Friday 27 November 2015

New arrangements and charges for underpaid and unpaid mail

Until 1983 mail on which the postage was not paid, or was underpaid, was subject to a surcharge equal to double the normal postage, and postage due stamps were applied.  From 5 April 1983, the shortage was charged, plus a fee representing a penalty which was supposed to reflect the cost to Royal Mail of collecting the underpayment.   This fee started at 10p and gradually rose to £1 by May 2003.  The use of postage due stamps to collect the sums due stopped in 1994, not long after new 'To Pay' stamps were issued.

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.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Major Hong Kong Post and Go Stamp Error from Royal Mail

As we reported earlier, Royal Mail's Post and Go machines made another trip to the far east at the 31st Asian International Stamp Exhibition in Hong Kong.  It was the perfect opportunity to produce a new roll with the Hong Kong Sea Travel stamp solo, which Royal Mail duly did, utilizing the new digital printing process for this short run. The (gravure printed) Union Flag stamps would also be available, on the first occasion that the national code HK would be used.

Digital printing of Post and Go stamps has previously been confined to stamps produced for Qatar and Gibraltar, but this is the first for Royal Mail: it won't be the last.   Royal Mail initially announced that 'GB' versions would be available from Tallents House Edinburgh.  When dealers tried to order they were told that no GB versions would be available, and then a couple of days later were sent an order form, and the stamps also appeared on Royal Mail's shop website.

Only 12 rolls of the new stamps were taken to Hong Kong, and there were long queues at both machines (A008 and A009) with the familiar faces appearing to buy quantities of collectors sets and 1st class strips.  These have duly appeared online at various prices.

Understandably there was less interest in the home-produced GB versions, despite the Hong Kong stamp being a new printing.  However, those who did order early were in for a surprise.  Whilst the Union Flag strip was normal, with a receipt for £7.68, the Hong Kong strip had different 'values' or Service Indicators, and a receipt for only £6.12 (although £7.68 was charged by Royal Mail's shop).

The Service Indicators of Local Standard, UK Letter 20g and 30g, EU and Worldwide 20g were odd but the final stamp is the clincher - 'Registered Fee' shows this to be almost the same set as appeared at Europhilex from the Royal Gibraltar Post machine, the difference being that the Europhilex strips had a UK 40g Letter stamp, whilst this has a UK 30g stamp!

So yet another in the long series of errors on Post and Go stamps. 

According to the Post and Go News page on Royal Mail's website
Royal Mail has recently moved Post and Go product and pre-order printing to Tallents House.
In other words, they are no longer relying on a contractor to print the stamps for sale.

After a series of errors of inscription at live machines, notably at Stampex on several occasions, the idea that the stamps produced from the back-office machine B001 would be produced in house was welcomed.  After all, Royal Mail would be in control, and - presumably - have more control, or at least check what was being produced in house.

Whichever stamps were produced first, Union Flag or Hong Kong, one would expect that they would be inspected for quality of printing, both in intensity and registration.  Perhaps it was just a case of looking at the wood without noticing that the trees were different?

In carpentry the saying is 'measure twice, cut once': I'm sure there could be a similar maxim applied here: look at how good they are, and whether they are of saleable/ collectable quality, and then look again harder to make sure they are exactly what you expected to produce. And have more than one pair of eyes looking!  
Where is the quality control?

Inevitably some customers contacted Tallents House to complain that they had been charged £7.68 but had a receipt for only £6.12 - without realising that they actually had a collectable error.  Royal Mail thus alerted, I understand that the remaining stock was immediately removed from sale, leaving those of us who ordered later likely to get a new printing of the stamps with the correct UK Service Indicators.

My thanks to the several collectors who sent pictures and reported what they had received.

Just for the record this (above right) is what the stamps from the exhibition looked like, with UK Service Indicators from machine A008 (click on the image to see it larger).

UPDATE 4 December
The only one of the error strips I have seen on the eBay auction site, item 381478639269 sold yesterday for £220.

UPDATE 30 November
By chance I am also able to show the box label for these Hong Kong Coils - ignore the datestamp as this relates to when something else was despatched to me from Tallents House using the P&G box.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Post and Go News - Museums, Fur & Feathers

I suppose it is inevitable that as most of this year's Machin definitives have been issued or discovered, that Post and Go and postmark slogans will predominate in the news arena.  So,just as it is with the magazines, so it is here and we have some more Post and Go news.

