Industry: Post Office comes under attack

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The Post Office has been given a stamp of disapproval from consumer watchdogs as it prepares to handle more than 2.2 billion letters in the run up to Christmas. Postmen have been accused of putting parcels at risk from thieves, giving bad advice and not redirecting letters efficiently enough.

Which? magazine posted 60 parcels in a survey to test the delivery service. Only three people out of 22 who were out when their parcels arrived were left a note saying where it had been left - and eight of those were left in places easily accessible to thieves. In a test of Post Office staff's knowledge, 23 out of 60 offices gave inadequate advice on insuring parcels. More than one-third of the staff also gave incorrect information about how long delivery would take. The pounds 6-a-month service for redirecting mail was tested by nine people: of the letters posted first class 15 never arrived, 10 were sent to the old address, and 11 took four or more days to arrive.

Which? assistant editor, Malcolm Coles, said: "With no close competitors, the Post Office has little incentive to change." he said a regulator was needed to set and enforce standards of advice and delivery. A Post Office spokesman said it was "nonsense" to say it faced no competition; the Royal Mail competed with fax, telephones, electronic mail, and couriers; Parcelforce with 4,000 parcel companies and other mail-shot firms; and the Counter network with banks, building societies and other retailers.