Local post offices urged to iron out inconsistencies
New local post offices being rolled out across the UK need to correct a number of problems, a report from consumer champion Citizens Advice has said.
A mystery shopping investigation into local branches found basic errors were being made at some post offices and there were problems with the consistency and reliability of services.
The post office network is undergoing its largest ever branch restructuring programme and there are now around 1,800 Post Office Local (PO Local) outlets, many now operating in premises such as convenience stores, corner shops and petrol stations. This new style post office will replace around half the UK’s subpostoffices, in at least 5,000 communities, by 2017/18.
The statutory watchdog, which also analysed PO Local performance in 2012 and twice in 2013, commissioned independent, mystery shoppers a number specific tasks and recorded performance. Although some 75 per cent of shoppers were satisfied after visiting PO Local, a number of inconsistencies were reported, including:
- In only 39 per cent of cases assessed, staff correctly recommended that an item should be sent by Second Class postage.
- Almost one in 10 (9 per cent) of mystery shoppers were unable to withdraw their requested amount of money or any cash at all from post offices tested.
- Although the new model has improved opening hours, 4 per cent of shoppers found the store was closed when it should have been open. In 5 per cent of cases staff were unable to complete a shopper’s request.
- In 25 per cent of visits mystery shoppers felt counter staff had shown insufficient knowledge.
The Fixing the foundations report also highlights positives in performance. For example, it says that in 97 per cent per cent of cases accessibility to post offices is good or has been recently improved to make it so.
It also says queue times in PO Locals remain broadly good, in 60 per cent of visits counter staff served shoppers immediately.
The national charity is supportive of the restructuring programme and thinks it will will put the network on a more stable footing.
But it says in places performance is patchy and that work needs to be done to make sure all services are up to scratch. In some key areas, including staff knowledge, product and pricing advice, there has been limited if any overall improvement following four successive waves of research by Citizens Advice since 2012.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“Local post offices are crucial to consumers and businesses so these changes are absolutely vital.
“They have the potential to ensure the sustainability of the network and protect its role at the heart of communities.
“While the principles behind the reforms are right, our investigation has uncovered some inconsistencies with service delivery that quickly need to be put right.
“Post Office Ltd should urgently iron out these problems to ensure the new service works effectively for all consumers.”
The report adds that problems around service standards, consistency and reliability of service need to be driven up before the changes are fully rolled out by 2018.
The report puts forward a number of recommendations, including:
- Work jointly with Citizens Advice to agree and implement necessary improvements.
- Provide an improved training programme for PO Local operators to drive up standards.
- Commit a rolling programme of mystery shopping that targets quality and consistency of service across the PO Local network.
- Ensure spot checks are performed on PO Local branches across the network.
Notes to editors
- The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
- The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
- To get advice online or find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
- You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.
- Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full service statistics see our publication Advice trends.