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Lacking a fixed address or a safe place to receive mail will worsen Covid hardships, warns Citizens Advice

24 September 2020

Citizens Advice has found that seven million people (14% of UK adults) have been unable to receive their post at some point over the last decade. 

A survey conducted on behalf of the charity also found that just under one in eight (12%) people have been unable to apply for services like health appointments, welfare, banking, and even jobs, because they lack an address to put on applications. This rises to one in four (24%) with disabled people and just over a quarter (29%) for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people.  

The charity found that these issues disproportionately affect people in unsafe and precarious living situations. For instance, those who sleep rough or live in temporary accommodation, or those who have their post intercepted by an abuser. 

A third (34%) of people surveyed said they’d struggle to manage their finances without post. This rises to almost half for those on a low income (47%) and disabled people (46%).

With many more people looking for work or claiming benefits because of Covid-19, the charity says it’s more important than ever for everyone to have guaranteed access to postal services. Without access to post or an address, millions of people risk being left behind as a lack of fixed address may mean they’re unable to apply for jobs and benefits.

As concerns grow about the impact of the pandemic on the nation’s mental health, six in 10 (62%) people said they’d feel cut off from society if they couldn't send or receive post. Moreover, three in ten (28%) people would either struggle or be unable to keep in touch with family or friends without post. 

Although text and email reminders are becoming more common, four in five (79%) people say post is helpful or essential for managing their day to day lives. With 4.5 million adults across the country predicted to be digitally excluded by 2030, the charity warns digital methods shouldn't be solely relied upon to communicate vital information.

Citizens Advice finds that over the last 10 years:

  • 4.7 million people have missed appointments with key services, like court or employment related appointments, because of missed letters

  • 3 million people have experienced some financial loss - an average of £850 each - as a result of not being able to receive post

  • 3.6 million people have missed at least one healthcare appointment due to not receiving their post. This can lead to further health complications, and comes at an estimated cost of at least £223 million to taxpayers

  • 1.8 million people have missed out on employment opportunities as a result of missing letters

The charity, which has seen an increase in people seeking housing, redundancy and benefits advice, warns that the problem of people having no fixed address could be exacerbated in coming months as people risk eviction and homelessness.

It’s urging the government to commit to investing in an ‘Address & Collect’ service, which would work like a PO Box, to be provided at post offices. This would ensure the millions without mail would have equal access to the essential services necessary to rebuild their lives.

Case studies:

Citizens Advice spoke to Nick* who, when he was sleeping rough, was sent a letter from the council offering him a flat if he turned up at a given location on a specific day and time. But, because Nick was having his post sent to the local homeless shelter he didn’t get the letter in time and had to spend another 3 months sleeping rough before he was offered somewhere else.

Beth* was living with her abusive ex-partner who hid her post from her. He hid letters about her pension and bank statements to check up on her movements. It was only when Beth got a call from HMRC that she discovered she hadn’t been receiving letters that were sent to her. She later found a suitcase containing over 600 of her letters that her partner had hidden.

Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“People rely on post to access essential services and stay connected to friends and family. Though the government rightly aims for universal access to post, our current system is designed around letter boxes, not people. It’s vital the government acts now to ensure our postal system is truly universal.

“We’re seeing millions of people coming to us for help with redundancy, housing and welfare problems during the pandemic. This new research shows that lacking a fixed address or a place to receive mail can not only worsen these issues, but also hold people back from overcoming their challenges. There is a serious risk that if the issue is not addressed millions of people risk falling through the cracks.”

Notes to editors

  1. The full report ‘Millions without Mail’ is available.
  1. Citizens Advice commissioned the National Centre for Social Research to conduct quantitative research between 2nd March and 21st March 2020 on the extent to which people struggle to access their post and the impact this has on them. This involved an online survey of 15,000 UK adults using the Dynata panel. The research looked at a nationally representative sample of people from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Quotas were set to be nationally representative of region, age, and sex. 
  1. 62% UK adults say they’d feel cut off from society if they couldn’t send or receive post, figure from Ofcom Residential Postal Tracker 2019, QC3 p. 156
  1. Names have been changed to protect anonymity.
  1. This is the third time Citizens Advice has undertaken research into the consequences of not receiving post. In 2018, the charity found homeless people were having difficulty accessing essential public services due to a lack of a fixed address. Read the report ‘The postal paradox: how having no address keeps people homeless’ for more information. In February 2020 the charity published research on the issue of postal interception and domestic abuse. The full report  ‘On the receiving end’ can be found on the Citizens Advice website
  1. The majority (54%) of MPs surveyed by Citizens Advice said people in their constituency have struggled to access essential services because they don’t have a fixed address. In addition, seven in 10 MPs agreed with at least one of the proposals (72% with a free PO Box service, and 75% with an adjusted form of Poste Restante.) ComRes interviewed 151 MPs (79 Labour, 51 Conservative, 12 SNP, 9 other) online or by self-completion paper survey between 4 and 31 October 2018 to understand their experience of homeless constituents’ access to post, and thoughts on our proposed recommendations. Data were weighted by party and region to be representative of the House of Commons. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full data tables are available at www.comresglobal.com
  2. Citizens Advice includes the national charity; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
  1. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and post. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.
  2. Citizens Advice’s services are free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to all regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  4. For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 to talk in Welsh.
  5. We helped 2.6 million people face to face, by phone, email and webchat in 2017-18. For service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
  6. Citizens Advice staff are supported by over 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 locations in England and Wales.