Guide to stamping out junk mail

This guide talks you through the most effective – and free – ways of reducing unsolicited junk mail.

Different types of junk mail need to be tackled in different ways. This guide aims to give you all the information you need to become 'junk mail free'. I'll also deal with some specific types of junk mail such as paper directories, 'To the Occupier' letters and junk mail sent to people who have died. If you don't want to read lots and lots information about stopping junk mail you might want to hop over to the 15-minute guide or visit Junk Buster – a website that allows you to quickly contact a number of opt-out schemes for junk mail in one go.

About this guide

I first wrote a guide to stamping out junk mail in early 2007. At the time it contained just a couple of practical tips for cutting back on junk mail. I quickly learned that stopping unwanted adverts is not only needlessly complicated but also that it's deliberately so. I decided that it was my job to point out all the things that are wrong in the world of junk mail.

The result is a ridiculously large guide which few people are prepared to read from start to finish. Still, it would be wrong to simply explain that, for instance, you can stop unaddressed mail distributed by the Royal Mail by signing up to the company's Door-to-Door Opt-Out without also explaining that the scheme has serious shortcomings and really shouldn't exists in the first place. Opt-out schemes for unaddressed junk mail don't work, for the simple reason that such schemes can only cover a small portion of all unsolicited leaflets. Before we dive in, then, we should have a quick word about why stopping junk mail in the UK is so complicated. The answer can be summarised in a single word:


Self-regulation is jargon for letting the fox guard the henhouse. In the UK the fox is the Direct Marketing Association (and you're obviously in the henhouse). It's the official representative of the UK's junk mail lobby and exists to ward off legislation that would require advertisers to respect people's wishes. The organisation runs no less than three opt-out schemes for junk mail – with no involvement from consumer champions such as Which. The schemes are run by the industry for the industry.

I'm not saying that all opt-out schemes are bad. The opt-out scheme for addressed junk mail, the Mailing Preference Service, certainly is useful. My criticism, though, is that the scheme is not near as effective as it could be. It's a voluntary scheme that only applies to members of the Direct Marketing Association and it makes a bizarre exception for junk mail addressed to a generic addressee, such as 'To the Occupier'. It's unthinkable that the scheme would be so laissez-faire had it been run by an organisation which has the interests of consumers at its heart.

An opt-out scheme which is really bad is the Direct Marketing Association's Your Choice Preference Service. The 'service' doesn't allow you to register online and the Your Choice opt-out pack includes the most draconian warnings about the consequences of stopping unsolicited, unaddressed mail. After you've registered you won't get a confirmation letter, and you'll have to wait three months before your opt-out becomes fully effective. Worse, it's completely unclear how many items the scheme is likely to stop. It will prevent unaddressed junk mail distributed by DMA-members – but of course you'll never know whether a leaflet was distributed by a DMA-member. And to add insult to injury the Direct Marketing Association will automatically opt you back in when your registration expires (after a meagre two years). Think about that; instead of asking you if you want to continue to use their 'service' they assume you want to cancel your membership. Do you know of any other organisation that doesn't even send members a reminder that their registration is about to expire?

And then I haven't even pointed out that Your Choice is redundant – if only the Direct Marketing Association would endorse letterbox stickers there would be no need for bureaucratic, malfunctioning opt-out schemes for unsolicited leaflets.

As said, throughout this guide there are examples of how self-regulation is making reducing unsolicited mail needlessly complicated. Self-regulation isn't necessarily bad but there should be a sensible balance between the interests of the industry and the hoi polloi. In the UK there's no such balance. As long long as ordinary people and/or consumer organisations don't have a say in how things are regulated the fox will continue to attack us poor hens.

Last updated: 
28th November 2015