Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

HANDS UP all those of you who want to receive junk mail? As I thought - no one. Hands up all those who have had a letter intended for someone else delivered to you by mistake, or who have found that a letter you have sent failed to arrive? As I thought - pretty much everyone. Hands up anyone who believes the Royal Mail pays any attention whatsoever to what its residential customers think? Yes, you guessed it - very few.

Like many people, if anything goes wrong with my mail, I call my local delivery office. Like many people, I find that although the telephone number is easily available, no one ever - ever - answers the phone. It seems to be the same story all over London. Perhaps the phone is intended only for emergency use, such as calling the bookies on Grand National day, or ordering a pizza takeaway.

During the past few weeks, I seem to have had an awful lot go wrong with my mail. An Amazon order went missing. A couple of birthday cards failed to materialise. A parcel supposedly containing some art materials for my son arrived minus its contents.

Finally, when on a rash impulse I went to post a letter in the postbox at the end of our road (having first carefully measured the envelope and weighed it, of course), I found the postbox was overflowing with mail, the corners of envelopes sticking out through the slit so that any opportunist thief could make off with them. I decided to try the delivery office one more time. No answer.

After a bit of surfing, I found the Royal Mail customer services number on the Royal Mail website (if you want to call, it is 08457 740 740, and the website is www.royalmail.com). I dialled the number.

I won't go into details about the various permutations of "to opt out of the door-to-door service, press 1" etc I went through, because I would fall asleep instead of writing this column. Let's just say that after no fewer than four lots of "press 1 for..." options, with the odd "this call is being recorded for training purposes", I finally spoke to a human being. From the moment I dialled the number, it had taken me six minutes to get through (I timed it: 9.37am to 9.43am).

I told the customer services operator about the full postbox and she promised to look into it (if you see what I mean). I then said I wanted to complain about never being able to contact my local delivery office. "You shouldn't be calling them," she said, sternly. "You should call us."

I told her about my missing parcel and she said I had to wait 15 working days before I could report it late or missing. On that basis, I observed, hardly anything would ever be classed as late. "Oh yes," she replied cheerfully, "you can report it missing or late retrospectively."

A straw poll of friends and neighbours reveals other instances of the Alice in Wonderland-style workings of the Royal Mail. My friend Gerry, who lives in Belsize Park, says that for two weeks during the summer she and her partner received no mail whatsover.

When Gerry went along to her local delivery office to complain, she was told: "Oh, we thought you were on holiday." She asked what had given them that impression, but didn't really receive a satisfactory answer. (Perhaps the postie had seen her buying suntan lotion in Boots. Who knows?)

By far the most common complaint, however, seems to involve junk mail. So here's what you do if you want to try to stem the flood of leaflets and catalogues through your door. You write to: Door to Door Opt Outs, Royal Mail, Kingsmead House, Oxpens Road, Oxford, OX1 1RX, or e-mail: optout@royalmail.com.

Personally, I find the term Door to Door Opt Outs confusing. It sounds as if you want to opt out of the whole postman-letter box gig. In fact, it doesn't mean much. As the website says: "The 'opt out' service only relates to mail that does not have the recipient's address on - Royal Mail is still legally obliged to deliver mail bearing an individual's address and 'To the Occupier' or any other generic recipient information." Good luck.

In the meantime, I'll get on with trying to track down my latest item of missing mail.

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