Royal Mail told to stop using Covid as excuse for late deliveries

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Regulator Ofcom said the company has had ‘plenty of time to learn lessons from the pandemic’

Royal Mail has been told to stop blaming Covid for late deliveries after it failed to hit key targets last year due to the pandemic.

A probe by regulator Ofcom into the performance of the postal company between April 2021 and March 2022 found it missed some of its annual delivery targets.

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Just 82% of first class mail was delivered within one working day, below a target of 93%, while 95.6% of second class post was delivered within three working days, against a target of 98.5%. Ofcom added that 94.29% of delivery routes were completed each day a delivery was required – against the target of 99.9%.

The regulator accepted that for much of 2021/22 Covid has continued to have a “significant, pervasive and unprecedented” impact on Royal Mail’s operations, resulting in more staff being off work and more parcels being posted. It said the company may have met its targets if not for Covid and decided against finding it in breach of its regulatory obligations for 2021/22 as a result.

However, Ofcom warned that it does not expect Covid to have a “continuing, significant” impact on Royal Mail’s service levels, adding that the company has had “plenty of time to learn lessons from the pandemic”.

Royal Mail has been told to stop blaming Covid for late deliveries (Photo: Getty Images)Royal Mail has been told to stop blaming Covid for late deliveries (Photo: Getty Images)
Royal Mail has been told to stop blaming Covid for late deliveries (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

The regulator said: “Social distancing measures are no longer in place, absence levels are likely to be much less unpredictable and parcel volumes have largely returned to pre-pandemic trends.

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“We are concerned by the fact that Royal Mail’s performance in the early part of 2022/23 fell well short of where it should be. We believe the company has had plenty of time to learn lessons from the pandemic and we are unlikely to consider the factors outlined above as exceptional and beyond its control in future.”

‘Covid cannot continue to be an excuse’

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s group director for networks and communications, said that Covid cannot continue to be used as an excuse for late deliveries and warned that Royal Mail’s performance is “falling well short” of where it should be so far this year.

She said: “Looking back at last year, Covid-19 was clearly still having a significant impact on Royal Mail’s operations. However, the company’s had plenty of time to learn lessons from the pandemic, and cannot continue to use it as an excuse.

“We’re concerned by Royal Mail’s performance so far this year, which is falling well short of where it should be. It must do everything it can to bring service levels back up and we’ll be keeping a close eye on it throughout the year.”

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The warning comes as Royal Mail has been embroiled in a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions with the Communication Workers Union (CWU) since the pandemic, with more strikes planned in the busy run up to Christmas.

Royal Mail staff are set to strike on six days in December, including on Christmas Eve - which is one of the busiest days of the year for the company. CWU members have also added dates on 9, 11, 14, 15, 23 and 24 December, in addition to walkouts already held on 30 November and 1 December.

A Royal Mail spokesman said: “We were disappointed by our 2021/22 quality of service performance and we apologise to all customers who were impacted by service levels during this time.

“We are pleased that Ofcom also took into account the significant, pervasive and unprecedented impact of the pandemic on our operation as we worked hard to keep the country connected while addressing the ongoing impacts of Covid-19, including managing high levels of sickness absences.

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“During this emergency period, we played a key role in the country’s fight against the pandemic by delivering millions of Covid-19 test kits via 35,000 priority postboxes. Our focus remains to restore our service to the high standards our customers expect to receive.”

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