Firstly thanks to the Royal Mail press office for a response at 10.30 this morning, which for a query sent on Saturday is pretty good going.
A clear unambiguous answer was given to me, I asked:
The simple question is: if a household puts a notice above their letter box saying “don’t deliver to neighbours”, will it be honoured?
and was told:
In answer to your specific point, the trial does not involve an “opt-out” facility.
So, secondly, apologies to Consumer Focus for suggesting they might be after cheap publicity.
The consultation document is available online, and makes interesting reading and raises some of the key points but not all. I’d urge you to read it and respond to the address included in it. (I won’t put it in the body of the post, but it is on page 13 of the PDF document along with the questions.)
It is clear that the choice of neighbour would be up to Royal Mail:
Royal Mail proposes that its delivery staff will have a degree of flexibility to identify a suitable choice of neighbour who is willing to accept delivery of an undeliverable item at the time of delivery. If a suitable neighbour is identified the item will be left with the neighbour and a card will be placed through the letterbox of the addressee notifying them that an item has been left with the relevant neighbour. Royal Mail proposes that: “a neighbour can be defined as a person who lives within close proximity to the stated delivery address on the item. They may be a next door neighbour or someone who lives in close proximity.”
There is no guarantee that any wishes expressed by the addressee would be respected, and the response to my question indicates the intention to ignore such expressions.
Without an opt-out this raises all sorts of problems. Even without malicious or incapable neighbours receiving packages you have issues with confidentiality: neighbours would note a signed for letter from a lawyer say, or a package with interesting return to address.
Then you have problems with neighbours acting with good intentions. With good-will I could accept a package as you are at work. If I work shifts it isn’t inconceivable that it could be many days before we are both awake and in at the same time. This however isn’t a killer blow: you’d learn to refuse packages and it will probably still be quicker than finding time to go to collect a package for many.
The killer is the malicious neighbour: the neighbour who takes the package and opens it, or denies receiving it. The violation of confidentiality is one problem: There is scope malicious outing of someone’s political or religious views or sexuality. Consider a signed for legal documents or replacement credit card going to such a neighbour. Then there is outright theft: I’ve always wanted a copy of that DVD, and no I never received it. The hassle in sorting that out would be considerable, and in the meantime it could be repeating, moreover Postcomm’s consultation says:
If the changes proposed by Royal Mail are ultimately accepted, whether as a contractual matter and/or in the context of revised regulatory conditions under the regime established under the Postal Services Act 2011, it appears to us to be a consequence that Royal Mail will effectively have limited its liability for any loss or damage to relevant postal packets from the point at which the item is left with the neighbour selected by Royal Mail. From that point, liability for any loss or damage to the relevant item will rest with the neighbour. The implications of that , in terms of contractual liability, liability under Royal Mail schemes, responsibility under any “essential conditions”, or in the context of the relevant offences under sections 83 and 84 of the Postal Services Act 20008 are acknowledged by Royal Mail in its application.
Put simply: go to Royal Mail and they might tell you to go away. (Original draft had a ruder expression here.) Again even for a neighbour with good will this raises issues that could be considerable: do you have accidental damage insurance? How do you establish it was or wasn’t broken before delivery to the neighbour? I should make clear Postcomm are asking about this issue in the consulation.
This is simply resolved by making it opt-out, or better yet opt-in.
So kudos to the Royal Mail press team, and brickbats to whoever thought this was a sensible approach.
Now to write a version of this to Postcomm.