LESS than half of letters sent out in the first class post were delivered on time despite a hike in stamp prices, an Oxford Mail investigation has found.

We sent out 60 letters – 30 first class and 30 second class – to see how many were delivered back to our offices in Osney Mead, Oxford, on time.

And the experiment showed only 14 of the 30 first class letters sent reached their destinations the day after they were posted.

That equates to 47 per cent, a slight improvement on the 43 per cent that arrived on time during the same test last year, but far short of the Royal Mail's own national target of 93 per cent.

Last April first class stamps rose from 46p to 60p, while the cost of second class stamps went from 36p to 50p.

The letters were sent during the first week of December, to avoid the Christmas rush.

In addition to the 14 that arrived the next day, seven were delivered after two days, three arrived within three days, and two arrived within four.

Of the remaining four letters, two took seven days to turn up and two have still not arrived.

But the Royal Mail performed better when it came to delivering second class post, managing to return 87 per cent of them within its three-day target.

Twenty-six of the 30 we sent out were received within three days, while two were received after four days and two after five days.

In 2008 when we ran the post test 77 per cent of first class letters arrived on time. In 2009 this dropped to 65 per cent before plunging to 2011’s 43 per cent.

Frustrated Royal Mail customers said they were not surprised by the results, which mirrored their own hit-and-miss experiences.

In June 2009 the company took the controversial decision to shut its Oxford sorting office in Cowley and move to Swindon, resulting in 224 job losses and prompting fears the city would receive a second class service.

Diana Gough, 70, from Mill Street in Eynsham, said before he died, her husband Desmond had worked as a postman for 42 years.

She said: “The service has really gone downhill since my husband’s day, now it’s just terrible, disgusting.

“If you post letters here in Eynsham they have to go to Swindon and come all the way back.

“And they say this is progress. My husband would turn in his grave if he could see how poor the service is now.”

Bill Jupp, 81, of Arlington Drive, Marston, a member of the Unite union’s Retired Members’ Association said even with the cost of sending letters rising, he thought cost-cutting was to blame.

He said: “It’s far from what it used to be and my sympathies go out to the poor overworked postmen.

“I can’t believe our post has to go all the way to Swindon.

“We really know how to waste money. It’s beyond belief.

“We used to get post from the other side of the county the next day – now we have to ask whether it’s even going to come or not.

“People don’t trust it in the same way they used to.”

Royal Mail communication manager Adrian Booth claimed the company’s own surveys showed a much more reliable service. He said: “In our most recent quality of service figures, independent research found that 92.6 per cent of first class mail was delivered the next working day and 98.6 per cent of second class mail was delivered within three working days.”

Mr Booth said between April and September last year, for the OX postcode area, 91.4 per cent of first class mail was delivered the next working day.

He added that more up to date figures were not yet available.

Of the national survey he added: “In contrast with the Oxford Mail’s survey, which covered just 60 items, our survey includes 133,000 sample letters and parcels sent to over 5,700 addresses.”

At the time of the stamp price rise, the Royal Mail said because its core mail business was making a loss, the price rise was needed in order to keep the six-days-a-week universal service it currently offers.

Defending the price increase, Tim Cowen, Royal Mail’s director of consumer media relations, said: “Our stamp prices represent very good value for money.

“At 50p the second class stamp is among the best value in Europe – Royal Mail delivers at this price six days a week anywhere in the UK.”

Royal Mail has argued that the £90m reorganisation, which also involved closing the Reading sorting office, was necessary in the light of falling mail volumes as email takes over from traditional letters, and the postal market is opened up fully to competition.

At the time spokesman Richard Hall said: “It will also be more efficient because it has enabled us to put in the latest sorting equipment at the Swindon centre, which will sort mail faster.”


IN WIND, rain or shine it’s the postie’s job to make sure we receive our mail.

Although the rise of the internet now means there are far more parcels and less letters to deliver, the job still means getting up early and going on a familiar round.

It’s just that these days postmen and women are far more likely to be in a van or pushing a trolley than riding the traditional red bicycle.

This is how the day begins at the Witney sorting office at one of the busiest times of the year:

  • 4.30am – Letters and parcels are delivered during the night and a few employees arrive at the sorting office long before dawn to make sure everything is ready for when the posties get in.
  • 6am – It’s still dark when the postmen and women begin their shifts, first unloading trolleys full of packages and letters, before beginning to sort them by area. Most have a dedicated patch which they deliver to every day, while others cover the shifts of whoever is on holiday.
  • 8.30am – With packages and parcels ready, all the letters are ordered using the postie’s dedicated prep station, which allows them to be delivered quickly in the right order. Then the bags of post are loaded into vans and trollies and onto bikes to be delivered.
  • 9.30am – The posties hit the streets and go door-to-door to bring us our mail.

    Lee Boyce, 44, from Witney, has been a postman for 24 years and as he half jogs from one house to the next he says it’s still a good job – but it’s getting tougher.

“It usually takes me around three and a half hours to do my round,” he said.

“That’s around six bags, but at Christmas it goes up to nine.
“Sometimes you get odd parcels, I’ve had golf clubs and witches’ brooms before.”

Mr Boyce said he earns around £320 per week, which is an annual salary of around £16,700.

He works eight hours a day and five days a week – which can also include Saturday.