Royal Mail has made a bunch of changes to its opt-out scheme for unaddressed mail, the so-called Door-to-Door Opt-Out.
The opt-out form can now be downloaded
You no longer have to contact Royal Mail to get an opt-out form. Instead, you can now download the form from its website:
The form is now also available in Welsh. I love the Welsh language. Instead of "opt-out form" they say "ffurflen dewis peidio". Doesn't that sound brilliant?
New freepost address
You still need to send Royal Mail a paper opt-out form (who would want to opt out online in 2015?) but the freepost address is now a lot shorter: Freepost Royal Mail Customer Services.
New e-mail address for queries
The team that administers the opt-out scheme now has shorter e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can use this e-mail address for queries about the opt-out scheme and/or to ask them to send you an opt-out form in the post (if you don't have a printer).
New telephone number
And finally, the team that administers the opt-out scheme also has a new phone number: 0345 266 0858.
What does this all mean, in a historical context?
I know you're dying to know what this all means in a historic context.
For the most part the changes are purely practical. The opt-out admins have been swallowed up by the customer service people. Nothing shocking there. Managers like to regularly reorganise things (and then update their Linked In page).
What is interesting is that you can now download the opt-out form. Until some time in 2011 the only (official) way to get hold of the form was by writing to Royal Mail. They then started using the e-mail address email@example.com to send the opt-out form attached (as a PDF) to an auto-reply message. You can still get the form by sending an e-mail to this address but doing so has become rather pointless; it's quicker and easier to grab the form from the Royal Mail website.
What we're witnessing then, dear reader, is nothing less than a move towards a straightforward opt-out process! In another four years time Royal Mail might trust its customers enough to allow them to opt out online. You known, in the same way you've been able to register with the Mailing Preference Service for over a decade.
But what about the need to verify stuff?
As said, until a couple of years ago Royal Mail insisted that you first had to write to them to request an opt-out form. Officially, this was
for security reasons – to verify that those resident at the address have requested the 'opt out' [sic]. In other words, Royal Mail would receive your request; add your details to a database; pop a form in the post; and then wait for a completed and signed form to be returned. I'm not sure if Royal Mail ever intended to follow this procedure – I suspect they were just trying to discourage households interested in opting out. What I do know is that Royal Mail never followed this hopelessly bureaucratic procedure. When they received a request for an opt-out form they simply used to pop a form in the post, and when they received a completed and signed form they would simply mark the address as opted out. At no point has Royal Mail ever verified that the residents at the address listed on a form had actually asked to be opted out.
In case that went straight over your head, the bottom line is this: Royal Mail's claim that it verifies that opt-out requests are genuine is a lie. They not verifying anything.
When Royal Mail started sending the opt-out form attached to a standard auto-reply e-mail the nonsense about having to verify that opt-out requests are genuine was effectively dead. I mean, there's nothing to stop you from printing dozens of copies of the form to register random households. Even if Royal Mail wanted to verify such opt-out requests – which they don't – the company wouldn't be able to do so. How would Royal Mail check that an e-mail address used to request a form belongs to a physical address? Weirdly, though, the blurb about verifying opt-out requests has never been removed from the Royal Mail website. It's still there, on the same page from where you can now download the opt-out form.
In June, I asked Royal Mail about this and got the following response:
When we receive a telephone call from a resident who wishes to be Opted Out [sic] we send out the Letter [sic] and form and request that the form be signed and returned, in order to verify that this particular resident wishes to be opted out. If someone makes a request via email, we do not simply take the email as the request but still send out the letter and form so that we are still able to verify that the person actually wants to be opted out.
The answer avoids the question. Sixteen e-mails later Royal Mail has
noted my feedback and
passed this to the relevant department for future consideration. In other words, they don't want to discuss their lie about verifying opt-out requests.
Do I care?
Yes, you do! Royal Mail's drivel about
security gives its outdated / discouraging opt-out procedure some legitimacy. Effectively, they're saying that an opt-out website such as the Mailing Preference Service isn't really secure – or at least not as secure as Royal Mail's superior opt-out service. The Mailing Preference Service requires people to click on a confirmation link in an e-mail; Royal Mail is claiming that they actually verify that the people living at an address have asked to be opted out. Acknowledging that they've never done this would not only be embarrassing, it would also expose the Door-to-Door Opt-Out for what it is: a hopelessly bureaucratic, outdated service. It would pave the way for a simple online opt-out form (which might encourage people to opt out).