Royal Mail not ready for 'biggest change since the Penny Black'

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The consumer watchdog Postwatch has attacked Royal Mail for failing to properly prepare post offices for the introduction tomorrow of the most dramatic new pricing system since the invention of stamps.

Judith Donovan, the chairman of Postwatch's trade association forum, said that her group accepts the reasons for Royal Mail's introduction of the new system but is worried about the implementation of such fundamental change.

"As the customer's representative, Postwatch is concerned that the big change may not be fully understood by all customers. We fear that post offices are not ready to help customers."

"Pricing in Proportion" means that prices will be based not just on weight, as before, but also on size and shape. There are three categories: letter, large letter and everything else.

The Royal Mail claims the new system will more closely reflect the true cost of collecting, sorting and delivering mail, and will help it compete better with rival services. The postal system was opened up to competition at the start of this year.

But Postwatch has revealed that it carried out a survey at the beginning of this month and found that a number of post offices appeared unprepared for the change.

It claimed that 34 per cent did not have a measuring template, that 37 per cent were not displaying posters advertising the changeover and that 32 per cent did not have any information on Pricing in Proportion available.

"A third of post offices failing to do the bare minimum points to a potentially complacent approach in introducing what will be the biggest change to our postal service since the introduction of the Penny Black," said Ms Donovan.

"Confusion among residential customers and small businesses" could lead to "unnecessarily long queues" at post offices, she said.

However, a Royal Mail spokesman insisted the group was ready. The Postwatch survey of 307 post offices was carried out at the beginning of August and since then information had been distributed across the network.

"We have trained 20,000 counter staff and sub-postmasters," he said. "They are geared up to handle customer queries. There are bound to be people on Monday who are not sure what is happening. That's understandable. But the research we have done is showing a huge awareness of the change. It's very straightforward."

The spokesman added that businesses would be the biggest beneficiaries of the changeover.