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3,000 angry Scots respond to CAB survey on rural delivery charges

25 Jan 2012

Citizens Advice Scotland have now received over 3,000 messages from Scots who are furious at the unfair delivery charges applied to people in rural areas.

The charity’s nation-wide survey closed this week, and officials are now busily planning the campaign’s next moves amidst this unprecedented reponse. They are pledging that the campaign is only just beginning, and say they intend to get many of the offending companies to change their ways.

CAS Head of Policy Susan McPhee said today:

“When we first opened this survey in November, we knew this was an important issue, but frankly we’ve been taken aback by the scale of the response, and ithe intensity of the feeling. There is massive anger about this right across rural Scotland. Not just the Highlands and Islands, but southern Scotland and the north east as well. And even people in urban Scotland are concerned about the issue.

“This is about basic fairness. People feel they are being mistreated - and indeed discriminated against - just because of where they live. They are fed up with it, and they want a fair deal. As this campaign moves forward now, we are determined to help them get that.

“Let’s be clear – rural people don’t want ‘special treatment’. All they want is to be treated fairly. They want companies to obey the law, and they want delivery charges to be based on the actual cost of delivery. That’s all.”

Our survey has revealed that many online companies:

  • state that they offer ‘FREE DELIVERY’ but then charge substantial fees for people in rural areas;
  • refuse to deliver at all to certain areas, which they class as ‘too remote’;
  • use expensive couriers for all their deliveries – even though Royal Mail delivers to all UK postcodes for the same low price;
  • apply a single delivery fee to all addresses in a postcode area – despite the fact that some postcodes contain wide variations in the actual cost of delivery (e.g. The KW postcode includes much of Caithness as well as Orkney).
  • With-hold their excessive delivery fees until the last moment, so the customer might spend a long time adding items to their online basket, only to find huge costs added at the ‘checkout’ – just as they are about to pay.

Susan McPhee continues:

“So we now have over 3,000 recent examples of people in Scotland who say they have been over-charged, or even refused delivery altogether, just because of where they live. That’s a fantastic response, in just a few weeks. It constitutes a really solid bank of evidence, and we’re grateful to everyone who took the time to respond to our survey.

“So we are closing the survey now so that we can analyse the evidence in detail. But I want to assure people that this campaign is only just beginning. Every single response we received will be read carefully, and will inform the full report which we will publish in the spring. Thanks to the publicity we’ve received so far, we’re already in touch with many ministers, politicians, industry regulators and consumer groups - all of whom are keenly awaiting our findings. We will be working with all of these and others in taking the campaign forward.

“We will also be writing to some of the companies who have been named in our survey, to see how they respond to what we have found. We believe many of them – particularly the smaller companies - are simply unaware of how unfair they are being, and they may be persuaded to change their pricing structures once we show them the realities. If not, we will make them aware of their legal responsibilities, and put pressure on government and regulators to take action. Either way, our objective here is very clear: we want to get change, and secure a fair deal for consumers across rural Scotland.

“If anyone wants to help our campaign they should contact their MP and MSP, urging them to back Citizens Advice Scotland’s campaign on rural delivery charges. They can also contact us via our website - www.cas.org.uk. Even though our survey has now closed we are still interested in hearing peoples’ views and experiences.

“This is ‘people power’ in action. It’s also the CAB service at its best – empowering consumers and fighting unfairness.”

For more information, interviews, case studies etc. please contact Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010 or 07774 751655.

Notes to editors

History of the Campaign So Far

The idea for the campaign came from Skye & Lochalsh CAB, who ran a small survey on the issue last summer. This exposed the level of public anger, and Citizens Advice Scotland then opened the Scotland-wide survey in November last year. In just three weeks we had received 900 responses from across rural Scotland.

We published those findings on 19 December in a report called Free Delivery*, and at that point we re-opened our survey for a month to give people another chance to report their experiences. The publicity we received for that report brought a huge rush of new responses, and when the survey finally closed this week, an additional 2,200 responses had been received – making a total of 3,100 responses overall.

We have also received backing from many external agencies, and from MPs and MSPs of all parties – including ministers in both the UK and Scottish governments.

Our Free Delivery* report, published on December 19th 2011, is available at from our website.

