levels of contempt for customers on display there. Even worse, you have no way of getting back in touch to follow up a response: the email just points you back to their website. So you can start again and get ignored all over again. CCS has emailed them again asking for the contact details of a manager, since this system of theirs is worse than hopeless. It is not clear how anyone could trust Royal Mail with a letter (or anything communications related) if this is their standard level of ineptitude. In our email we said:

"I contacted Royal Mail through this form and received a reply that completely ignored my points and instead sent me a standard response to an obviously common query, but not at all what I had asked. Please send me the email address of one of the Customer Services MANAGERS so that I can take my query up with someone more senior. I am sick of having my time wasted in this way i.e. having my email ignored then being told to start all over again and fill in another form."
Update 26 September 2010: Yesterday (after another nine days) someone at Royal Mail said they agreed that my query had not been answered and they would get back to me.

It has been 17 days since I contacted the Mailing Preference Service. They have chosen not to respond at all, as expected, presumably because they are run by the people who want you to get unsolicited junkmail. I sent them a final email today saying that I can only assume MPS don't care about the frustration their policies cause.

9 days ago ConsumerFocus got in touch and said they would reply shortly. Nothing has been heard from them since that email either. A reminder was sent today, but shouldn't be necessary.

Update 1 October 2010: Yesterday the MPS finally replied. It was no surprise that the email simply stated the current situation, pointed out that it was possible to 'reduce the unwanted mailing' by going out of your way to regularly register with various schemes, and ending by saying "a large proportion of people welcome the information and special offers they receive by post". It is no surprise that the MPS won't change the current system when it attempts to legitimise unsolicited junk mail. After all, the MPS is run by the Direct Marketing Association - the association which makes money from sending junkmail. It is like asking criminals to manage prisons - absolute nonsense.

Consumer Focus also replied the same day, but their email likewise read as an attempt to justify the status quo. The email said:

"There are several types of direct mail: named and addressed, addressed only, and unaddressed, and one scheme cannot cover all types."

Untrue - a system could be created to cover all types. It is just that the junkmail industry would resist any such move.

As to the suggestion that the industry switches to an opt-in system, Consumer Focus commented:

"If an opt-in system were to be implemented (at great cost, and it is not clear who would bear this) there is likely to be a sharp drop in the amount of direct mail being sent"

Yes, there would be a drop in unsolicited junkmail - that is the whole point! It would be a very effective way of stopping it. As to who would pay for the system: that would be the junkmail senders, such as the Direct Marketing Association, as is the case now. If they refused to foot the bill for their own industry then the Government could just ban unsolicited junkmail outright (hey, that's a good idea actually!)

The email included outright factual errors. E.g. Consumer Focus said:

"Registration with the Mailing Preference Service lasts for five years, and when your registration expires the MPS will send you a new opt-out form."

Wrong. The MPS FAQ here clearly states:

"After 5 years you will need to re-register with the service. Please note, that MPS will not notify you of this"

The final piece of dodgy information in the email was:

"it is estimated that 95% of paper used in direct marketing comes from recycled or managed resources"

Estimated by who? The junkmail senders? Anyway, 'managed' means nothing at all. Even a forest where most of the trees are just cut down is 'managed'. 'Recycled' is also meaningless alone, since the term is abused by the paper industry to sometimes include virgin pulp. Only 'post-consumer waste' recycled paper is environmentally acceptable. I receive a lot of junkmail, despite registering for all the opt-out schemes. All of it is on pristine white paper, often with plastic cards, windows and pens, and none of it labelled as recycled (let alone 'post-consumer waste' recycled paper). To make spurious claims about the junk coming through our letterboxes makes it seem as if Consumer Focus is more in the pocket of the junkmail industry than on the side of the consumer. Disappointing.

Update 9 October 2010: On 2nd October Mike Griffiths, Royal Mail Customer Service Advisor, replied by email. So it took about 23 days to get a reply. Unfortunately the reply was just a justification of their current policy - inevitable when they make money out of their junkmail scheme. (This is why it is stupid that the administration of policy is in the hands of the people who benefit from the current state of affairs: Royal Mail and the Direct Marketing Association. Nothing can change when there is corruption at this level.) Let us look at some of Mike's comments.

"the policy for it to last two years is a decision made on the basis that people do move house. "

People move house every two years? I think not. The MPS register you for 5 years - why can't Royal Mail do the same, so that it simplifies things for people?

"At the end of the two year period we would need to receive a signature from the resident confirming that they are still the householder and that they still wish to opt-out from receiving unaddressed mail."

