The Post Office has backed partnered retailers taking collective action to block parcel drop-offs by Royal Mail staff amid tensions between the two firms over Royal Mail’s parcel collection from doorstep service.

The new Royal Mail scheme was slammed by more than 20 retailers and trade groups including the NFRN, NFSP and CWU as damaging independent shops. Under the new service, customers can pay 72p extra to avoid visiting a Post Office by having the parcel collected at the doorstep.

A message sent to postmasters by the NFSP claimed ‘Royal Mail operatives’ had attempted to leave parcels collected under the scheme at nearby Post Offices for later collection. ‘The NFSP advises that you DO NOT accept these items. This is unacceptable and you are under no obligation to do so as this is not a service that subpostmasters are being paid for.”

Asked whether it supported the calls for Royal Mail staff to be refused service, a Post Office spokesperson commented: “Postmasters should not accept parcels that are brought to their branch via this new ‘Parcel Collect’ service. If parcels are brought to their branch, they should advise that person that they need to take them to a Royal Mail sorting office directly.”

A seperate statement from the NFSP read: “This move to circumvent post offices is a worry for subpostmasters who do so much to support Royal Mail’s activities. Royal Mail have said that this service is “designed to complement post office services” – the NFSP simply cannot see how that is the case.”

The NFRN described Royal Mail’s new scheme as “a severe blow” to its members. National president Stuart Reddish explained: “Parcels are an important source of revenue for many of our members, and this is an unwelcome move at such a challenging time.”

Grounds for ‘divorce’

Store owners also claimed while Royal Mail’s scheme would poach their customers, exclusivity clauses in the mail agreement between Royal Mail and Post Office ban them from working with rival firms like PayPoint, UPS, MyHermes or DPD to find new customers.

One subpostmaster claimed they received a letter from the Post Office the day before Royal Mail announced the collection service, ordering them to remove a rival parcel service from their store.

As well as restricting post office services and taking business from post offices, comments by shop owner and NFSP chief executive Calum Greenhow suggested Royal Mail kept the scale of the new service hidden from the Post Office until the scheme’s launch. “We were consistently told by Royal Mail via Post Office that it was a small localised trial,” he explained.

The tensions between the Post Office and Royal Mail come amidst stalled attempts to renew a multi-year mail agreement between the two firms. In a video seen by RN, Post Office banking services director Marin Kearsley claimed in May that the new mail agreement with Royal Mail was due to be agreed by July, but several confidential sources confirmed a deal failed to materialise by this deadline.

Retailers told RN that Royal Mail’s attempts to ‘circumvent’ post offices put further pressure on these talks and on the Post Office to scrap exclusive terms with Royal Mail going forward.

“I’ve often wondered why we have this special relationship that seems only one sided. Why are we not able to deal with all carriers?” said one subpostmaster.

Shop owner and CWU branch secretary Mark Baker described the move by Royal Mail as another ‘stunt’ designed to take Post Office customers. He told RN: “There is a massive amount of resentment about Royal Mail conduct amongst the Postmaster community. So the question has to be asked – is it time for a divorce?”

However, Baker warned changes to exclusivity terms would be reflected in commission levels for postmasters. “it would be up to the Post Office to secure enough new work to off set any reduction to its global mails income by securing deals with other mails providers,” he added.

The NFSP’S Greenhow added:  “Worryingly, Post Office are being very quiet on [Royal Mail’s collection service]  and you deserve to know why this is the case and what they are going to do to support you.”

RN challenged the post Office on both its views on the Royal Mail’s new service and its negotiations with the firm for a new mails agreement. A spokesperson for the Post Office failed to deny that it was considering a move away from exclusive terms with Royal Mail. They instead stated: “We are working with Royal Mail to secure a new agreement that will continue our long-standing relationship and that will provide customers with continued convenience when it comes to sending their letters and parcels. A new agreement will continue to drive footfall to our branches and Postmasters are in an ideal position to provide expert advice and assurance to customers when it comes to what postage they need for their parcels.”

An earlier statement sent to RN from Mark Siviter, Post Office managing director for mails and parcels refrained from criticising Royal Mail. He instead highlighted that Post Offices can accept unlimited numbers of parcels and provide expert advice for no additional charge. He added that post offices had acted as ‘a lifeline for small businesses’ during the pandemic.