Royal Mail's Door-to-Door Opt-Out is a free service that will stop unaddressed junk mail delivered by the postman. Signing up to the scheme is the single most effective measure you can take to reduce junk mail.
Royal Mail has never done much to promote the Door-to-Door Opt-Out and as a result few people know it even exists. Although the company is rather secretive about its opt-out scheme for leaflets we know that in April 2009 about 0.8% of all households in the UK was registered with the scheme. To put this figure in perspective, roughly 10% of households / people is registered with the Mailing Preference Service, the main opt-out scheme for addressed junk mail.
Obscure as the Door-to-Door Opt-Out may be, if you want to reduce unsolicited leaflets you definitely should register with the scheme. The Door-to-Door Opt-Out will prevent between three and six pieces of junk mail per week - more than the Mailing Preference Service and Your Choice combined.
To register, you first need to ask Royal Mail to send you an 'opt-out confirmation form'. You can do so by sending and e-mail with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org or by tapping your name and addressed into Junk Buster. Using Junk Buster, you can contact up to five other opt-out schemes at the same time.
If you request the opt-out form via e-mail (or Junk Buster) you'll get the form sent to you via e-mail, which means you'll need to print the form yourself. If you prefer to get the form in the post you can phone the team administering the opt-out scheme on 01865 796 964 or 01865 796 988. Alternatively, you can write to:
I mentioned that the reason why few people are registered with the Door-to-Door Opt-Out is that Royal Mail is reluctant to advertise the existence of the scheme. This isn't the only reason for the rather low opt-out rate. The Door-to-Door Opt-Out is not a very customer-friendly scheme:
- The opt-out process is lengthy and discouraging; rather than allowing people to register online Royal Mail insists that people complete a paper registration form.
- The registration form warns that you “
may miss important information from local or national government” if you decide to opt out. This warning causes a lot of confusion and probably explains why about half the people who request an opt-out form don't return it (see also Warnings… or 'scare tactics'? below).
- You don't don't get confirmation that you've registered, and Royal Mail won't send you a new opt-out form when your registration expires (which happens after a meagre two years).
In other words, the Door-to-Door Opt-Out is not a secret gem. In order to register you have to have some stamina, and you'll have to remind yourself to re-register every two years. If you fail to re-register in time you need to go back to square one and request a new opt-out form (and put up with the junk mail for at least six weeks). To prevent your opt-out expires you may want to re-register every year.
As an aside, it's difficult to contact the opt-out administrators via e-mail. The email@example.com e-mail address is primarily used to automatically send people the opt-out form; it's unclear whether or not the mailbox is actually being monitored. If you have a query or complaint you should either phone the opt-out team or submit an e-mail via the Royal Mail website (see also Complaints below).
In November 2011 it was announced that Government had forced the junk mail industry to merge the existing opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail. The 'Door-Drop Preference Service' was due to be launched in April 2012, and from that date householders would finally be allowed to opt out online. As it goes, just before the launch of the scheme the Direct Marketing Association made some impossible last minute demands, and Government has since kept quiet about the scheme. If you want to learn more about the new opt-out scheme and / or understand more about how industry self-regulation works, I've written about the saga in the Diary:
- 01/11/2011 - Making sense of the new junk mail deal
- 23/12/2011 - Appreciating the desire for a simple comprehensive opt-out scheme
- 17/05/2012 - Where's our super-duper opt-out scheme?
- 27/07/2012 - Direct Marketing Association refusing to launch super-duper opt-out scheme for unaddressed mail
- 08/08/2012 - What the super-duper opt-out scheme will look like
The Beeb also picked up on the story:
The official reason for the existence of the Door-to-Door Opt-Out is that Royal Mail wants to ensure that people make an 'informed decision' about stopping unsolicited leaflets. As far as I'm aware Royal Mail is the only postal service in the world to have such a noble policy; in other countries you can simply stop unsolicited unaddressed mail items by placing a 'No Junk Mail' sign on your door. Royal Mail, however, instructs postmen to ignore 'No Junk Mail' signs.
For people who have no need for unsolicited leaflets this is bad news. An opt-out scheme for unaddressed junk mail only makes sense if such a scheme covers all unaddressed junk mail. Unsurprisingly, this is isn't the case; the Door-to-Door Opt-Out only covers about 25 to 50%. To resolve this shortcoming the Direct Marketing Association set up a second opt-out service for unaddressed junk mail in 2008; the rather obscure Your Choice scheme. Your Choice will prevent only a handful of leaflets a year; and so you still need to put a 'No Junk Mail' sign on your door to stop unaddressed junk mail not covered by the two opt-out schemes. That's three things you need to do just to stop leaflets you never asked for in the first place…
The moral is that reducing unsolicited leaflets would be a lot easier if Royal Mail would simply respect 'No Junk Mail' signs. It's difficult not to see the Door-to-Door Opt-Out (and Your Choice) as an attempt to making reducing junk mail more difficult. The argument that people who put a 'No Junk Mail' sticker on their door are not making an 'informed decision' about stopping unwanted mail is patronising and an insult to people's intelligence.