This is disingenuous. It implies Royal Mail have some process whereby you can sign a bit of paper and extend the opt-out. You cannot. You have to go through the whole process again.

"I should explain that this is not a Royal Mail Policy, but a decision made by our Marketing Department based on various research"

What is that supposed to mean? If it is acted on then it is Royal Mail policy, regardless of which department created it. And in the first quote he said it was Royal Mail policy. Royal Mail seem to be just plain confused here.

"Finally, we do not currently notify occupiers of an address that their opt-out instructions are about to expire. ... we have no plans to change this practice"

But that was the thing I was complaining about! Repeating what I wrote in my email is no kind of answer.

"Please accept my apologies for the time it has taken me to reply and if I can help you with anything else, please let me know quoting reference number 1-1576220081. Regards Mike Griffiths Customer Service Advisor"

The twist here: no contact details for Mike were included, and the top of the email said:

"PLEASE DO NOT USE REPLY BUTTON AS YOUR MAIL WILL BE DISCARDED"

So there is no way to get back to him apart from starting the whole process again and going through the offputting barrier of the Royal Mail online form, due to their policy of not using email properly (i.e. that big button in email software that says 'reply'). Their form is definitely a barrier - you have to go through various irrelevant options, then select 'Report a fault' even if you just want to send a comment. And you are forced to select a 'title' even if you don't use them because they are an outdated sexist and elitist way of distinguishing between people.

The final kicker is that I had registered to opt-out AGAIN on Monday 6th September, yet am still receiving unaddressed junkmail for Royal Mail. They receive the request, and all they have to do is email it to the nearest delivery office. It should take an hour or two at the most. Not 33 days and counting!!! Proof of how shit their system is (if more were needed).

So we got nowhere with Royal Mail, the DMA, or ConsumerFocus. All just attempted to justify existing practice. Next we are contacting our MEPs and MP to see what they can do about this de facto junkmail quango. In the interests of fairness we have attempted to inform the quango of our next steps and why we are dissatisfied with the Royal Mail junkmail system, communication systems, and the fact that the opt-out system is a failure.

Update 23 October 2010: Only one of the MEPs did (John Bufton, UKIP) but he just said they didn't have any faith in politics: "If your MP's are unwilling to help, I can assure you, that it is probably because our national government is powerless to do anything about it. MEP's are just as powerless as they only vote on certain legislation, and due to the fact that we only have 78 MEP's, Britain always gets out voted. So much for elected representatives." The MEPs Kay Swinburne (Conservative), Derek Vaughan (Labour) and Jill Evans (Plaid Cymru) did not reply at all. So much for elected representatives.

[Addendum: On 1st November 2010 one of Jill Evan's staff replied, saying:
"On the opting out front I recommend stayprivate.org as a way to cut your own personal junk mail (and cold calling). It's a simpler and longer lasting way of engaging with MPS. It's a service set up by CF Labs to make the process of opting out easier."
They also pointed to this site as being potentially useful. No answer to the long term problems of junkmail though.]

[Addendum: On 16th November 2010 Kay Swinburne replied, as follows. Here is a shortcut to the link mentioned.



She also forwarded a further letter on 21 February 2011, though it was a copy-protected PDF so had to be printed and scanned to make it available below.


[Addendum: On 30th November 2010 Mark Williams MP replied, as follows:
"I share your opinions on junk mail. It is a waste of money, time and most importantly, resources. It is disappointing that the Mail Preference Service, The Royal Mail and ConsumerFocus have not been able to offer an effective service to stop such wasteful actions.

I have sent a letter to Edward Davey the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State who leads on Postal Affairs to ask whom to contact over the issue, and what the Government are doing to address this matter. I have attached a copy of this letter and will forward you the response as soon as I receive it.]
[Addendum: On 29th December 2010 Mark Williams MP forwarded a reply from Edward Davey MP at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. Unfortunately BIS' reply suggested contacting the Mailing Preference Service; registering for the Royal Mail Door to Door Service; and contacting the Direct Marketing Association. As this blog shows, I have done all of those things to no avail. The current system is a failure. The letter ends with : "There are no plans to regulate unsolicited mail". BIS obviously don't want to make themselves unpopular with the marketers so things are unlikely to change.]

Update 24 October 2010: Still getting unaddressed junkmail being delivered by the postman, despite having registered to opt out with Royal Mail.


Junkmail like this is delivered by Royal Mail most days - despite having registered to stop receiving it almost two months ago.

Their whole process is stupid and offputting. When you eventually find their web pages it says:

"If you wish to opt out of receiving Door to Door mail items, please send or email your name and address to the address below [...] or email: optout@royalmail.com.