What We Are Calling For

Our campaign objectives are all listed in our Free Delivery* report (see link above). 
In summary, they are:

  • All companies should comply with the law, by clearly displaying delivery costs on their website prior to the point of sale.
  • Delivery charges should be kept to a minimum, and based on actual costs incurred.
  • Companies should use Royal Mail to deliver items wherever possible – unless the alternative is cheaper for the customer.
  • Ofcom should maintain the Royal Mail’s Universal Service Obligation, to protect rural and remote consumers from high costs for delivery.
  • The Government, the Office of Fair Trading, Trading Standards, business organisations and consumer advocates should undertake to help businesses to understand and comply with their obligations and to better serve the needs of consumers.


Some Example ‘Case Studies’

NB Thanks to our survey, we have large numbers of case studies in all parts of Scotland – many of whom have indicated that they are prepared to be interviewed and photographed by the media about this issue.

Some randomly chosen case studies from our new survey are re-produced here. These are anonymous, but if you want to interview some of the ‘named’ case studies, please let us know and we will put you in touch with them.

  • This week a company advised me that they would charge me £9.95 to send 2 pillowcases to us in Skye - they confirmed this was not how much it costs; it was "just because that's what we charge for your postcode." Another company took an order on-line for 15sqm of laminate flooring for which the delivery charge was added in at £8.95. Despite their website confirming they deliver to this postcode, they then cancelled our order saying they never come here. This despite the fact they delivered a 17kg mirror to me the week before Xmas.
  • I was charged £40 for the delivery of a small plastic valve to the Western Isles. The item was extremely small and lightweight and the delivery charge was higher than the cost of the item purchased!
  • On 8th January I ordered a small garden hose meter which would fit in a small 6" x 6" box and weigh at most 1kg. They initially quoted delivery at £3.95. However, when I gave my address (Western Isles) it went to an incredible £39.90!!!!! I cancelled the order and filed a complaint online. (I checked the actual supplier web site and they were quoting something like £18.00 for delivery. The reply on my complaint, today, from Amazon gave some excuse that the £39.90 was because I lived "off-mainland!’. It was broken down into two components of shipping cost: a) per item billing - £19.95 and (b) per shipment billing £19.95. Total £39.90. Incredible!! Out of interest, I went through the motions of buying the same item and sending to my daughter's address in Glasgow to be charged £3.95. To quote a famous line.....I don't belieeeeeve it!!
  • Yesterday I bought some items from a tool company and a delivery price was given for mainland UK. When I typed in my postcode it increased the delivery charge by 50% as this moved into a ‘highlands and islands’ shipping band. The other irritation is that after paying extra it is an absolute lottery as to when you will receive your item.
  • Recently I was charged £6 extra for a very light parcel which could have been posted by Royal Mail for under £1. And £15 extra for some spices which also could have been posted for around £1.50.
  • I have been treated as ‘Islands’ by many companies although I am based in mainland Scotland. One major chainstore could not deliver to my postcode at all - another quoted £115 to deliver to me as I am more than 85 miles from their Glasgow store. One company charged £35 for delivering a small bathroom siphon, although when I checked their delivery prices it was quoted at £5.
  • I run two companies here in Lochaber - both of which rely on deliveries. One supplier refuses to drive further north than Dundee. I was told that if I wanted glass from them, I could get it delivered to Glasgow, but I would have to pick it up myself. Another supplier now just refuses to deal with us quoting 'delivery cost is too high’.
  • We were charged an extra £20 to deliver a compost bin to Kemnay, Aberdeenshire; there would have been no extra charge for delivering the same item to an address in Aberdeen. Another firm charged £60 for the delivery of a TV stand; that seemed excessive and we only accepted it as the item had been greatly reduced from original price.
  • A wholesale confectionery company based in Devon used to deliver free on all orders over £150; as of 2011 this only applies to the whole of the UK as far as Perth, after which the charge is £1 per kilo, capped at £60 (but only after I complained). Free delivery north of Perth now requires a minimum spend of £1000 per order, and for a small business this cost is prohibitive.
  • Almost everything that I buy online has a surcharge added because I have an IV36 Postcode, even though I live within 100 metres of the A96 in a housing estate in Forres. This is not a backwater village in the middle of the countryside, so why am I being charged this additional levy?
