Ofcom backs UK rollout for Royal Mail’s Delivery to a Neighbour

UK regulators are holding a final consultation on Royal Mail’s plans to roll out its “Delivery to a Neighbour” programme for parcels across the country. The universal service provider is currently the only parcel delivery firm in the UK that is not allowed to leave a parcel with a neighbour when the recipient is not at home, but Royal Mail has been running trials on such an approach in six areas since November 2011.

Last month, Royal Mail said its trials involving 748,000 homes had found 92% of parcel recipients satisfied with the alternative arrangements.

Royal Mail now wants to extend the delivery approach to all 28.8m addresses nationwide in time for Christmas 2012.

The regulator Ofcom today proposed approving Royal Mail’s plans, in a consultation set to run until 24 August.

The proposal would change an existing system in which Royal Mail leaves a card at addresses when recipients are not home to take delivery of a parcel or mailpiece requiring a signature, informing them that they can collect the item from a delivery office, re-arrange delivery or pay GBP 1.50 to have the item delivered to a local post office.

The regulator concluded: “We consider that a delivery to neighbour service will improve the convenience and flexibility of the delivery service for postal users and should enable Royal Mail to provide a more efficient service.”

Ofcom said Royal Mail had pledged to publicise its new approach, including with a leaflet posted to every door, and that as in the trials, householders will be able to opt out of having items left with a neighbour.

The key concern from the trials was the awareness among customers that they can opt out of the programme, and awareness among mail carriers of which addresses had opted out.

Ofcom said Royal Mail will send stickers, free of charge, to those customers opting out, to be placed close to letterboxes in order to alert mail carriers to their opt-out status. The regulator will be discussing certain performance indicators to monitor this when the nationwide rollout occurs.

Royal Mail commented last month that its trials showed support from the public, with convenience cited as a major benefit of the approach.

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“In the areas where Royal Mail trialled the scheme showed a lot of support”

The proposal to extend Delivery to a Neighbour was met today with welcoming responses from national consumer advocates Consumer Focus and the postal union, the Communication Workers Union.

Both groups said there was public support for the delivery alternative.

Robert Hammond, director of postal policy at Consumer Focus stressed the need for Royal Mail to promote the initiative and allow consumers the right to opt out.

But he said in an age with increasing parcel deliveries thanks to online commerce, it was “right” for Royal Mail to see delivery to neighbours as a way of making life easier for its customers.

“Our own consumer research in the areas where Royal Mail trialled the scheme showed a lot of support from customers involved,” said Hammond.

“However, this is not the single solution to the issue of delivery convenience, and we call on Royal Mail to explore other ways of making it easier for customers to receive goods that need to be delivered.”

The CWU, Britain’s largest postal union, said Delivery to a Neighbour was a “sound scheme which makes good operational sense” as parcel volumes continue to grow.

Dave Ward, the CWU deputy general secretary said it was “high time” that Royal Mail had the same delivery freedoms as other operators when recipients were not at home.

“We’ve been fully involved in the trials, which have largely gone well,” he said. “Our only concern is that it could take postal workers longer to complete their deliveries under this scheme, so we want to ensure that sufficient time is built into the shifts if and when this is rolled out UK-wide.”

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