We will then send an opt-out form to your address, which you must sign and return. We do this for security reasons - to verify that those resident at the address have requested the ‘opt out’. "

In this day and age of online communication it is ridiculous that they require a printed form to be returned. A printed form is no more 'proof' of identity than an email. It is just another way for Royal Mail to put you off.

"Once you’ve returned this form, Royal Mail will stop delivering unaddressed items to your address within 6 weeks. "

As we said above, how long should it reasonably take for them to send notice to your local delivery office? 24 hours? 36? But not 6 WEEKS. That is just taking the piss.

Despite going through this process I am still getting unaddressed junkmail from Royal Mail after almost 8 weeks. I have contacted Royal Mail and heard nothing. I got no reply to my two emails to optout@royalmail.com querying this. So the whole system is a joke anyway. This is the same experience the whole blog post started with - even when you 'opt out' you still receive the unaddressed junkmail from Royal Mail - they are incapable of running a user-friendly system.

Note that the automated emails from Royal Mail when you contact them actually say:

"If you still wish to proceed with this, you will need to submit your request in writing to the Door to Door team, at the address below, or email them at optout@royalmail.com. They will then notify your local Delivery Office of your request."

That clearly states that you can opt out via email - but when you try it they refuse, and claim that it is not possible. Is it any wonder the system is a mess?

Update 11 November 2010: Royal Mail are still delivering junkmail nine weeks after I registered not to recieve it. Query emails to optout@royalmail.com have received no response; using the main Royal Mail website contact form only leads to automated messages directing to optout@royalmail.com. The system is a mess. How can I take this forward when no Royal Mail contact details are given apart from those two, and they just send you in circles?

On October 24th I contacted Consumerfocus again, pointing out the above. I also complained that "that Royal Mail only leave their system in place for two years, and do not inform you and give you a chance to renew at the end of it. MPS registrations runs for 5 years, which is more acceptable. It would be simpler for consumers if both systems ran for 5 years. Is ConsumerFocus doing anything to rationalise these two systems for the benefit of the consumer?"

and pointed out that Royal Mail's optout emails say "If you still wish to proceed with this, you will need to submit your request in writing to the Door to Door team, at the address below, or email them at optout@royalmail.com. They will then notify your local Delivery Office of your request." That clearly states that you can opt out via email - but when you try it they refuse, and claim that it is not possible. I asked if ConsumerFocus force Royal Mail to enable opt-out by email or online form as they offer in that email, since it would be a huge benefit for consumers.

ConsumerFocus have not replied. They obviously don't give a toss about consumers.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about collecting all the junk mail and putting it in a post box? When the post boxes get jammed with junk mail maybe Royal Mail will take notice.

CCS said...

That's one option!

Anonymous said...

Fed up with junk mail? I'm more fed up with trying to get rid of it!

Having registered an address with MPS (mail preference service - run by the Direct Marketing Association, ie people sending out junk mail
http://www.mpsonline.org.uk/mpsr/) some time ago I got really fed up with all the junk still arriving. I decided to re-register the address on the MPS website. Having registered online (for which you need an email address.What about people who don't have an email address?) you then get sent an email saying you have to click on the link in the email in order to activate the request. And guess what? Yup, that link just don't work. It goes to an error page. Ergo, the request to not have junk mail has not been processed.

So, the back up is to use the Royal Mail Opt Out scheme. (NB why are these all opt out, forcing the resident to take action? It should be the other way round, we only get junk mail if we actively opt in, but that would make no money for marketeers.). However, having had this in place for a while, I started getting unaddressed junk mail, again. I tried emailing their generic email, but, guess what, it just generates an automatic email response saying 'thank you for your interest in the opt out Door to Door service, some forms will be posted to you'. I DON'T WANT FORMS! I just want my email to be read by a human, and acted upon.
Sure enough, a few days later, two (yes, that's two), separate envelopes arrived with duplicate contents - the forms to register for the opt out scheme. I don't need to register, I was just pointing out that the system was pretty poor and that the local delivery depot needed reminding that my address was on the opt out scheme and I don't want to receive any unaddressed junk mail crap.

It's surely not that much to ask for is it?

CCS said...

We know how you feel, having experienced this rigmarole ourselves. It's complete crap. Yes, it should be opt-in, but that is unlikely to happen because the people with the power to do that - marketers and royal Mail - have a vested interest in keeping junk mail coming in through your letterbox. A pox on them all.

Brenda said...

At least royal mail can actually find your mail box! That's more than can be said for DPD re my own mailbox!