Saturday 22 February 2020

March 23 - 1st class postage rate up 8.5%, new airmail stamps cost £17.60!

Royal Mail's annual announcement about tariff changes was made yesterday. The new rates take effect from 23 March 2020.  The new stamps will be issued on Tuesday 17th March, the same day as the James Bond issue - expect problems at Post Offices.

In a shock move the increase in the rate for 1st class mail will be double last year's increase of 3p, rising from 70p to 76p.  At 8.55%, this is probably the largest rise since 2012 when the rate increased from 46p to 60p.  The rate for 2nd class mail is capped by the regulator, but even so Royal Mail have chosen to use the full range of the cap allowed, increasing by 4p to 65p.

The reason for the large increase is that they want to invest in the business - which had a pre-tax profit of £204m in the year 2018/19 - but they say that "the likelihood has increased that
Royal Mail in the UK will be loss making in 2020-21. These changes are necessary to help ensure the sustainability of the one-price-goes-anywhere Universal Service."

NOTE: I will allow limited comments about pricing arguments, but this is essentially about philately, not economics, shareholders or politics and I reserve the right to decline or edit comments especially from Anonymous contributors.

UPDATE 7 August:
In a situation not seen since the 1970s (as far as I can recall) this (tariff) year will see two further price increases.  On 1 July Zone 3 was introduced for parcels to the USA.  On 1 September there will be general increases to airmail rates due to additional costs associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. 

For postal history collectors this means that the period of solo usage for some of these stamps is only just over 5 months, much shorter than the usual 12 months.  As no stamps are being produced for the new rates, these will continue to be used but with 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p make-up stamps - so look for a mixture of year codes on these!  The new rate tables are shown here.  

One of the most interesting is the £2.97 rate for Large Letters up to 100g to Europe, which rises to £3. This raises the possibility of the £3 definitive which is not generally available at Post Office branches being brought back into general use.  It has been printed only in 2009 and 2019, but if large users buy these or Post Offices want to use them instead of multiple stamps, we may see a reprint in 2020. 

The new stamps
As always we only have studio images of the stamps that will be issued for airmail rates, which in total will cost £17.60.

The stated colours are:
£1.42 - garnet red (previously used for the £2.55 in 2017)
£1.63 - sunset red (previously used for the £1.17 in 2017)
£1.68 - tarragon green (previously used for the £1.57 in 2017)
£2.42 - purple heather (previously used for the £2.65 in 2018)
£2.97 - rose pink (previously used for the £3.30 in 2015, but nothing like the colour shown above)
£3.66 - harvest gold (previously used for the £2.27 in 2017)
£3.82 - holly green (previously used for the £1.25 in 2018 - and nothing like the above).

Scans of actual stamps will be provided as soon as we have them.  These, one would expect, will be coded M20L.  A reminder that we will not be stocking these as they will be readily available from Royal Mail and many of the 11,500 UK post offices and BFPOs.

I think we can expect that dealers faced with paying nearly £30 for a single of each of the new stamps will think twice about the effect on their cash flow of holding much stock.  The stamps will, in any case, be available for at least a year.

The Machin stamps continue to be printed by ISP Walsall in gravure We would expect the first printings to have taken place in January even December, and new printings to be made in March/April.  Time will tell.

UPDATE 28 February
Printing dates etc

08/01/20 - £1.42, £1.63, & £1.68
09/01/20 - £2.42, £2.97, £3.66 & £3.82
All have eight grid positions - none-greyed out so all values printed in 8 positions each.

Actual scans


Country definitives
£1.42 and £1.63 values for each of the four nations will be issued at the same time.  These stamps will be printed in litho by ISP Cartor, and it is probable that only one printing will be made.  Given the lack of availability of these in many regional post offices, the numbers printed will be very low.  In theory more should be required for the England stamps than any others, but it is likely that they will all be printed on the same plate.

