Missing white-knuckle stress? Try the postal service

Pricewatch: Getting a letter from England to Ireland can take a stressfully long time

After a week digging around in the Royal Mail website Tim O’Brien found a number for a customer service and rang for help. Photograph: iStock

After a week digging around in the Royal Mail website Tim O’Brien found a number for a customer service and rang for help. Photograph: iStock

 

We have some wearying stories to tell this week so we thought we would start with a good news one and are giving the floor to our colleague Tim O’Brien to share his tale of two postal services.

How do we get our daily fix of anxiety, now that for many of us the daily commute is gone? If you are missing white-knuckle stress, perhaps you might try the postal service. Not, I quickly add, An Post, which comes out of this particular tale of worry smelling of roses.

It started with a decision to buy a secondhand car in Leeds, England, before Christmas. The car was delivered by lorry on Christmas Eve, but for security reasons the dealership sent the log book, by tracked postal delivery, to my Co Wicklow home.

Revenue rules about importing cars are strict. There are penalties for not declaring the car and paying Vehicle Registration Tax within 30 days. In the first month, fines can amount to 5 per cent of the value of the car and as the months go on, the fines multiply like an unpaid West Link toll on steroids.

So I needed to reunite log book and car within 30 days from Christmas Eve. I rang the dealership in Leeds and was told the log book was already posted.

I got to waiting for the post like an addict, holding my breath as only stuff that no longer mattered in my life fell on the hall floor. The dealership gave me the web address of a Royal Mail Tracker. The letter containing the log book had been handed in at 3.31pm on December 30st at Waterloo Road, Leeds. At 5.15pm it had arrived at the Leeds Mail Centre and at 8.14pm it was dispatched to Heathrow Worldwide Mail Distribution Centre.

And then it stopped.

After a week digging around in the Royal Mail website I found a number for a customer service and rang for help. The machine said there was a call waiting time of 51 minutes. I put the phone on loudspeaker and had a shower. After 46 minutes it was answered. A man asked for my registered number and I could hear him tapping at a keyboard. It has been dispatched to Heathrow, he said. He was looking at the same tracking page as me.

“If you scroll down that page do you see there is a number to call for further information”, I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Well I dialled that number and after a 46 minute wait I got you,” I said.

He replied that the rules gave him 20 working days, in this case until January 27th before he had to answer questions about my letter. I said it would have been quicker to walk with the letter from Leeds to Heathrow. He said “hindsight” was great.

On Twitter, Royal Mail Help said “due to the volume of enquiries we are receiving it may take some time to get back to you . . .”

I checked the Revenue website. The initial penalty I was facing was about €1,720. My appointment on the 17th was a Sunday so I guessed Friday 15th was my last chance. On Twitter again I asked @royalmailhelp why was the status of my letter still “dispatched to Heathrow” . @royalmailhelp said: “We would need to allow until the 27th for this to arrive” – after that date they said it would be considered lost. Clearly, there was no way Royal Mail was going to help until it was lost.

At An Post, the kind lady said they could see the letter had arrived at Langley, near Heathrow and was awaiting an exit from the UK. I rushed to the Royal Mail tracker and sure enough after 14 days the letter had indeed arrived at Langley from Leeds. It arrived at 1.57am on Wednesday, January 13th. At 3.30am the status had been changed to : “leaving the UK”. I pictured it soaring into the sky on board a plane and my spirits soared with it. This was Wednesday, January 13th. I had only Thursday and Friday for it to get here. An Post said once they had it, I would have it.

On Wednesday night I checked the tracker again, but it was still “leaving the UK”. First thing Thursday morning I checked again but for the second day since its long journey from Leeds it recorded; “Leaving the UK”. Late on Thursday I checked the Royal Mail Tracker again. It was still “leaving the UK”.

On Friday morning there was the clump of the letterbox and there on the floor among the post-Christmas bills was my letter. I fired up the laptop and the Royal Mail tracker diverted automatically when I put in my numbers to the An Post tracker. After 14 days travelling from Leeds to Heathrow and a two day rest at Heathrow, An Post got my letter at 2.49am on Friday 15th and it was on my kitchen table in Co Wicklow at 9.58am, seven hours after An Post got it.

Anna McHugh of An Post said this is a big problem for the service. Letters and parcels from across the world are delayed abroad and the recipient, in misery, turns on An Post. But most letters that An Post receives are delivered in one or two days. Or in my case, seven hours.

Take a bow, Irish postal workers.

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