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‘Just be honest’: Southwark MPs call on ‘complacent’ Royal Mail to front up amid shocking post delays

Two Southwark MPs have demanded more transparency from Royal Mail after months of delays that have seen constituents miss out on Christmas cards, appointment letters – and even death certificates for loved ones.

Neil Coyle, of Bermondsey and Old Southwark, and Helen Hayes, who represents the Dulwich and West Norwood constituency, have had hundreds of complaints from Southwark residents about missing items.

The problem got particularly bad over Christmas and the New Year, with thousands of postal workers off sick in the first week of 2022, but has been a recurring issue from long before.

Neil Coyle, who lives in Walworth and represents the north Southwark SE16, SE17 postcode areas, as well as part of SE1, said the public are “very understandably annoyed with the level of service they’ve been getting” from Royal Mail. He said he had about 60 formal complaints from constituents about missing letters and parcels, as well as many more on social media.

“It’s not just about delayed Christmas cards, there have been businesses affected and appointments missed because of this,” he said.

He himself has missed out on a dentist appointment for his young daughter Esme, because the letter arrived after the date of the appointment.

Coyle said he understood the pressures that Omicron brought over Christmas and the pandemic more generally, with people spending more time at home and postal staff going off sick – but added that Royal Mail “just need to be honest” about the scale of the problem and make better contingency plans.

Coyle and Hayes are both carrying out surveys with their constituents to get a clearer picture of the problem, which they will take to Royal Mail.

Hayes said the problem was more structural in east Dulwich, after the SE22 sorting office on Sylvester Road closed in 2018. The building, which was sold off for housing, netted the Royal Mail £7 million and Hayes said she wants at least some of that money to be reinvested in a new facility for east Dulwich. SE24 and SE19 have also been problem areas since the rise of the Omicron variant.

“Royal Mail have never acknowledged the seriousness of the problem,” she said. “We’re not just talking about some minor impact”. Hayes, who has had hundreds of complaints in recent weeks, has had constituents report lost death certificates, bank cards and bills – and even a woman who had to go to court after a letter she was supposed to get about a speed awareness course after a driving offence went missing in the post.

One of the key services that postal workers have been providing during the pandemic is delivering and collecting PCR tests. But even this has come under strain, leaving new arrivals to the country stranded indoors.

Southwark residents ‘bitterly disappointed’ with Royal Mail after three-week delays to Christmas post

Hiva Azizia, who is living in Camberwell after flying in from Lithuania earlier this month, said she ordered a PCR test five days before she arrived in the country last Friday (January 14). But several days later, she has still not been sent the test, and has had no word from Royal Mail about where it could be.

Coyle and Hayes said they would continue to work on Royal Mail to improve the service. Hayes added that she would put pressure on the regulator Ofcom to enforce Royal Mail’s universal service obligation to provide post six days a week. She also said that she wanted better data reporting on the postcodes that have suffered.

Cllr Charlie Smith, a Labour councillor for the Goose Green ward in east Dulwich, said at least part of the problem was privatisation, which took place under Conservative governments. “When the post office was in public hands, even though there might have been problems, they would have understood that they are running a public service, not a company for profit,” he said.

Despite her criticism of the “entirely complacent” company, Hayes emphasised that she was not targeting the actual postal workers, who were doing an “excellent” job in difficult conditions.

Kelly Webster, a collections driver for Royal Mail in Walworth, said she understood the frustration, but asked for people’s patience. “It’s just one of those obvious things – if you lose a certain amount of staff, people have got to understand that services will be affected.”

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “Deliveries are operating as normal across most of the country. We aim to deliver to all addresses we have mail for, six days a week. In a small number of local offices this may temporarily not be possible due to local issues such as COVID-related self-isolation, higher than usual levels of sickness absence, resourcing or other local factors.

“We are providing targeted support to the local offices affected by these issues and we apologise to customers for any inconvenience they may have experienced. Our postmen and women are continuing to work incredibly hard, as they have done throughout the pandemic, and we are thankful for all of their efforts and determination.”

 

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