UPDATE 28 February
Printing dates etc

09/01/20 - England both values
10/01/20 - Wales & Scotland, both values
13/01/20 - Northern Ireland, both values
I no longer stock or collect more than a single, so I don't know the grid positions - I'll welcome details from other readers!

UPDATE 24 March
According to the list from Royal Mail, all eight stamps exist with 'all 4 grid positions', with the exception of the England and Wales £1.63 which both are listed as being in columns 3 & 4 - I suspect this is an error.

The rate tables

From 23 March 2020

Letter 100g
Large Let 100g
S Parcel 1kg
S Parcel 2kg
Med Parcel 1kg
Special Delivery has increased from £6.60 to £6.70 (100g) and from £7.40 to £7.50 for 500g.   What we used to call the Signed For fee has increased at the basic level from £1.20 to £1.30 making a 1st class signed for letter £2.06 from £1.90, and a 2nd class £1.95 (from £1.81).  The extra for Large letters and Parcels range from £1 to £1.20.

World Zone 1&2
10g & cards
International Large Letter prices will increase by 6% across the board (± a little for rounding to the nearest 1p), making the 750g rate to Zone 2 £9.81 from £9.25.

Effect of leaving the EU.  For the present the rates for International Tracked continue to show different rates for EU destinations (including 20% VAT) and non-EU destinations (zero-rated).   I'm assuming that this is an effect of the transition period, but it does strike me as odd.

Changes for tracked services range up to 6.5% increases but heavier weights rise by considerable less.

The price of surface or economy letters rises by 6p to £1.26 for 20g and by 8p to £1.58 for 21-100g. As with airmail, the prices for Large Letters are increased by about 6%.

The full rates leaflet will be available in Post Offices and can be downloaded here.

Effect on collectors
The effect of this will be to increase further the cost of collecting stamps, not just the definitives but special issues as well.  The price of the April Romantic Poets set will rise from £7.00 to £7.60 with corresponding increases in the cost of first day covers and presentation packs.  Books of 6 x 1st class will increase from £4.20 to £4.56.

As mentioned by Anonymous in the comments, the Post and Go Collectors sets increase by 9p for the two 2nd class and 50p for the six 1st/Airmail strip.

The first new issue to be affected is the Declaration of Arbroath miniature sheet, issued on 6 April.  This contains one of each of the Scotland definitives and so will cost 25p more than it would have done had it been issued earlier.

[My apologies for publishing an incomplete version of this just before lunchtime - I should have clicked 'saved' instead of 'Publish'.]


  1. The Post and Go Collectors set increase by 9p for the two 2nd class and 50p for the six 1st/Airmail strip

  2. Thank you for the information Ian. I have this morning received the Order Advice Note from TH with a supplementary note saying that a mini sheet to mark the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath will be issued on 6th April. It will contain all four 2020 Scottish country stamps.

  3. Some of the stamps in the James Bond issue will be out of date within 6 days of being issued on the 17th March. The £1.55 (Worldwide 20g rate) goes up to £1.63 and the £1.60 (Europe 100g rate) goes up to £1.68 on the 23rd. Still at least all the first class stamps in this issue will be worth more.

  4. So here we have Royal Mail's annual 'crying wolf' (almost literally, a copy-and-paste job from one year's press release to the next), lamenting that business is difficult. If they were telling the truth in past years, about how they intended to spend the proceeds of exorbitant [price hikes, we should have a world-leading postal service by now....

    That said, is anyone surprised that a privatised monopoly might perceive its business as a licence (literally) to print money....?

    All other industries have regulators continually pressuring former state-owned businesses in the interests fo customers - electricity and telecoms to name but two - but, apparently by design, RM's 'overseer' is a toothless consumer champion.

  5. Wouldn't it have been easier for all to increase 1st class to 75p to stop the fiddling about with the 1ps?

  6. £17.60 of stamps that are never going to be used. They are just printing money. The increase to 76p is a nice little bonus on the 1000's of 1st class stamps I have.

  7. I really wish Royal Mail would issue a make up value so you could easily "top up" a second class stamp to first class.

