As people in parts of Kent say they have been going weeks without Royal Mail deliveries, we decided to put that to the test. Will Percy the Potato reach his destination for Christmas or be spending a lonely festive period at the sorting office?
“Is there any point sending cards and gifts for Christmas this year when we can’t trust Royal Mail to deliver them?”
It was a question dozens of readers raised when we asked them about delays with postal service.
People have missed hospital appointments, celebrated birthdays without a single card, and a Gills fan has gone nearly a third of the way through the fixture list before his season ticket arrived.
MP Tracey Crouch has demanded an urgent meeting with postal service bosses to fix the problem before the busy Christmas period gets underway.
So, with the big day approaching, we decided to test for ourselves just how bad things were.
There’s a lot of doom and gloom about, so we decided to send a little gift – Percy the Positive Potato – and a Christmas card, to a friend in West Malling, whose village is on the frontline of Royal Mail disruption.
The crocheted Christmas gift was popped into his envelope yesterday, and both items were sent second-class from the Painters Ash Post Office, in Gravesend at 3.30pm.
But where exactly will Percy be spending the 25th?
Our recipient is optimistic he might have a swift journey – perhaps she doesn’t need Percy’s positive powers after all.
Her reasoning is based on the fact that, measuring at more than 25mm wide, our lucky spud counts as a small parcel, and those have apparently been getting to West Malling in a much more timely manner than letters.
However, she predicts the card might see out 2023 in Snodland sorting office.
We will be checking in with her regularly to see when both items are delivered – hopefully before Christmas.
It is thought the issues with delays boils down to a lack of posties on rounds, rather than the mail not getting to sorting office.
In fact retired Anthony Morris, from Larkfield, has been visiting the site directly to pick up his post, and usually comes away with a haul of parcels and letters.
The 68-year-old said: “I had been waiting for medication, but it hadn’t turned up.
“I decided to take a trip to the Snodland delivery office. I walked in, pushed the bell, and a nice lady came. I said ‘I have one question and would like an honest answer: what’s happening with the post?’
“She said ‘we’re losing staff left, right, and centre, we can’t recruit’, and I thanked her for her honesty. I left with five packages and three or four different letters.”
Sorting offices are typically open for a maximum or four hours – two in the morning and two in the afternoon – and are fully closed on Sundays.
But we won’t be going to pick up Percy ourselves – so he might need to prepare for a long stint on the shelf. At least that envelope is padded!
Earlier this month, regulators Ofcom fined Royal Mail £5.6 million for failing to meet its targets this financial year.
It is required to deliver 93% of first-class mail within one working day and 98.5% of second-class mail within three working days – its figures were 73.7% and 90.7%, respectively.
It has been speculated the company had opted to prioritise parcel deliveries over post, but Ofcom found no evidence of that and Royal Mail denied it.
Responding to our questions about the delays in the county, a Royal Mail spokesperson said: “Throughout Kent, our teams are working extremely hard to ensure a consistent and reliable service to households this Christmas.
“Our employees are committed to serving their communities and we are proud of the work they are doing to sort, deliver and collect mail this festive period.
“We can confirm we have mail being delivered to homes daily with the vast majority arriving on time. If delays occur, we have dedicated teams in place to take immediate action.
“We have also hired 16,000 seasonal workers, increased our vehicle numbers and boosted our operational capacity with extra parcel sorting sites to manage demand during this peak period.”
So let’s hope with those extra hands on deck it’s not a Royal Fail and that Percy makes it to West Malling in time for Christmas.
We’ll keep you posted.