  • I bought a photo album - prce £10; delivery £15!! Would have cost about £3.50 to post by royal mail!
  • Too many to mention really! So many companies want to charge for courier services resulting in the carriage costing more than the goods themselves. Many will just refuse to deliver here (Shetland) altogether. Some companies have even tried to say that Royal Mail costs will be higher here than the Mainland! Frankly, we are fed up with being totally ripped of by a huge number of companies that charge £15/20 for delivery that is free on the mainland, or refuse to send goods at all.
  • I received a catalogue and found several things I wanted to purchase. When I check the order form I discovered that they will only delivery to UK Mainland. I usually check the delivery info before checking - forgot this time - it is most annoying that they and many others will not delivery to here.
  • Tried to buy a sofa throw on-line as could not find one in any Nairn or Inverness shops. Found a company who advertise a £10 delivery charge to mainland UK but at the end of purchasing found that it is in fact £30 for IV postcodes. I have organised for the item (which only cost £32) to be delivered to my auntie in Fochabers (less than 30 miles away) for £10 as this is an AB postcode!
  • We live in Oban and we always have to pay a delivery surcharge - always being told that we are an Island or in the Highlands. We are neither!!
  • I recently ordered a cabinet online - value £84 – only to be told at the end of the process that they don’t deliver here (Highlands). I was then re-directed to another site which said they would deliver for £92. I cancelled the order! Unless I am mistaken I drive to my home – not take a boat!
  • A company wanted £12.00 p&p to post to my address, but if I stayed in Nairn (a few miles away) it was free. Another one increased the cost by £20.00 when I entered my postcode: when I complained they told me to lie – they said I should change my region to ‘Glasgow’ but keep my street address the same and they would give me the regular p&p price of £4.99!!
  • I live in Angus. I’ve had emails from one well-known company offering free next day delivery but when I have tried to take up the offer have been told that it does not apply as I "live in the Highlands" and anywhere north of Dundee is classed as the Highlands. Another company wanted to charge extra for delivery because of my postcode, although they would have delivered free to an Aberdeen postcode, and the delivery van would have to drive past my house to get to Aberdeen!
  • The main problem I have is with garden tools/equipment/plant suppliers, who without exception (so far) always have additional charges to the West Highlands (which is apparently not on the UK Mainland!). One company recently quoted £60 to deliver an item which would normally cost £12.95. I would like retailers to recognise that we don't all live in central London. In fact I'd really like retailers to recognise that it's people in rural areas who need to buy online.
  • I bought a bike rack - was quoted ‘£7 NEXT DAY DELIVERY’ But they charged me £17.50 and delivery took 4 days. The reason they gave was my postcode – but nothing was said about that on their website when I was buying it.
  • I have experienced excessive delivery charges and delays in delivering to my area, standard response is "Ah, you live in an isolated area". When I explain that the courier has to pass my front door to get to their central distribution point they usually go quiet and say there is nothing they can do. I know from my business dealings that it is possible to get Next Day delivery to our area and at minimum extra charge, so why do these firms rip of the public? I refuse to deal with these firms and go elsewhere. One well-known book company charge a premium of nearly 90% for delivery to the Highlands.
  • Although we have a IV postcode we are not actually in the Highland region of Scotland we are in Grampian, but companies who quote higher delivery costs to 'the Highlands' won't accept that our postcode is actually in Grampian (which isn't included in higher delivery charges).
  • I am frequently refused delivery from all parts of UK... Those you actually get to talk to will not deviate from their computerised system procedures and cannot/will not quote for delivery to the "Scottish Highlands." Last week I checked out a roofing material supplier quoting £12 delivery to other parts of UK, and £54 (!!!) to "Scottish Highlands" Total rip -off...this is not our first experience of this kind of thing...
  • I have tried to buy sweets online and been told that due to living on an ISLAND that the postage is three times what everyone else is paying. (I live on the mainland).
  • When you tackle these firms, you just get the same response "it's because of your postcode" I'm not convinced most of them could actually find the Isle of Skye on a map anyway!! We have limited availabilty to purchase items up here as it is, without being ripped off left right and centre by geographically challenged companies. I always ask them if they deliver to Lands End, which tends to stop them in their tracks.