Royal Mail letter delays blight Christmas for third year running

With some of us still receiving festive cards well into the New Year, Citizens Advice reveals that an estimated 31 million people (60% of UK adults) were hit by letter delays this Christmas.

Worryingly, this left a projected 6.2 million people missing important mail like health appointment letters.  

Amongst those who experienced delays this year:

  • 11% (an estimated 3.2 million) said they missed an important document, such as an insurance letter or legal document.

  • 8% (an estimated 2.1 million) said they missed a health appointment. 

This is the third festive period in a row where Citizens Advice has called for the Royal Mail to improve its performance. Between mid-December 2021 and mid-January 2022, the charity found that 28% of us experienced letter delays. And 31% were also left waiting in January 2021. While postal strikes are one aspect of performance this year, this record of failure shows more deep-seated problems at play. 

It’s perhaps little surprise that almost a quarter (23%) of people turned to more expensive products to send letters, such as Special Delivery Guaranteed, during Christmas 2022 . However, 39% of those who did still faced delays, despite paying extra.

Royal Mail has an obligation as Universal Service Provider to deliver mail on time, but it’s exempt from its targets around the Christmas period. Citizens Advice wants the regulator, Ofcom, to investigate Royal Mail’s performance in recent years and think again about not holding the firm to account over its performance during the festive period. 

At the same time as this continued poor service, consumers had to pay almost 50% more for a 1st class stamp now than they did five years ago. Citizens Advice wants Royal Mail to scrap any further stamp price rises at a time when performance is so poor.

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive at Citizens Advice, said:

“For a third year running, Royal Mail has let consumers down.

“Letter delays have real and worrying consequences, especially when people miss medical appointments or get bills late.

“Royal Mail’s virtual monopoly on letters means that Ofcom needs to take action to protect consumers from further harm. It must investigate Royal Mail’s culture of poor performance and stop letting the company off the hook over the festive season.”

Notes to editors

  1. Yonder Data Solutions surveyed 4,148 18+ UK adults between 6-10 January 2023 to ask them their experience of letter delays between early December 2022 and early January 2023. Questions that were asked included:

  2. Yonder Data Solutions surveyed 4,165 18+ UK adults between 14-18 January 2022 to ask them their experience of letter delays between mid-December 2021 and mid-January 2022. Questions that were asked included:

  3. Yonder Data Solutions surveyed 2,090 18+ UK adults between 29-31 January 2021 to ask them their experience of letter delays in January 2021. Questions that were asked included:

  4. During the fieldwork period, industrial action was carried out on the following dates: 9 December, 11 December, 14 December, 15 December, 23 December and 24 of December.

  5. Details of Royal Mail’s “Universal Service Provider” obligations can be found here on Ofcom's website, where DUSP Condition 1.9.1 sets out the Christmas period exemption

  6. Royal Mail is the largest operator in the UK letters market. The share of non-Royal Mail companies in the end-to-end market was less than 0.1% in 2020/21. For more details, see section 3 of the Postal Services briefing from the House of Commons Library

  7. Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.

  8. Our network of charities offers impartial advice online, over the phone, and in person, for free. 

  9. Citizens Advice helped 2.55 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2021-22. And we had 40.6 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.

  10. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 18,500 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.

  11. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 for Welsh language speakers.