Postcomm and Postwatch:- the Consumer Council for Postal Services
Postcomm and Postwatch
What we can do to help you
This note summarises what Postwatch and the Postal Services Commission (Postcomm) can do to help you if the Post Office has failed to provide you with an acceptable level of service.
If private sector businesses do not provide their customers with the service for which they have contracted then they can usually be forced to pay compensation. But this redress is not usually available to customers of the Post Office. For a start, most mail services are provided under a legal "scheme" which strictly limits the liability of the Post Office if anything goes wrong.
There are good reasons for the existence of this scheme. After all, most mail is deposited in post boxes so there is no proof of posting, the Post Office has no control over the value of the mail that it handles, and it cannot check the accuracy or legibility of the address. Also, any organisation which handles 75 million items each night is bound to damage or mis-sort a few of them, or find that one envelope gets caught up in another. It would therefore not be reasonable to require the Post Office to accept potentially large liabilities as a result of offering to provide a service which costs only 19p or 27p per item. Instead, compensation is limited to £27.00 for first class, second class and recorded delivery mail – for all of which a Certificate of Posting is available free from post offices. The Special Delivery Service should be used for particularly urgent or valuable items, and for items whose movements need to be specially tracked.
But the existence of the special scheme – and the sheer size of the Post Office – means that consumers of Post Office services can be in a weak position if something goes wrong. That is why the Government has set up Postwatch to act as a watchdog. It has also set up Postcomm to regulate the Postal Services Industry in general, and the Post Office in particular.
Postwatch (telephone 020 7259 1200) is an influential organisation, set up by Act of Parliament,which can ensure that the Post Office looks properly at service issues and individual complaints. However, Postwatch does not have large resources and yet has to handle about 10,000 complaints and related enquiries each year. This means that only a few minutes of staff time can be devoted to most complaints. There is no question of Postwatch being able to carry out an independent investigation. It can however ensure that complaints are properly investigated by the Post Office itself.
But change is on the way. First, the Government has promised further resources for Postwatch, and a Director of Complaints has been appointed. Second, the Government has created Postcomm which will be working closely with Postwatch and regulating Post Office prices and service quality from 26 March 2001.
Postcomm has prepared a draft licence which should lead to a steady improvement in the Post Office's service quality, and might in due course lead to:-
A scheme to compensate business users who can show that they have received poor service.
Penalty payments payable to individuals or communities who consistently receive poor service.
Postwatch will continue to deal with customers' complaints and enquiries. Where necessary, however, Postwatch will refer cases to Postcomm that require enforcement action under the Post Office’s licence.
Postcomm and Postwatch hope that these or similar measures will bring about a noticeable improvement in the performance of the Post Office, and will offer greatly improved redress in those cases where the Post Office continues to fail to provide an acceptable level of service.