On Monday the new 4-design Fur and Feathers stamps were issued.  As an innovation the 2nd class stamps have '2nd class' incorporated into the background inscription to ensure that Post Office branch staff put them in the correct part of the machine.

Well, that only works if the branches get both 1st and 2nd rolls supplied.  Apparently at least one branch was supplied with only 2nd class rolls, so they put them in both slots, and produced the 'first' range on 2nd class stock.  Examples have also been seen from another branch but I don't know whether this was due to no 1st class stock or branch error.

I understand that quite a few collectors/dealers were aware of this and there are several listings on the eBay auction site.

UPDATE 19 November
Responding to the comment about white lines on these stamps, Doug has helped by sending this picture - and there was I, looking for a white line in the background printing, which would have been unusual, on both sets of stamps.  This is not uncommon on Post and Go Stamps from the public machines, but it is unusual to see what amounts to poor quality on the packs produced at the Bureau.

Meanwhile it was all change again at the Naval Museums, with the Machin stamps again being on sale, and so now showing their logos as well as the text identity. Thanks to Chris for these pictures examples of the three Portsmouth Museums.  I must admit these are quite distinctive and they will look good in collections.

Thanks to Robert for the FAAM image which completes the set.

Monday 16 November 2015

More slogan and other postmark news

Royal Mail reminds people to post early for Christmas with slogan postmark.

Royal Mail is reminding people to post their Christmas cards early this year with a special postmark. The launch of the postmark marks just 39 days until the last posting date for First Class mail.

"Royal Mail has been planning its festive operations since April and is preparing to handle millions of items a day in the run up to the big day.

"With Christmas fast approaching, consumers are being reminded to keep an eye out on the last posting dates to ensure that presents and cards arrive in time.

"The postmark will be applied to UK stamped mail nationwide delivered from Monday 16 November. It will say ‘Remember to post early for Christmas!’." (First use reported was on Friday 13th at Peterborough Mail Centre).  I think this would have been the first date of use nationwide.)

"Andrew Hammond from Royal Mail, said: 'We are all busy so it is easy to leave posting cards and presents to the last minute. We don’t want anyone to be disappointed if they are waiting for Christmas mail so we are urging customers to post early as Royal Mail builds up to its busiest time of year'."

Unfortunately,  the image in the Royal Mail press release had only a very small image which is enlarged here. More will be added when I get them.

Lest We Forget Children In Need
Meanwhile I haven't seen a Children In Need postmark from Swindon - they were still using the Lest We Forget slogan on 13 November (ironic, as Royal Mail Swindon is the hub of all the software changes for slogan postmarks!)

Good News from Counters
On the Good News front, I understand that Post Office branches have been told that all 1st Large and 2nd Large stamped mail should now have the stamps cancelled at the counter.  Watch this space for more details.

Friday 13 November 2015

Pudsey's Back! Royal Mail reminds us of Childen in Need today with slogan postmark.

As readers in the UK cannot fail to have noticed, today is the day for the annual telethon held by the BBC to raise funds for Children in Need.

Royal Mail have also reminded customers with these special slogan postmarks,my thanks to Bob M for the pictures, from the Bristol and Jubilee Mail Centres on 12 November.

This is the (enlarged) specimen from Royal Mail's press release.

"Since 1980, BBC Children in Need has raised over £790 million, and currently supports over 2,500 projects across the UK. BBC Children in Need funded projects support disadvantaged children and young people facing disadvantages including poverty and deprivation, disability and issues surrounding distress, abuse and neglect.

Royal Mail’s postmark will be applied to millions of items of UK stamped mail nationwide on Friday 13 November. It will feature Pudsey bear alongside the words ‘BBC Children in Need 13 Nov 2015’
Andrew Hammond from Royal Mail, said: “Over the last 36 years, BBC Children in Need has become a highlight in the UK fundraising calendar. We are really pleased to be supporting the campaign in this way.”

Carrie Green, Head of Commercial at BBC Children in Need, said:  It is great to have the support of Royal Mail this campaign.  Thanks to Royal Mail, Pudsey will be travelling further around the UK on the 13 November than ever before.” 

You can donate to Pudsey's bucket at the link on line 2.

