Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 13:55 UK

Alternatives to the Royal Mail

Post boxes
There are a number of alternatives to Royal Mail, but most of them are more expensive

As the Communication Workers Union embarks on a second phase of nationwide strikes at Royal Mail, many individuals will continue to be concerned about an important letter not being delivered.

What alternatives are there to the Royal Mail for getting a letter or parcel delivered, both for members of the public and businesses?

FOR INDIVIDUALS

Before an individual starts hunting for an alternative mail delivery service, consumer rights group Consumer Focus says they should consider sending their letter or parcel by Royal Mail Special Delivery, which guarantees next day arrival, and gives the sender a receipt.

The Royal Mail website confirms that they will continue to deliver premium service items to customers throughout the industrial action. Customers should be aware that this will be more expensive than sending mail by standard post

However, if an individual does want to try a different company to deliver an important item there are a range of alternatives. But they will almost certainly be more expensive than Royal Mail.

One is the Service Point scheme, which operates from 391 WH Smith stores across the UK, plus outlets of Staples, Ryman and Cartridge World. It is operated by DHL who will deliver to anywhere in the UK, including outer-lying islands, and also to anywhere overseas.

It's not cheap though, with prices starting at £5.95 for an envelope.

Weight difference

City Link van
City Link is one of the delivery firms that competes with the Royal Mail

When it comes to getting a letter or parcel collected from your own home, it depends upon its size and weight.

If it is a letter or parcel weighing above 350 grams, and costs more than £1 to post, you can simply use any delivery or courier firm that accepts the business.

However, this again is likely be more expensive than the Royal Mail, especially for people who do not live on mainland UK.

The Royal Mail's own specialist parcel delivery service - Parcelforce - is also a possible alternative, as this is not affected by the threat of strike action, which is instead limited to the Royal Mail's standard letters and parcels division.

If you wish to get a letter collected that weighs 350 grams or less, the choice is reduced, as only 30 companies, including the Royal Mail, are licensed by regulator Postcomm to send it.

The 30 range from the big - such as TNT and Fedex - to the not-so-big - such as Isle of Wight-based Wightpost and Birmingham-based Cycle 4 U.

And of those 30, only the Royal Mail is obliged to offer a universal service across all parts of the UK.

So for example, while the Royal Mail will deliver a letter you have posted in the Isles of Scilly or Outer Hebrides at no extra cost, rival firms can choose to turn down your business or may charge hefty fees.

Bulk mail

The other problem in hunting for rival mail providers is that many of the Royal Mail's 29 rivals will only pick up bulk mail or only deal with businesses.

So unless you have hundreds of Christmas cards to deliver early, many will decline your trade.

However, some of the newer delivery companies will come to your door to pick up a single letter.

City Cycle Couriers, one of the first cycle courier to get a licence from Postcomm, will collect small letters and deliver them the next day for as little as 32p per item. But it is limited to just three postcodes in Plymouth.

Alternatively, over the Christmas period, the UK's Scout Association youth movement runs its own Scout Post service.

This has legal clearance to operate between 25 November and 1 January, and last year charged between 15 pence and 20p a card.

It too, however, only operates locally, and to get your mail collected or delivered, it helps to know a scout.

FOR COMPANIES

Many large businesses such as banks and utility companies already employ one of Royal Mail's rivals to collect their bulk mail.

However, any postal strike would halt these deliveries too, as these delivery firms still rely upon the Royal Mail to actually deliver this bulk mail to people's letterboxes - the so-called "final mile".

The Royal Mail handles the final delivery of 99% of all letters under 350 grams.

However, for letters or parcels above 350 grams firms can switch to any other delivery firm or courier, or use the Royal Mail's own specialist Parcelforce service.

If they are sending out letters at or below 350 grams, they could also consider upgrading to the Royal Mail's Special Delivery Service.

Business organisations recommend by-passing the postal system completely for some things. Don't send cheques, they say, use electronic payment methods instead.



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