Registering with the Door-to-Door Opt-Out will not necessarily prevent junk mail with a generic addressee, such as 'To the Occupier' or 'To the Pizza Lover'. The Door-to-Door Opt-Out can only stop junk mail without a 'delivery point'. Translated into English; the scheme will stop any item that doesn't include a postal address. It will not stop items with a generic addressee and a postal address.
To illustrate the point, an item with this address will be prevented by the Door-to-Door Opt-Out:
To the Occupier
However, an item with this address will still be delivered:
To the Occupier
10 Downing Street
The logic is that Royal Mail has a legal obligation to deliver all mail with a delivery point. Whether or not mail items have an addressee is irrelevant; Royal Mail delivers mail to addresses, not to addressees. 'To the Occupier' mail with an address therefore is addressed junk mail, and should be covered by the opt-out scheme for addressed junk mail: the Mailing Preference Service. (And guess what… the Mailing Preference Service doesn't stop junk mail with a generic addressee!)
As mention, when you ask Royal Mail to be spared from door-drops you'll get an 'opt-out confirmation form' and a letter explaining that registering with the scheme will stop all unaddressed mail delivered by Royal Mail, including
“leaflets from central and local Government and other public bodies”. The form itself even states that you may miss “
important information”. These warnings have caused much confusion about the consequences of opting out, and they stop many people from registering; Royal Mail estimates that about half the people who request an opt-out form never return it.
Royal Mail doesn't give much clarification on exactly what leaflets you may miss if your decide to opt out. After PostWatch, the former watchdog for postal services in the UK (nowadays part of Consumer Focus), took offense of the warnings Royal Mail confirmed that election material (i.e. election leaflets from political parties) will be delivered to all households and that “
an alternative door-to-door service” will be used if central or local government really need to post a leaflet through each and every door in a certain area. An example of such an item is the 'Swine Flu' leaflet produced by the Department of Health in May 2009. The leaflet was delivered to every household in the UK, including households registered with the Door-to-Door Opt-Out.
The question remains whether or not you'll miss all sorts of important information if you opt out of receiving unsolicited and unaddressed mail items delivered by the postman. Since January 2011 I've been keeping track of all unaddressed mail items delivered by Royal Mail to my address. The Royal Junk Mail 'Catablog' suggests that very little information is distributed via the door-to-door scheme indeed. The warning that you may miss leaflets from central or local Government seems to refer only to free magazines published by local authorities. If you do enjoy reading such
self-congratulatory propaganda publications, and if your magazine happens to be delivered via Royal Mail's door-to-door scheme, you'll have to consider if not getting the magazine through the door weighs up against not receiving all those leaflets from Domino Pizzas, Virgin, TalkTalk and the like.
Over the years I've received hundreds of complaints from people who continue to receive unaddressed mail items delivered by Royal Mail after registering with the Door-to-Door Opt-Out. Although the scheme seems to work better than it did a couple of years ago there are still many people who'll find the 'opt out experience' rather crappy.
If you've opted out and you find you're still getting leaflets from the postman you could try to ringing the opt-out admins (01865 796964). It's not the official route but you'll probably find it's the quickest. They'll be able to confirm whether or not your address has been registered, and if so from what date. If your address has been marked as opted out they'll usually contact your local sorting office to remind them not to deliver unaddressed junk mail to your address.
The official route is to contact Royal Mail's customer services department. All they'll do is pass your e-mail to the above-mentioned opt-out admins, which is why you might as well contact them directly.
The advantage of taking the official route is that Royal Mail will log your complaint. If the company fail to deliver unsolicited leaflets to your address after contacting customer services you could continue to work your way through Royal Mail's complaint handling process™.
Tips for complainants
The following tips may be useful if you're thinking about lodging a complaint:
- In the letter Royal Mail sends with the opt-out confirmation form the company advises that
“if relief staff are used, an occasional delivery may occur”. It's important to note that this can never be an excuse for delivering unaddressed items to householders who are opted out. It might be understandable that temps are likely to ignore households that have opted out, given that postmen have to learn by heart which households on their round are opted out. Nevertheless, in no way does it give Royal Mail an excuse for ignoring your registration with the scheme. The remark is irrelevant and Royal Mail will never use it to justify a poor standard of service.
- It's important to keep a copy of any correspondence you have with Royal Mail. You may need the copies should Royal Mail continue to ignore your opt-out and/or should you decide to escalate your complaint to the Postal Review Panel.
- Sometimes Royal Mail advises complainants to register with the Mailing Preference Service and/or to contact the Direct Marketing Association about how to reduce unsolicited mail. If they do, explain that your complaint is about Royal Mail ignoring your registration with its Door-to-Door Opt-Out. The Mailing Preference Service is an opt-out scheme for addressed junk mail and the Direct Marketing Association will not be able to assist you – they've got nothing to do with Door-to-Door Opt-Out.
- Royal Mail may ask you to forward the items you're complaining about to one of its customer services centres. This is a reasonable request; they want you to establish whether or not the items have been delivered via the door-to-door service indeed. However, it is also reasonable for you to refuse to let go of your 'evidence' and to spend money on postage. You can offer to send scans via e-mail (if you're able to scan the items) or ask them to provide you with a pre-paid envelope. Or, you could give them a description of the item, including any code on the item that may identify when and where it was delivered.