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Royal Mail ‘uses Google to check stamps’, claim whistleblowers

Royal Mail Stamps
Royal Mail Stamps

Royal Mail staff are using Google to identify counterfeit stamps amid growing concerns letter recipients are being wrongly fined, whistleblowers have told The Telegraph.

Insiders have painted a bleak picture of chaos and confusion at delivery offices nationwide, with employees “embarrassed” and returning fines to sorting offices because they fear genuine stamps are being wrongly marked as counterfeit.

Despite Royal Mail previously insisting its processes were secure, whistleblowers have told The Telegraph:

  • Resources put towards identifying counterfeits have been “cut to the bone”, as Royal Mail prioritises parcels.

  • Delivery offices are being overwhelmed with fake stamp fines – one said it receives almost 500 in a week. Royal Mail has around 1,400 delivery offices nationwide.

  • Stamps flagged as counterfeit by the postal service’s revenue protection experts are being routinely questioned by staff and sent back for re-evaluation.

  • Frontline staff have received no training and are relying on the internet for guidance.

  • Others are ignoring decisions from Royal Mail’s revenue protection unit and wiping fines.

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The claims pile more pressure on Royal Mail to give into demands for a full-scale investigation into the scourge of counterfeit stamps which it has so far resisted.

It comes as senior MPs have ordered Royal Mail to “stop penalising innocent people” and sort out its “mess” with both Labour and the Liberal Democrats calling for penalties to be halted pending a full investigation.

Royal Mail
One whistleblower claims Royal Mail prioritises parcels and special delivery post, with letters often 'sat at a delivery office or stuck somewhere'

One insider, who recently retired after 18 years at Royal Mail, said they had dealt with a “staggering” number of complaints from those who said they had bought their stamps at the Post Office.

They claim revenue protection – the department responsible for inspecting letters and distributing fines – are making “a lot of mistakes”.

Staff told The Telegraph they would routinely return letters with so-called counterfeit stamps to regional mail centres for review. In a number of cases, the fines were overturned.

“Within days, and I mean less than a week of barcoded stamps being out in public, we were getting surcharges saying the stamps were counterfeit. I remember thinking, this has just been issued, how can we be dealing with [this many] counterfeit stamps so quickly?”

Another member of frontline staff said they were “constantly” dealing with customer complaints. They said training on how to identify a counterfeit stamp or what to tell irate customers was “non-existent” and they had resorted to Googling how to spot a counterfeit stamp.

They said: “I can remember having to stand there with a colleague and we were Googling how to recognise a counterfeit stamp because we’d literally had no information dispersed from above.”

After raising the issue with their manager last August, they were told: “Well done for doing that and using your initiative.”

They claimed management was not interested in the rise of people being forced to pay fines to collect letters and if you mentioned it you were “usually met with a waved hand”.

One whistleblower said they dealt with surcharges “on a case by case basis” and said colleagues would often not charge customers and let them have the post without paying the “silly” £5 fine.

They added they had sympathy for revenue protection staff who they claim are “misidentifying” stamps because Royal Mail has cut resources “to the bone”, and are prioritising parcels and special delivery post.

“Tracked items take priority because that’s the thing customers can see, they are the things they can go online and see if it’s sat at a delivery office or stuck somewhere. They know stamps are on the way out, they know letters are on the way out, they don’t care.”

The insider said letters spent “days and days” in delivery offices over Christmas because it was not a “priority”. “They had a paper trail, everything with stamps stayed there until they had to go and clear it.”

They added last Christmas they dealt with more than 60 letters a day which were accused of being counterfeit – almost 500 per week.

Another insider revealed stamps gifted to employees by Royal Mail at Christmas had been flagged as counterfeit.

They said their colleague had received a set of four barcoded Christmas stamps – one of which was deemed counterfeit and led to a family member having to pay a £5 surcharge.

The whistleblower said: “It is very strange. Unless Royal Mail are sending us counterfeit stamps, which of course they wouldn’t, there is definitely an issue.”

Last week, a senior executive at Royal Mail told The Telegraph scanning machines were not used for all post at Christmas because of the “incredible volume” of letters being sent.

They said some decisions about whether a stamp was counterfeit were therefore only taken by a member of revenue protection staff and because the counterfeits are so realistic, they had made mistakes.

They said: “As we’ve been very clear about, you can’t tell [it’s a counterfeit stamp] in most cases just by looking at it so if it’s been sorted manually, it hasn’t been spotted and frankly that’s on us, us losing revenue that’s a fact.”

The whistleblower added staff were “embarrassed” to surcharge customers they believe incorrectly, adding: “The whole thing is horrible, it’s not pleasant.”

On Thursday, MPs reacted with fury to The Telegraph’s latest findings with former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith calling for a public inquiry.

Sir Iain said: “I think it’s time for the business committee to call for them to have an inquiry. It’s quite clear at the moment no one knows whether they have fake stamps or normal stamps.

“They’ve not explained to the public what they are doing to check them and that’s where the issue arises. They need to be much more open about it. It’s time to come clean.”

Royal Mail has so far not accepted there is any issue with how they process and decide a stamp is counterfeit and has instead blamed Border Force and independent retailers for selling Chinese counterfeits.

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “These highly trained colleagues work in our mail processing centres across the country and it is their job to check stamps identified as potentially counterfeit. They have helped contribute to the 90pc reduction of illegal counterfeit stamps we have seen in our network since the introduction of barcoded stamps. They understand the complexities involved with constantly evolving forgeries and are tested regularly on their ability to identify counterfeit stamps.

“Our colleagues working in our local Customer Service Points are not required to make judgements on the validity of stamps. They have guidance on how to support our customers with any surcharges that are applied and always have the ability to contact the surcharging team to confirm or query any decision. Customers who receive a surcharge are encouraged to contact our Customer Experience team if they have any questions.”