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Fake stamps farce ‘undermining Britain’s social fabric’

A woman posts a letter at a pillar box
A woman posts a letter at a pillar box

Chinese counterfeit stamps are undermining Britain’s social fabric, the Post Office has warned as it increased pressure on Royal Mail to scrap fines for fake stamps.

A senior director said the scourge of Chinese criminals printing fake stamps had “undermined one of the great institutions”, adding it was “part of the fabric of our society to be able to buy a legitimate letter”.

They joined a growing number of MPs putting pressure on Royal Mail to reconsider the “unfair” £5 fines for recipients who collect post which has been deemed to be sent with a counterfeit stamp, saying it was “deeply distressing” that innocent victims were having to pay.

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It comes after 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.

Neill O’Sullivan, Post Office managing director for parcels and mails, told The Telegraph: “It is a scourge that people are counterfeiting these online or through other channels.

“This is one of the great institutions, it’s something that people value and it’s part of the fabric of our society to be able to buy a legitimate stamp and post a letter. For that to be undermined is really quite sad.”

Mr O’Sullivan added it was “very distressing that particularly vulnerable people would be charged by Royal Mail, [a rule] which they impose”.

Yesterday senior MPs called on Royal Mail to stop the fines, which increased last October from £2.50 to £5, as it investigates issues with new barcoded stamps. A spate of customers claim they have been wrongly surcharged.

The Liberal Democrats said it was “ridiculous” customers were being caught up in Royal Mail’s “mess” and having to pay “unfair” fines. Former Post Office minister Paul Scully also called for the fines to be stopped while Royal Mail investigates the issue.

Royal Mail has so far rejected calls to stop the fines, saying the surcharge was part of the reason there has been a 90pc reduction in counterfeit stamps.

However there is growing discontent in Westminster about the handling of Royal Mail’s investigation.

A letter sent by Postal Affairs minister Kevin Hollinrake, and seen by The Telegraph, has called on Royal Mail’s chief executive to “redouble efforts” and “hold those responsible properly accountable”.

Mr Hollinrake, who sent the letter on Friday, said MPs were demanding answers and urged boss Martin Seidenberg to share updates on how the investigation was progressing.

He wrote: “When we met recently, I highlighted that I am very concerned about the impact of counterfeit stamps on consumers across the country. I welcome the assurances you gave me in that meeting about the steps being taken by Royal Mail to investigate and tackle this issue and the subsequent updates your team have shared with my officials.

“Despite this, I have been alarmed to read further press coverage in recent days about large volumes of counterfeit stamps entering circulation and the resulting detriment and costs to customers. I’d strongly urge that you redouble your efforts to investigate the source of these stamps, prevent their sale and hold those responsible properly accountable.

“Rightly, there is significant interest from my Parliamentary colleagues in tackling the scourge of these counterfeiters, so I would welcome any updates you are able to provide so that I can also update them.”

Mr Hollinrake added he was happy to facilitate discussions with other parts of government, as well as setting up a conversation with UK Border Force after Royal Mail accused officers of not doing enough to stop counterfeit stamps entering Britain.

While Royal Mail insists its processes are “secure”, a senior executive revealed last weekend that the postal service’s machines are not always able to scan new barcodes correctly, meaning some genuine stamps have been mistakenly labelled as suspicious, although final decisions are always made by a human expert.

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Mr O’Sullivan said it was Royal Mail’s “problem to solve” and that postmasters continue to be “trusted pillars of the community” and the public should remain confident buying stamps from the Post Office.

He said: “We speak frequently, we cooperate and we try to make sure when there are any holes we will look after them and fix them together if necessary, but this one is entirely in their hands.”

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.”

Have you been affected by Royal Mail counterfeit stamps? Email money@telegraph.co.uk