Thursday 12 November 2015

Why you should think twice about this year's Christmas Generic sheets.

Remember the start of the century?  The big event in UK philately was the Stamp Show 2000 in London, held at Earls Court. Among other things the show included the first personalized stamps from the British Post Office, now generally known as Smilers sheets.  

First introduced to the world by Australia Post in 1999, personalised stamps have spread to postal authorities around the world.  In many cases the personalisation is on a label attached to the stamp, but in others the stamp has a blank area for the customer's photograph.   In the former case, the associated stamp is often available in other forms, so collectors can add them to their albums.  So it was with the first Smilers product, also available at Stamp Show 2000 (see right).

Such was the attraction of Smilers Stamps that the Post Office and then Royal Mail have continued the Smilers programme which is still popular today, with the latest addition being four stamps from the Star Wars set.  As usual, Royal Mail produced a sheet for collectors, known for some time now as a Generic Sheet.  For only a small premium over the face value of the stamps, collectors can avoid paying the much higher costs of personalisation.

New stamps are added to the Smilers range regularly, starting with the Christmas stamps in 2000, and various sets of Greetings stamps, and including some commemoratives, such as one issued for the 2002 World Cup, the Union Flag (Rule Britannia sheet), Fun Fruit and Veg, and various regional definitives.  In all cases, the stamps in the Generic Sheet are also available for personalisation - until now.

For Christmas, Royal Mail have adopted a strategy of alternating their stamp designs between secular and non-secular themes and this year it is the turn of the non-secular designs featuring religious images consistent with the Christmas story. However, this year Royal Mail has decided that the Christmas stamps will not be added to the Smilers service.  According to Graham Howard's Smilers-Info website,
"... some Christian zealots (not literally you understand) have been making Royal Mail's life uncomfortable by requesting Christmas personalised stamp sheets featuring label designs with strong religious messages inconsistent with Royal Mail's non-partisan liberal policies. "
This seems quite sensible, although it could easily have been avoided by having only personal photographs and no slogans.  It would just need a change to the terms of use, and probably a tighter control over the applications.

However, if the 2015 Christmas stamps are not included in the Smilers service, collectors don't need a cheaper substitute - so is there any need for the Generic sheet at all?

The stamps and sheets will undoubtedly be included in some catalogues* and some pre-printed albums. They are legally issued stamps valid for postage.  And the sheet is not unattractive, but is it something even 'completist' collectors need?

UPDATE to clarify
* Despite the fact that the stamps from the sheet are litho and not gravure (like the sheet and booklet stamps), and have elliptical (US=syncopated) perforations (unlike the ohers) they will not get separate listing in Stanley Gibbons catalogues: none of the previous 15 years' of Smilers Sheet stamps has. 

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Remembrance 2015

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Royal Mail's 2016 Stamp Programme Announced At Last

Some six weeks later than usual, Royal Mail have today announced their stamp issue programme for 2016. It includes a Major Royal event is the 90th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and a Royal Mail Anniversary which will have some collectors puzzled - but all will be revealed in due course!

You may notice some changes from what was originally listed here.  That is because we were incorrectly told that all the information, including working titles for two issues, was for public release when in fact those two working titles were not for release.  I have agreed, therefore, to remove the references from the list, and from the comments.  This means that some comments by other people have been edited: this can only be with a new timestamp when the change is made, so some of those comments may now appear out of sequence, or not at all.  I apologise to the readers effected, and assure you that these are the only circumstances in which I would change something that somebody else has left as a comment.

Now edited according to the actual printed programme that has been distributed to customers and dealers.  Royal Mail have apologised for giving us incorrect information originally. 
Re-edited to reflect changes made since the printed programme was 'finalised'.

