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Research by Hat Margolies

SE1’s postal service: 'incompetent at best; criminal at worst'

Local residents taking part in the SE1 Postal Service Campaign have stepped up their efforts to highlight the serious deficiencies in the area's delivery service.

The campaigners say that SE1 residents are suffering from a postal service that is incompetent at best, and criminal at worst. Over the past few years hundreds of thousands of pounds have been stolen – either through chequebook fraud, theft of valuables or even identity fraud – all stemming from items going missing in the post.

They point out that we have no choice about using the postal service, and use an ever-increasing number of service that rely on the post – from internet banks to film rentals and booksellers. If the general public realised how much our personal information can be compromised by postal fraud, no one would ever trust sending anything in the post.

The campaign stems from an ongoing discussion in the London SE1 Forum, in which SE1 residents have recounted dozens of incidents of missing mail and poor customer service.

The renewal of the SE1 campaign comes at a time when Royal Mail's service is under wider scrutiny: on Thursday Channel 4 is to screen a Dispatches programme in which reporter Simon Barnes goes undercover inside the Royal Mail to reveal what the channel describes as "a damning catalogue of skiving workers, ineffective managers and gangs of criminals stealing millions of pounds from the post".

Royal Mail is also calling on regulator PostComm to allow it to introduce size-based pricing to replace the current weight-based system.

Theses are just some of the many thefts and other problems experienced by local residents:

• Attempts to cash cheques for large amounts, using stolen chequebooks. In one incident for 80,000.
• An account opened falsely in a SE1 resident's name, and then used to pay in a 5000 stolen cheque.
• Mortgage letters stolen
• DVD player stolen
• Numerous parcels from Amazon that disappear
• Packets of contact lenses never delivered – at different addresses
• Parcels to be signed for that disappeared between the delivery address and the sorting office.
• Credit cards stolen
• Hundreds of Time Out subscription issues never delivered
• Bank statements and utility bills going missing

Some of the problems are merely inconvenient; Amazon parcels disappear at the infamous Mandela Way sorting office. Complaints are greeted with blank faces, or rudeness and often parcels are returned to sender, without any attempt to deliver them in the first place.

• Residents have seen postmen put "tried to deliver but you were out" cards through the letterbox, while they are in the house – without The Bell ever having been rung.

• Letters and parcels are left on top of communal letterboxes where they can be stolen, even ones that are special/recorded delivery.

• Job applications arrive weeks late.

• The phone goes unanswered at the Mandela Way Sorting Office and packages that are returned there are only logged in a paper, handwritten ledger.

• When complaints are made to Postwatch – or the local office, if they can get through, the only compensation or apology given is a book of stamps!

Local MP and London Mayor candidate Simon Hughes is making attempts to get to the bottom of the trouble, but when a public meeting about the postal problems was organised, the Post Office representatives failed to turn up. Hughes has since managed to meet with Post Office staff and is engaged in an ongoing post monitoring exercise.

SE1 residents are being forced to use their work addresses (if they are not in SE1) to have important post sent to, and for the hundreds of businesses in SE1 it's even worse. Local businesses are losing thousands of pounds in overdue invoice charges and lost cheques and loss of goodwill from suppliers.

Chloe, a self employed businesswoman who works from SE1 says: "Items either don't show up at all, or show up 2 weeks late. Or the best thing, which happens regularly, is that the Post Office van drops our rounds' bag off in a puddle across the street, so my mail arrives soaking wet, and I can't make head nor tail of it. I had a conversation with a 'substitute' postman and was told that if I complained to head office my service was likely to get a good deal worse."

Dan, who lives in a development off Tower Bridge Road, had a chequebook stolen, and only knew about it when his bank called him to ask if he had written a cheque for 80,000. He says: "I'm livid, because you put your trust in Royal Mail and it makes you wonder what else is going missing. It's not like the other utilities, where if they provide a bad service, you can change supplier. You need the post – we all rely on it and this is theft and deception on a grand scale. It makes me afraid to get anything remotely valuable sent to my home address now."

Another resident received three out of five parcels of DVDs, all which had been slit open and re-sealed. The three she received were obscure Japanese films, the two missing popular blockbuster films. When she complained to the post office, they sent two replies. The first said an investigation was ongoing, the second said no evidence could be found to support her allegations.

Identity Theft

Everyone is wary about what they put in their rubbish now – we all spend time shredding receipts and letters that have our names and addresses on, but if you've never received it, you don't know it's missing.

Rachel has had her identity stolen, without ever knowing the items that allowed it to happen had gone missing.

In January 2003 Rachel was sent a welcome pack from her bank, which had been opened and tampered with. The bank then sent a new chequebook, which she never received and a cheque for 300 was cashed unlawfully. Then in March 2003, she received a final warning from London Electricity for an unpaid bill, and when she rang them she discovered they had sent 8 letters over a 6-month period and she had received none of them. Finally her mortgage insurance was almost cancelled, because of four letters going missing. All along, her complaints to Royal Mail have been met with indifference and even suggestions that London Electricity and Rachel's bank were lying to her about their communications.

Rachel says: "I have come to the end of my tether with Royal Mail, as my complaints have never been taken seriously, and I worry that my identity may have been stolen as so many utility bills have been stolen and a large amount of my financial information is in someone else's hands."

SE1 Postal Service Campaign

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