    1. Also make up values for small to large letters. 39p(1st) and 23p(2nd). Adding 39p to a first class small stamp would consist of at least 5 extra stamps

    2. Correct - if they use stamps, but today they are more than likely to just use a label.

    3. Can they do that for a make-up amount?

    4. Make-up amounts can not be produced on the Post Office Horizon system using labels. Make-up values can be made up using the various 1p, 2p, 5p and 10p low value stamps that are available on each counter.

    5. Horizon labels can be created for shortages on heavier and international items, Brian.

      Is it just the under 100g rates that they have to use stamps for?

    6. Sorry I should have said I was only referring to the basic and large letter 1st and 2nd class rates.

  8. Hanns F. reminded me that Royal Mail do no even know the colours of their own stamps! As in 2017 with the £1.17, the new £1.63 is described as 'sunset red' whereas the name printed on the sheets is 'sunrise red'.

    1. What annoys me is that WE all have actual stamps in the right colour as Royal Mail do, so they could produce mock-ups in the actual colour rather than the abominations shown here.

  9. One has to postulate how much time and money it cost the 'great' minds at Royal Mail to determine the values for these stamps and the colours they would choose. Furthermore, how much profit will they make when that cost is offset against the (sadly) dwindling numbers of us collectors, who in my view are the only real market for these machin's, given the use of printed labels on Amazon, E-Bay and even at Post Offices.
    Also given the likely low print runs will they hold back sufficient stock of sheets and cylinders on their stand for those of us who will only be able to attend Stamp 2020 on the weekend?

    1. Surely not many people are collecting cylinder blocks nowadays? Blocks of six for this issue would set you back over £100! I swallowed my pride a couple of years ago and now only collect cylinder pairs but even that will be over £35.

      One of the post offices I use doesn't even keep 50p stamps now, so I doubt very much that there will be much usage of these

  10. So there are to be 10 1st class Romantic Poets stamps. I'm guessing -
    Blake, Burns, Byron, Coleridge, Keats, Scott, Shelley, Southey, Wordsworth, and Robert Browning - or will that be his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning ?

    1. 7/10 - embargoed until the 7 April issue date for some reason, but you'll be able to see the underwhelming designs from 20 March on FDC producers sites.

  11. So Royal mail say '2020-21 is likely to be loss making in the UK' is this just the letter side of the business or the whole company? I thought the vision was to be more focused on the parcel front as the ever diminishing decline in letters gather pace. I don't why people are saying RM are listening to people because they have issued two sets of stamps containing 2nd class stamps when the number of issue's seem to be the same as last year, those useless pieces of paper called miniature sheets are still produced and the size of the issue's are still as big as last year and to complete the set Huge increases in prices. Don't see any need for definitive stamps apart from 1st or 2nd because if you take a letter into One Stop, WHS or other locations 9 out 10 don't do stamps just a big white label.Just out of curiosity if RM are concerned future profits I wonder how much they had to pay to secure the image rights for the stamps to have Mr Craig, Dalton and co, as well as the Star Wars and Harry Potter issues's printed on them, and is it actually money well spent? Perhaps its time for RM to do like some other companies and do a seven day delivery service and keep up with the world.

  12. Hi Ian. Am I right in assuming there won't be general tariff increase this year (usually around end of March)?

    1. Certainly if there was going to be an early April change it would have been announced to the Stock Exchange and therefore to everybody a month ahead. The January one should be sufficient, with the 2nd class probably as much as the regulator would allow, given it was 3 months early, and the 1st class one being so huge.

      That doesn't preclude something later in the year. Of course if they were to invest in cancelling all the stamps that are used, and finding all the forgeries that are being processed as if they were genuine they wouldn't be losing so much money on letters.


Thank you for reading the blog and commenting: please use an identity (name or pseudonym) rather than being Anonymous; it helps us to know which 'anonymous' comments are from the same person to avoid confusion. Comments are moderated to avoid spam, but will be published as soon as possible.