People who send and receive parcels are to be better protected under proposed rules to improve how companies handle complaints amid a wave of problems with deliveries.
With Christmas a fortnight away and tighter Covid rules making many more shoppers reliant on parcels, the regulator Ofcom is cracking down on the sector, saying that UK consumers “should be treated more fairly”.
Ofcom plans to tighten up the rules on how firms deal with complaints, make it easier for people to contact companies and bring in better protections for disabled customers.
It warned that if it did not see “substantial improvements” in customer service and complaints handling, then it would consider enforcement action or further, tougher regulation.
More than 10m parcels are delivered on an average day in the UK, and the regulator said its own research found that almost two-thirds (64%) of customers had experienced problems with deliveries in the past three months.
Consumer groups have repeatedly claimed that the sector is rife with issues, some of which have been blamed on delivery drivers put under pressure to meet targets. In July this year, Citizens Advice called for fines for delivery companies and warned that the way parcels were delivered was “not fit for purpose”.
The charity said its research indicated that 10 people had a parcel lost or stolen every minute.
Commonly reported problems include: parcels being left in insecure or inaccessible places such as doorsteps and wheelie bins; the driver leaving before the customer could get to the door; people finding a “sorry you were out” card on the doormat despite being at home; not being able to get through to someone if there is an issue; and companies refusing to take responsibility for mistakes.
Last month, Citizens Advice published a “league table” of firms which found that no delivery company received more than three out of five stars. At the bottom of the table were Hermes and Yodel.
Ofcom said its research found that around a quarter of senders found it difficult to make a complaint or to contact the parcel company when their delivery went wrong. Two in five said their complaint was only partially resolved, while almost one in 10 were left with their complaint completely unresolved.
Under Ofcom’s existing rules, all postal operators must have a simple and transparent complaints process in place. It now plans to strengthen this by saying that customers must be told who to contact and what channels they can use to make a complaint, and also what the complaint process will be and how long it will take.
Consumers must also be dealt with by staff who have received appropriate training.
Ofcom is also proposing a new requirement for firms to set up, publish and comply with clear and effective policies on the fair treatment of disabled customers, who are more likely to experience problems.
As the so-called “universal service provider”, Royal Mail is subject to more regulation than other postal operators. The regulator said its review had found that these rules and safeguards were “generally working well”, though it continued to be concerned about Royal Mail’s efficiency performance.
Citizens Advice said it welcomed the new shake-up but added that Ofcom needed to fine companies if their negligence caused problems for consumers.