Friday 12 April 2024

How is underpaid International Mail surcharged, if it is?

Especially since Royal Mail have suffered from an influx of forgeries and pre-used stamps, they have made efforts to recover the lost revenue by raising surcharges.  This has brought even more publicity since the charge for unpaid inland letters, and those bearing counterfeit stamps, has risen to £5.

But what happens with mail addressed to overseas destinations?   Traditionally, within Universal Postal Union regulations/agreements letters were flagged as underpaid and a charge raised (or not) by the postal authority in the destination country.

1958 cover from England to Belgium, T-marked as Postage Due, and surcharged in Brussels.


As long ago as 2006 mail which was (in his case allegedly and mistakenly) underpaid was returned for the missing postage to be added, and the letter reposted over a post office counter.

Allegedly underpaid mail labelled and returned to sender, for additional postage to be added.

Royal Mail red 'Underpaid" label OE1064, enlarged.


Where appropriate underpaid letters would be diverted from airmail to surface. This wouldn't apply to mail to Europe, where there is no surface letter service, nor where the postage was insufficient for surface mail.  (The letter above was addressed to Italy.)   One to Australia in 2019 had this label attached.

Royal Mail blue 'Diversion from Airmail' label OE1065, enlarged.


What happens now?

I asked Royal Mail this question, and was told that the item would be returned to the sender - something fraught with difficulty given many UK letter writers' (and eBay sellers') reluctance to put a return address on their mail pieces, and in some cases even inside!

No evidence

I haven't seen any recent letters with evidence of what happens now, nor has any been mentioned on the Stampboards forum.  On the contrary, as shown here last week, underpaid mail may be overlooked.

I would be very interested in copies of covers sent to addresses outside the UK in the last 5 years, bearing insufficient postage which has been returned for additional postage to be added, or which has been delivered without any surcharge.  

I would be especially interested in any on which an underpayment has been flagged by Royal Mail, and whether or not that surcharge was collected in the detination country.

What have you got? !



  1. My mother accidentally revealed to me a few weeks ago that she has been sending her letters to her sister in Canada with two 2nd Class stamps... they have all arrived without any stickers or difficulties in Canada, though she never puts a return address.

  2. "many UK letter writers' (and eBay sellers') reluctance to put a return address on their mail pieces"

    Well that boggles my mind and perplexes me. At least for a letter, rather than a postcard. I'm puzzled why, unless you are sending Anthrax or something ...

    1. It’s not so much reluctance. In the UK, unlike the US, individuals have not traditionally put a return address on the outside of an envelope when they know that they had the outward address correct - why would you write to someone you didn’t know?

      Now that many individuals are online sellers, they haven’t picked up the habit.

      I receive postcards bought by Chinese buyers from sellers who won’t ship to China, then send a package periodically. Many of them have no return address, and even more had no documentation, meaning that if two people bought similar cards that they had told me about I didn’t know which one had arrived!

    2. "why, unless you are sending Anthrax or something ..."
      or you've ticked "gift" on the customs declaration but it's something sold via a well known internet auction site ?

  3. In March 2023, when it cost more to send a letter to USA than to Europe (although the prices aligned just a few weeks later) I sent a letter of about 40g to USA. I put on the correct postage for a 40g letter but only realised later that the postage was too low. I was looking at the Europe prices, rather than rest of world prices. I thought the letter might be returned to me or possibly sent by sea, or maybe it would just disappear. What actually happened was that it was delivered to the address in USA in the normal timeframe with no extra topay.

  4. With a newspaper reporting that "Resources put towards identifying counterfeits have been 'cut to the bone' as Royal Mail prioritises parcels" it's surely unlikely that they'd have resources for surcharging underpaid items.


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