Monday 23 December 2013

Changes to Royal Mail's international services proposed for 2014

It seems that the people who use Royal Mail international services are confused - that's if you believe the latest consultation paper on changes to their international services.

It doesn't really matter to me whether the basic service is Airmail or Surface, or whether the name is changed to International Standard and International Economy - people will still go into their Post Office branch and ask for Airmail or Surface, just as they still ask for Registered, even though that terminology was dropped in 1993!

I suppose the reason for the other changes is as much to satisfy eBay/PayPal requirements as anything else.  Currently we have International Signed For (ISF) (which satisfies the UPU requirement to have a Registered service) and Airsure (for the Express service).  The latter is tracked all the way and scanned on arrival, but a signature is not needed: you may have noticed similar standards applying to some incoming mail.

ISF is signed for on delivery (or should be), but tracking is hit or miss.  It is certainly tracked within the UK, but for the rest of its journey it may not may not be tracked and you may or may not be able to find it on the website of the foreign postal administration.  It is this uncertainty, I think, that these changes are designed to address.  The proposal is that ISF will be replaced by Signed or Signed and Tracked, while Airsure will be replaced by Tracked.

So what does this mean for us as collectors and dealers?  Probably not a lot if you send mint stamps internationally because there is no compensation for the loss of mint stamps anyway.  Sellers shouldn't be fooled into thinking that compensation will be theirs if they follow eBay/PayPal rules. And if Royal Mail do pay compensation it is only for what the item cost you, not what you sold it for.  Even part-time dealers should carry separate insurance - which is actually not expensive. (Contact me for details.)

But pricing will probably be affected.
Currently the prices for these services are about the same - ISF is £5.30 and Airsure £5.40 (or £6 to EU countries as VAT is added to a price of only £5 - a distinction I've never understood).   I think we can assume that in addition to any other price rises next year, this could see a premium price for the service that combines both signature and tracking - even though we can currently get that for some countries anyway!

Two other changes - the first of which isn't likely to affect senders of small items - is that there will be no 'registered' service (ie International Signed For) available for surface mail following agreement at the 2012 UPU Congress.

The other is the reduction in size limit for international letters from 245 mm to 240 mm in line with the domestic letters limit.  If the same pattern as this year is followed for 2014, we may see Royal Mail say again, "The new dimensions-driven definition of formats will not be applied immediately. Customers will be given time in which to adapt to the change and will be informed before the new pricing methodology comes into force.".  The sizing of 245 mm was mentioned in the 2013 consultation, but I don't think it was ever implemented.

I've quoted what seem to be the key points below, but for full details download both the documents against the Overseas Letter Post Scheme consultation here.

Oh, and while I think of it, this was published on 9 December 2013, and responses are required by 5pm on Monday 6 January 2014.
Overseas Letter Post Scheme – minor changes to structure, naming and compensation available for international services

Royal Mail is undertaking this consultation exercise in relation to proposed schemes in accordance with the requirements set by our regulator, Ofcom.

7. We are proposing to restructure and rename our International services to make them clearer to customers. We have conducted research with 1700 customers (including eBayers and SMEs) to understand their needs and preferences to naming conventions. In summary, the results of the research indicate that:

• The international Universal Service Obligation portfolio is not clearly understood by customers;
• The current names of the international Universal Service Obligation products do not accurately describe the service customers are purchasing; and
• Customers may not always be clear whether certain features (e.g. tracking) are included in a particular product.

8. As a result of the customer feedback obtained, we are proposing to make the following changes to the Scheme:

• We propose to rename Airmail and Surface Mail, to International Standard and International Economy respectively. These were the preferred names for these services identified during the research;

• We propose to restructure our UPU Registered product, International Signed For into two variants so that customers are clearer about what the service provides. International Signed includes a signature on delivery, whilst International Tracked and Signed will provide full tracking and obtain a signature on delivery. For both products compensation of £50 will be included in the event of loss or damage.

• Our UPU Express product Airsure will be renamed International Tracked to more clearly explain that the product offers end to end tracking.

13. Within the current Overseas Letters Scheme, the maximum letter dimensions are 245 x 165mm with a maximum thickness of 5mm. The maximum dimensions for a domestic letter are 240 x 165mm with a maximum thickness of 5mm. To increase the simplicity of the portfolio, we therefore propose to align the international letter dimensions to 240 x 165mm with a maximum thickness of 5mm to ensure consistency with the domestic portfolio. The maximum weight of 100g will still apply in line with domestic letters.

14. Within the current Overseas Letters Scheme the term ‘packets’ is used to describe items that are not letters or Printed Papers. In recent years Royal Mail has adjusted its terminology and now refers to such items as ‘parcels’ both on our website and in our literature. This change more closely reflects terminology referred to in the market place and used by our customers. Therefore the new Overseas Letters Scheme will follow this convention and replace the term ‘packets’ with ‘parcels’.

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