Chaos as customers are left baffled by 'confusing' new prices for post

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Sending letters used to be simple - if increasingly expensive. Yesterday it got more complicated amid widespread confusion and suspicion that the Royal Mail was trying to make a fast buck.

From now on the cost of posting letters and packets vary according to their shape and thickness as well as their weight. This replaces a long-standing system in which first class stamps cost 32p, second class stamps cost 23p and items weighing in excess of 60 grammes varied in price according to weight.

A spokeswoman for the consumer group Postwatch said people were "utterly confused" by the change. The organisation registered deep concern about how the new pricing structure was being introduced.

Its study of more than 300 post offices in the first week of August showed that a third did not have any information for customers on the new system, called Pricing in Proportion (PiP).

The new system is expected to cause particular confusion among those buying greetings cards, which vary considerably in size, but less so in weight.

The changes attracted a mixture of bafflement and suspicion among customers. In a post office near St James Park, central London, Amanda Kershen said she found the system complicated, despite reading the leaflet she had received. "I'll be very reluctant to send any packages. It's going to cause pandemonium," she said. "I was sent a sizing guide to my home which was helpful but the first thing I thought was, 'this is going to be stressful'."

In Belfast, shoppers unsure about the impact on their pockets. Agnes Lawlor, 58, said: "I think this is just adding to people's confusion. I am just putting the postage I normally put on my letter and hoping it doesn't come back.

"I don't understand why they are introducing these changes. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. It is just another bit of stress for the public and is something we could have done without."

A local postman, who did not want to be named, said it would take time to settle into the new system and added that it could be weeks before Royal Mail can gauge its reception.

At Glasgow's biggest post office, on St Vincent Street, Elisabeth Green, 63, said: "I don't really understand it. Why did they do it? To make more money, I suppose."

Royal Mail said queues at post offices were no longer than usual and that it had received no complaints.

A spokesman said the Postwatch survey results were not surprising as the research was conducted before the distribution of templates, posters and leaflets to Post Office branches had been completed.

The Royal Mail said postage for more than 80 per cent of items, including business post, would stay the same or be cheaper.

The new system

* Standard birthday card, 24cm x 16.5cm with depth up to 0.5cm, weighing up to 60g: 32p (was 32p)

* DVD, 19cm x 14cm x 1.5cm, weighing 100g: 44p (was 49p)

* Hardback book, 20cm x 13.5cm x 6cm, weighing 723g: £2.20 (was 2.89)

* Magazine, 28.5cm x 21.5cm, depth up to 2.5cm, weighing 700g: £1.31 (was £2.69)

* Poster, 30cm x 38cm, in cardboard tube weighing 300g: £1.70 (was £1.14)

* Box of chocolates weighing 480g, £1.70 (was £1.90)