Royal Mail has brought its final posting dates for Christmas forward by about a week amid industrial action by its workers, as the regulator told it to stop blaming the Covid pandemic for failing to make deliveries on time.
Royal Mail, which is facing six days of strikes this month running up until Christmas Eve, has told the public to send their cards and presents even earlier than usual if they want them to arrive in time.
The final date for second class deliveries is now 12 December while for first class it is 16 December. Delivery deadlines to international destinations have been brought forward, with the last being to Belgium, France and Luxembourg on 12 December. The final posting date of any kind before Christmas is Special Delivery Guaranteed on 21 December.
Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents more than 115,000 postal workers, have already held 12 days of strike action in an increasingly bitter and protracted dispute with management over pay and conditions, and further stoppages are planned on 9, 11, 14, 15, 23 and 24 December.
“The CWU is striking at our busiest time, holding Christmas to ransom for our customers, businesses and families across the country,” said Nick Landon, chief commercial officer at Royal Mail. “We ask our customers to post early for Christmas to help us deliver Christmas.”
Last week, the union rejected a pay deal that Royal Mail said was its final offer. The company is facing 18 days of strikes this year if all the planned action takes place. It has said the eight days of strikes up until 16 November cost it £100m,
On Friday, the postal regulator said Royal Mail could not keep blaming the Covid-19 pandemic for failing to make deliveries on time as its performance is falling “well short of where it should be”.
Ofcom said an investigation found the company had failed to meet several of its annual delivery targets, including only 82% of first class mail making it to recipients within one working day of collection in the year to the end of March, against a regulatory target of 93%.
Royal Mail blamed the pandemic for failing to hit its targets, citing staff absence, particularly during the Omicron wave last Christmas, social-distancing measures and “unusually high parcel volumes and sizes” protracting the length of the delivery process.
“Looking back at last year, Covid-19 was clearly still having a significant impact on Royal Mail’s operations,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s group director for networks and communications. “However, the company’s had plenty of time to learn lessons from the pandemic, and cannot continue to use it as an excuse.
“We’re concerned by Royal Mail’s performance so far this year, which is falling well short of where it should be. It must do everything it can to bring service levels back up, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on it throughout the year.”
Ofcom’s report found that while more than 80% of households said they were satisfied with Royal Mail, 31% said they experienced delayed post in the past year, up from 23% pre-pandemic.
A Royal Mail spokesperson apologised for the drop in service standards but also pointed out that the company was responsible for delivering millions of Covid-19 test kits via 35,000 priority post boxes.
“We apologise to all customers who were impacted by service levels during this time,” said the spokesperson. “We are pleased that Ofcom also took into account the significant, pervasive and unprecedented impact of the pandemic on our operation as we worked hard to keep the country connected while addressing the ongoing impacts of Covid-19, including managing high levels of sickness absences. Our focus remains to restore our service to the high standards our customers expect to receive.”
Ofcom’s annual analysis of the UK postal market also found that the pandemic effect that fuelled an increase in parcels and drop in letters has worn off as shops and businesses reopened following the easing of restrictions.
Last month, Royal Mail asked the government to let it stop delivering letters on Saturdays, arguing it is financially unsustainable after it reported a £219m loss in the six months to September.
The embattled company, which last month warned it may need to cut up to 10,000 jobs by August, made a £235m profit in the same period last year.