2016 Programme

7 January
Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition

12 January
Duke of Ediinburgh Awards 60th Ann
Com Sheet (date changed)
17 February
Royal Mail 500 set and MS

Post+Go Royal Mail Heritage
18 February
175th Ann of Penny Red Generic Sheet and Royal Mail Heritage PSB
and 1d red Retail booklet
15 March
British Humanitarians
Mix of values
New definitives for tariff change

5 April
William Shakespeare (400th Ann of his Death)
10 x 1st class
21 April
HM The Queen's 90th Birthday
including MS, PSB & RB
25 April
ANZAC - World War I
Commemorative Sheet
17 May
Animail MS
(not a typo, actual title)
28 May
New York 2016 FIP Exhibition
Exhibition sheet
21 June
First World War - 1916
Including PSB
7 July
Music Giants: Pink Floyd

28 July
Beatrix Potter
including PSB & RB
16 August
Landscape Gardens
includes 2nd class
2 September
Great Fire of London

14 September
Post+Go Ladybirds

15 September
Agatha Christie

14 October
Battle of Hastings 950 years
Commemorative Sheet
20 October

8 November

14 November
Post+Go Hibernating Animals
Likely to be 4 designs only
15 November
Lunar New Year of the Rooster
Generic Sheet

Yes there are some familiar faces there, with all the literary notables - Shakespeare, Potter and Christie - having been the subject of previous stamp issues or prestige books. 

Royal Mail 500 marks the creation of the original Royal Mail.  The 'The King’s Posts' - the first national postal service - was set up by King Henry VIII in 1516.   Readers will recall that 1985 marked the 350th anniversary of the Royal Mail Public Postal Service (SG 1290-3), and before that one of the earliest commemoratives of the present reign in 1960 marked the Tercentenary of the General Letter Office.  So in the space of 56 years we have marked the 300th, 350th, and 500th anniversaries!

Monday 9 November 2015

Hong Kong Exhibition Post and Go Stamps Have New Printer.

As previously announced Royal Mail will have Post and Go Machines A008 and A009 vending
the Hong Kong stamp from the Sea Travel set, issued in September, as well as the Union Flag, at the Hong Kong International Stamp Show, 20-23 November 2015.

Included in the announcement was this line: 
The Hong Kong stamp reels will be produced on a digital press rather than the original gravure printing. 
Royal Mail have confirmed that this refers only to the basic stamps without machine printing.  Instead of a long print run in gravure, this will be a shorter print run not in litho, but with a digital printer.  We can expect the same situation to apply for the New York exhibition next year.

A GB-printed version will be available from Tallents House and we can expect this to be on the same digitally-printed base stamps.
This may not be the case, see comments.  I am seeking confirmation.

Exhibition Post and Go Stamps - Confusion Over New Strips

Collectors of Post and Go stamps from international exhibitions have reported an interesting development from the Sindelfingen and Paris exhibitions.

As mentioned in our first announcement for these events:
'European Collector Strips' of four stamps (1st Class, Euro 20g/World 10g, Europe 100g and Worldwide 20g) will be introduced for the first time.
However, the machines at Sindelfingen dispensed a different Collector Strip, as shown here:

As you can see, the values included in this £4.10 strip are 1st class, 1st Large, Europe 100g - and then Euro20/World10.  This excludes the Worldwide 20g and 100g values from the normal 6-stamp strip - but not in the same order!

My enquiries of Royal Mail reveal that they were not aware of this apparent error.  However, at the Paris exhibition, the situation had changed and the strips dispensed were of the values originally announced, totalling £4.48:

So for each of the Euro strips sold in Sindelfingen Royal Mail's sales were 38p less than they intended - and they didn't notice!

Perhaps sometime they will also choose a line description that will not over-write the quantity and value on the receipt!

My thanks to Ian P for these pictures.

Saturday 7 November 2015

At last the 2015 coded 2nd class coil stamp has appeared.

Once again what the industry refers to as Direct Mail and what most recipients refer to as Junk Mail has added to the number of collectable Machin Security Stamps for 2015.  Thanks to a reader in Lincolnshire, I can show the 2nd class coil for this year, coded MRIL M15L.

This comes on a mail-shot from the Samaritans posted via Croydon Mail Centre on 3 November 2015.

What is also interesting is the Postcode slogan, rather than the Rugby World Cup Winners or default Stroke Association slogans, suggesting that maybe machine 6 was used to process these and only these letters, while ordinary mail was processed with the previously announced slogans.  Readers will recall coils used on previous mailshots was cancelled with a wavy-line-only postmark, applied by the mailing house, rather than at the Mail Centres.  (See here and here, for examples.)

I will, of course, be interested to hear of any other users of this new stamp.

Update: 2 reports of mailings from the British Heart Foundation.

Update 31 January 2016.  A further example from finance company IWOCA: