More than 5 million people had a parcel lost or stolen last year, according to Citizens Advice, which has called on the government to start fining firms that keep losing deliveries as part of a comprehensive overhaul of the sector.
Currently, only Royal Mail faces fines for poor service, but the charity said the same sanctions should apply to the whole industry, after surveys showed customers had experienced a range of problems with deliveries. Ten parcels were lost or stolen during each minute over the last 12 months, it claimed.
Citizens Advice said that as many as 20 million people – 38% of all UK adults – had received a “Sorry you were out” card in the last year, despite being home at the time. It said time-strapped couriers had been leaving parcels in insecure places such as doorsteps and bins rather than waiting the extra few seconds for the door to be answered.
The issue, which particularly affects elderly and disabled people and those with young children, is caused in part by the unrealistic delivery schedules imposed on drivers by the parcels firms, it added.
The fiercely competitive industry had a poor reputation for service even prior to the pandemic, and the subsequent boom in online shopping left many firms struggling to cope. Consumers can pay as little £3.67 for a door-to-door parcel delivery, with big retailers paying even less.
In November, Citizens Advice said complaints about the sector had trebled since the start of the pandemic.
Matthew Upton, the charity’s director of policy, said: “When it comes to parcel deliveries, the power of choice is in the hands of the retailers, not those receiving the parcels. So when we find our parcels under a bush or behind our bins, it’s easy to lay the blame at the door of individual hard-working drivers. But the reality is that these failings are baked into the system.”
Upton said a combination of “overworked drivers, no routes to compensation and a lack of penalties for poor service” meant a lack of meaningful protection for consumers.
Citizens Advice said Ofcom should be given the power to extend penalties to all delivery firms to make sure they take appropriate measures to keep parcels safe, and that there should be better redress systems for consumers whose parcels go missing.
It found that one in three consumers who had experienced a problem with a delivery in the previous 12 months said they had not complained, as they did not believe it would make a difference.
The charity has also called for drivers to be given better employment protections.
One driver described being taken on and told that the job entailed making 80 deliveries a day. However, once he had started, the workload quickly escalated to an unrealistic 180 a day. That gave him less than two minutes to deliver each parcel.
“Addressing the sheer pressure that drivers are under and holding companies to account is the real way to improve this essential service for the millions of people who rely on it,” Upton said.