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Counterfeit stamp fines must be suspended, Royal Mail told

stamps
stamps

Royal Mail has been told to suspend counterfeit stamp fines amid fears innocent customers are wrongly being charged £5.

Senior MPs have called on the postal service to stop the “unfair fines” while it investigates issues with new barcoded stamps which has seen a spate of customers claim they have been wrongly surcharged.

Last week, an investigation by The Telegraph found China is flooding Britain with counterfeit stamps with suppliers offering to produce up to one million fake Royal Mail stamps a week – and deliver them to Britain within days.

A senior executive said the convincing Chinese forgeries were making it harder for Royal Mail’s revenue protection team to spot the difference between a genuine and fraudulent stamp.

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The source said they knew of only a “handful” of cases where members of the public have been incorrectly surcharged as machines are not always able to scan new barcodes correctly. Royal Mail has previously always maintained its processes were “secure”.

The Liberal Democrats said it was “ridiculous” customers were being caught up in Royal Mail’s “mess”.

Sarah Olney, the party’s treasury spokesman, called on the Government to launch an investigation and said “no fine should be handed out until ministers have got to the bottom of this.”

She also reiterated calls for the Chinese embassy to be brought before ministers as part of an investigation.

She said: “The Government should stamp out these unfair fines. Ministers need to launch an investigation into this, including questioning the Chinese embassy.

“During that time, it is ridiculous to be penalising innocent people who are being caught up in this mess. No fines should be handed out until Ministers have got to the bottom of this. Yet again the government is missing in action and far too slow to act.”

Labour called for an “urgent investigation” to protect British consumers who are being “defrauded”.

Shadow Secretary of State for Business Jonathan Reynolds said: “This is incredibly worrying for British consumers and small businesses who are being defrauded. The Government must urgently investigate the scale of this forgery and work with Royal Mail, the police and the regulator to clamp down on this criminality.”

Paul Scully
Former Post Office minister Paul Scully said Royal Mail should not assume the problem lies with small retailers - Jose Sarmento Matos

Former Post Office minister Paul Scully also called for the fines to be stopped while Royal Mail investigates the issue.

Mr Scully said: “The end user is the one getting the fine, whereas it’s another person who is actually responsible. That doesn’t sound right and it doesn’t sound fair.”

Royal Mail believes the forgeries are being sold online as well as unwittingly by small retailers, who, under legislation introduced in 1989, are not required to buy stamps directly from Royal Mail and can instead source them from wholesalers in bulk.

The postal service has said it is writing to “thousands” of small retailers to warn them against purchasing counterfeit stamps from anybody offering a discount, with a close source adding Royal Mail’s security team were monitoring “hotspots” of suspicious activity.

However Mr Scully said Royal Mail should not assume the problem lies with small retailers. “They (the fines) should be paused. I’m not sure that unless people know how to avoid counterfeit stamps, I can’t believe there’s loads of people that are suddenly going to dodgy places to get their stamps.”

Meanwhile Baroness Altmann, vice chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Consumer Protection, said the law should be changed so that only the Post Office can sell stamps.

The former pensions minister said: “We actually got caught out by that last year. My uncle had his birthday last summer and he sent out, the poor man, thank you cards to everybody who bought a special 90th birthday present for him and all of us had to pay five pounds to read his lovely letter.

“He bought stamps on Amazon thinking they were at a discount. And clearly they were counterfeit and presumably now we know they probably came from China.

“What you want is for people to only buy non-counterfeit stamps. If people are trying to buy off the internet, surely they should be told not to and they should be told to only buy from Royal Mail.

“I think it’s quite clear that buying something like a stamp, which has special security measures, shouldn’t happen online, just like buying £5 notes online at a discount. It’s the same principle. You should have to go to a recognised bank for the money, and you should have to go to the Post Office or order from a post office for stamps.”

Until 1989, stamps could only be sold by Royal Mail and in Post Offices. These rules were then relaxed to give customers more choice and availability.

It means anybody in Britain can sell stamps and at whatever price they want. Last week, a government source told The Telegraph there were no immediate plans to change the law.

Royal Mail, which has been a private company since 2013, is regulated by Ofcom. However the regulator said counterfeit stamps fell outside of its remit and it had not been in contact with Royal Mail about the issue.

An Ofcom spokesman said: “Issues regarding the authenticity of stamps are not within the scope of Ofcom’s regulation, which is set in legislation by Parliament.”

A Royal Mail spokesman said: “The issue of counterfeit stamps is one that postal services around the world have been tackling for many years. In the UK, the combination of new barcoded stamps with added security features, the surcharge and Royal Mail actively working with law enforcement authorities has led to a 90pc reduction in counterfeit stamps.

“We want our customers to buy stamps with confidence and always recommend that customers only purchase stamps from Post Offices and other reputable High Street retailers, and not to buy stamps online – unless from the official Royal Mail shop .”