Watering down Royal Mail delivery rules risks rewarding failure as millions hit by post delays, warns Citizens Advice

  • 7.2 million people experienced a delay in sending or receiving letters this spring

  • Charity highlights devastating impact where someone was left almost £300 out of pocket when a benefit letter arrived late

  • Citizens Advice warns future of our postal service hangs in the balance unless Ofcom steps in to improve service for consumers

Following an election marked by concerns about postal voting, Citizens Advice has revealed that letter delays hit almost one in six people (7.2 million) this spring - with the charity warning consumers continue to bear the brunt of a poor postal service.

Its new research uncovers the scale of harm caused by delays earlier this year, with 1.4 million people facing serious consequences as a result. This includes missing health appointments, legal documents, fines and benefit decisions.

The charity has revealed that the harm caused by letter delays isn’t falling proportionately across the population. Disabled people are almost three times more likely to be affected. In some cases people are missing vital deadlines for disability benefit applications and the delay is pushing them into the red.

The charity’s research also suggests that many people pay for 1st class stamps because they’re worried the cheaper option won’t arrive on time. One in four don’t trust second class letters will reach their destination when they should. If Royal Mail continues to hike prices at the current rate, 1st class stamps would be almost 200% more expensive in five years’ time. 

John’s story - “If the letter had arrived on time, I would have received the money on time.”

John is currently unable to work as he is undergoing cancer treatment but needed help when his new style Employment Support Allowance payments were stopped. Unbeknown to him, John had been sent a letter saying his fit note was out of date but due to post delays, he only received the letter from the Department for Work and Pensions two weeks after the deadline for a new submission. As a result, John struggled to cope financially, missing out on almost £300 while waiting to process a new fit note. 

John said: “The letter turned up and I saw that it was dated two weeks before I actually received it. It had taken two weeks to get to me.

"If the letter had arrived on time, I would have sent them a copy of my fit note and received the money on time.

“It’s not just me so they can’t just blame a one-off. Surely somebody’s accountable for this?

“I could understand if it was just my letter. It was overlooked, perhaps sat on the floor in a sorting office or whatever, but surely they can’t be dropping thousands of them under a desk? Somewhere along the chain, something is going wrong. They should be able to find out where.”

This is the fourth year running that Citizens Advice has raised the alarm of standards slipping at Royal Mail, despite routine investigations by Ofcom and imposed fines. 

As statutory watchdog for postal consumers, Citizens Advice agrees with the need to future-proof the Universal Service Obligation (USO) and argues the forthcoming update from Ofcom could be a touchstone moment. But the charity is also warning that all options put forward by Ofcom will water down how Royal Mail delivers the country’s postal service and rewards years of failure, with nothing offered to consumers in return. Additionally Ofcom could allow letters to be slowed down and, at the same time, pave the way for Royal Mail to charge much more. 

With a takeover on the cards for Royal Mail, Citizens Advice says it’s crucial that Ofcom and the new government make sure any revised USO guarantees a service that is universal, reliable and affordable for everyone in the future.

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

“Ofcom have sat by the sidelines for far too long and allowed letter delays and poor service to become business as usual at Royal Mail. The company has now missed its annual targets for nearly half a decade.

“Reforms can't just be a disguise for cuts - the only options put forward will water down how Royal Mail delivers our post, saving the company millions but doing nothing for consumers.

“Post continues to be an essential part of the UK’s infrastructure. Ofcom and the new government must spell out how the revised USO will deliver for the millions who rely on it, not just for Royal Mail’s prospective new owners and bottom line.”


For more information contact: press.office@citizensadvice.org.uk

Tel: 03000 231 080

Out-of-hours contact number: 0845 099 0107

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Notes to editors:

1. Yonder Data Solutions surveyed 2,003 18+ GB adults between 4th April - 10th May 2024 to ask them about their experiences of letter delays

a. Delays with post hit almost 1 in 6 adults this spring - that’s around  7.2 million people or 15% of the population of Great Britain 

b. 39% of disabled people experienced a letter delay in the last month, compared to only 14% of those who said they don’t have any physical, mental health condition or disability

c. 22% of people without access to the internet experienced letter delays compared to 15% of people who use the internet daily

d. The regions hit most by post delays in England are as follows:

  1. East of England: 22%

  2. North West: 20%

  3. East Midlands: 20% 

  4. South East: 17% 

  5. South West: 17%

  6. North East: 16%

  7. Yorkshire and Humberside: 15%

  8. London: 12%

  9. West Midlands: 10%

e. 7.2 million people estimate worked out using Citizens Advice research finding 15% of GB adults experienced letter delays during the fieldwork period of 4th April to 10th May 2024 and ONS 2022 Mid-2021 Estimates of the population for the UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

2. 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.

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

4. Citizens Advice helped 2.66 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2022-23. And we had 60.6 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.

5. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 16,000 trained volunteers, working at over 1,600 service outlets across England and Wales.

6. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and postal markets. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers. 

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