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There's more to post than meets the eye

by Gillian Fyfe, CAS Strategic Lead for Strong Communities.

This column was first published in the Herald on 14 February 2022.

Letters that are signed, sealed, and delivered, and brown paper packages tied up with string. Sound familiar? Do you think of much beyond those well-loved song lyrics when you think about post?

Maybe not, but not to worry. That has been the job of Citizens Advice Scotland for the last 8 years while we have been the official advocate for postal consumers in Scotland. We have helped ensure the voice of Scottish postal consumers is represented, and any issues specific to Scotland are brought to the fore.

I’ll admit when I first joined CAS my knowledge of postal issues wasn’t great. But it’s been amazing to be part of the varied work that CAS has undertaken to protect and enhance Scottish consumers’ access to postal services, and to effect change.

We’ve worked on many different issues from: excessive parcel surcharging (an issue first highlighted by the CAB in Skye in 2011 which has become a massive campaign), access to post for vulnerable groups, access to post offices, what services consumers should expect under the universal postal service, post office outreach services, and many more. We’ve done this by commissioning research, engaging with the postal sector, and running campaigns.

With a new body taking on this responsibility from April we’re reflecting on what we’ve achieved and the difference we’ve made.

An issue that still remains today is parcel surcharging, where charges can be higher for consumers in parts of the Highlands and Islands compared to the rest of mainland Britain. We’ve worked with other stakeholders on this issue for a number of years. We’ve supported a compliance review of online retailers which resulted in enforcement notices being issued, highlighted this practice and our research in the Scottish and UK Parliaments, and supported campaigning alongside Citizens Advice Bureaux on the local impact of this issue.

Affordability is another key issue, and this is even more important today as the cost of living hikes start to take effect. In 2021 we achieved real progress on this when the cost of postal redirections was reduced for those on Universal Credit and eligibility widened. This was a great result, and we’ll continue to advocate for more affordable rates for those in challenging financial situations.

Another great result was Ofcom agreeing to implement stronger protections for parcel customers so they are treated more fairly. The pandemic made post even more crucial so its vital no-one is left behind.

Being able to afford post is one thing, but what if you can’t even get post delivered to you? Unfortunately, this is still a reality for some vulnerable groups in Scotland and the impacts of this can be huge. It can touch on all aspects of someone’s life from finances, housing, health information, to support to remain in the UK. Everyone should be able to safely access their post in Scotland no matter their situation. CAS continues to work to make sure this happens, particularly now with delivery issues linked to COVID again impacting consumers.

So next time you decide to return to sender or receive a letter from America remember there is much more to the post than that, and there are people out there working to ensure Scottish postal consumers voices are heard.