A new system started on 5 October 2015. The Royal Mail press release explained that:
Royal Mail is introducing a simpler flat-rate charging structure for letters and parcels where insufficient postage or no stamps have been attached. The changes are designed to reduce delays in processing underpaid mail and minimise inconvenience for customers. Even with these changes, surcharge fees will not fully meet the cost to Royal Mail of handling mail where the appropriate postage has not been attached.
From Monday 5 October 2015, Royal Mail will introduce a flat-fee of only £1.50 to be paid by the recipient of a letter or a large letter where insufficient postage has been paid. This fee will be £2 when no stamp has been attached. A £3 fee will apply to a Small Parcel with insufficient postage or no stamp attached.
For Medium Parcels and Special Delivery Guaranteed items with incorrect or no postage, a fee of £1.50 plus the postage due, rounded to the nearest 10 pence, will apply.
Under the new process, items which incur a surcharge will spend less time in our system whilst the surcharge is calculated, meaning customers will receive these items more quickly.
Recipients can still pay a surcharge by debit or credit card online via the Royal Mail website. Alternatively, they can pay in cash at the delivery office or by affixing the fee in stamps or a franking machine impression on the “fee to pay” card Royal Mail leaves with the customer. Royal Mail is also looking at other payment options to make it even easier to receive underpaid letters and parcels.Also this year, a new system of handling and identifying surcharged items has been introduced in delivery offices. This did not occur at the same time, as an example has been reported as early as April 2015, but that may have been a limited area trial.
The system involves a numbered white label being attached to the surcharged mailpiece (see right), with a similar label attached to the grey 'Fee to Pay' card (P4605) which is delivered.
The label is 99 x 49mm. I assume SU = Surcharge, and that a similar label with a different identifier is used for payment of Customs Duty and VAT. (CD?)
Apparently when the addressee takes the card to the delivery office, the number allows for the easy retrieval of the item that has been held. On Royal Mail's 'Pay a fee' webpage, after entering details of the address, amount to pay, etc, this box appears:
After Postage Due stamps were abandoned in 1994, various means were used to identify surcharges, including continuing with the multiple-reason tick-box rubber stamp, to yellow Revenue Protection labels which indicated the underpayment and the fee. Obviously once the label system started they had to be reprinted every time the fee was changes, and while there were pre-printed labels for the most used values (total non-payment of 27p, 30p, 32p, 36p for example - the 2nd class rate was always assumed for standard letters) there were labels which had to be completed in manuscript.
All these could have been collected as part of a Postage Due 'Stamp' collection, but as Martin (who provided the pictures*) suggested, these fixed-value labels are closer to traditional Postage Due Stamps.
* Our customers, of course, never underpay their letters to us, so we haven't yet received any of these!
Also reported, but not formally announced, there appears to be a new policy regarding underpaid greetings cards. Despite the Pricing in Proportion system being introduced in August 2006, Royal Mail receives a lot of bad press at key times of the year - Christmas, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter, and Father's Day - because many customers post Large Letter-sized cards with only basic letter stamps. The popular press persists in supporting the errant customers - even though many card manufacturers print a size-indicator on the back of cards - with headlines such as
"Royal Mail wouldn't deliver my mother's card and charged her £1.10 for delaying it!"Now it seems that these people have won, and Royal Mail will no longer surcharge underpaid cards - but unpaid cards will still be surcharged. Again, we don't have any evidence of this yet, and the only Christmas cards we have received so far (well, it is still November!) had the correct postage.