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Sorry about my confusion

17th December 2015

Last week I twice had a go at Royal Mail. I first had a rant about the company's false claim that it verifies opt-out requests and then had a moan about the fact that they don't send confirmation letters and reminders to the people who use its service (because, would you believe it, sending such letters is too expensive.

You'd think I'd be done moaning and whining. But I'm not. I'm only half-way there!

What is it this time?

In my correspondence with Royal Mail I pointed out that the company provides ambigious information about the consequences of opting out. When you send an e-mail to you get the opt-out form attached to an auto-reply message and some information about opting out in the e-mail itself. The text of the e-mail includes the following warning:

Some of the items that we deliver may contain important information issued by local and central Government departments, for example materials relating to elections. Because we cannot legally separate these items from the others we deliver – such as advertising offers or leaflets – you will not receive these if you choose to opt out.

This statement contradicts this statement on the Royal Mail website:

Opting out from Royal Mail Door to Door stops all unaddressed items from being delivered by us (although we do work with Government to get a message to every UK address in exceptional circumstances). Election material is not delivered by the Door to Door service and is therefore not affected by this opt out [sic].

The contradiction is obvious, right? The first statement says that you won't get materials relating to elections while the second statement says that election material is […] not affected by this opt out [sic].

Well, it's not obvious to Royal Mail. A couple of weeks ago they wrote to me:

I can confirm that both statements (online / email) are correct and I am sorry for the confusion this has caused you.

So there you have it. If you register with Royal Mail's opt-out scheme for unaddressed mail you will not get any election materials but election materials will still be delivered. I'm so sorry you are confused about that.

So, which is true?

What election materials you will and won't receive when you opt out is really quite easy to explain. At a general election every candidate is entitled to have a leaflet distributed by Royal Mail to all households in the relevant constituency, for free. Rightly or wrongly, our political masters regard these leaflets as an important part of the democratic process, and every household will therefore receive these so-called election communications. All other unaddressed political junk mail will be prevented by opting out.

It's really not that difficult… And yet Royal Mail's confusion goes all the way back to 2006. You do wonder sometimes if these people should be allowed to run an opt-out service without the help of organisations that are more knowledgeable about junk mail and opting out.

Last updated: 
17th December 2015


I recently had this same information from Royal Mail and rang them to query it as it just seemed like a contradictory piece of nonsense. The explanation I got, however, made the whole issue more obvious.

The opt-out is for items that are not addressed to you which means you will no longer receive, for example, the annual Election Registration Form. This is addressed to The Occupier rather than to you personally and if you don't receive it you will not appear on the electoral register. The posties get paid extra for delivering junk mail that is not addressed, and they sort it themselves, so Royal Mail have essentially lost control of this other than accepting and banking the payment they receive from the relevant companies.

The answer you received from Royal Mail doesn't explain anything. It sounds like they told you that the opt-out scheme only covers unaddressed mail. We already knew that – it's called the door-to-door opt-out for a reason.

My article points out that the information Royal Mail provides about the opt-out is contradictory. One of the official statements says that electoral information is covered, another says that it's excepted. It's simply not possible that both statements are true.

I guess the person you spoke to didn't understand the conflicting information either and suggested that one of the statements relates to unaddressed mail and another to addressed mail. The problem with that is that both statements clearly talk about the consequences of opting out of receiving unsolicited, unaddressed mail.

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