Watchdog critical of Post Office returns policy
Hiscox Bermuda CEO says policy hurts International Business
Charles Dupplin, the CEO of class four reinsurance company Hiscox Bermuda, sparked an Ombudsman investigation into the Post Office’s ‘return to sender’ policy.
Mr Dupplin told Arlene Brock the system was draconian, inefficient and may be in breach of the Universal Postal Union Treaty of 1874.
Explaining his concerns, Mr Dupplin told The Royal Gazette: “It seems to me to be vital for a modern economy to have a Post Office that works well. Businesses depend on it and International Business depends on international post.
“You can’t expect clerks working in America for a bank to understand the Bermuda postcode system or indeed to get the address 100 percent right all of the time.
“To have important business documents sent back where they could reasonably have been delivered is a needless impediment for businesses here on the Island.
“The Ombudsman’s report ends with what seems to me to be a cry of anguish with the Ombudsman saying she was concerned that they weren’t fully relaxing this rule.
“Our business depends among other things on lots of bits of paper from institutions we trade with. E-mail has reduced this a lot, but there’s still plenty of post.
“It is important for Bermuda and its business community that every effort is made to deliver international post’”
Mr Dupplin said the costs of returning mail to the sender would mitigate any savings made from the policy.
“It did seem to me that the greater cost to Bermuda would be not being an efficient place to do business” he said.
“Any modern society needs to have a functioning Post Office; it’s just as important as something like roads.
“I realise the economics of the Post Office are hurting at the moment, as for post offices all over the world with the volume reductions caused by electronic mail, but it doesn’t stop the fact that it’s a social necessity.
“I implore the Post Office to fully and permanently relax the rule.”
Ms Brock concluded ‘return to sender’ does not appear to breach the Treaty, but said it defies common sense and called for Government to deliver the mail that is possible to be delivered.
Ombudsman Arlene Brock launched a withering attack on the Post Office’s ‘return to sender’ policy amid claims it is hurting international business.
Ms Brock carried out an investigation into the controversial system following complaints it was affecting reinsurance companies’ communications with overseas firms and frustrating the public.
Her team discovered staff spending time correcting details of incompletely addressed mail but — instead of then delivering them — posting them back to the sender pointing out their mistake.
This makes a mockery of Government’s claims the policy saves money by cutting time spent researching badly addressed mail, the Ombudsman said in her annual report.
Ms Brock contrasted Bermuda’s attitude to the Cayman Islands, where she says the delivery of mail is a social good and every effort is made to get it to its destination.
The Ombudsman also cast doubt over Economy Minister Patrice Minors’ suggestion the practice has been relaxed, saying she understands this may have only been a temporary move last Christmas.
She said Government had provided no evidence to back up the claim returning to sender was saving up to $35,000 a month; the real saving, according to Ms Brock, appears to be less than $6,000 per month.
Mrs Minors responded by saying correspondence with minor infractions will be delivered accordingly, but stressed the onus is on residents to get their addresses right in the first place.
But reinsurance company Hiscox Bermuda CEO Charles Dupplin, whose complaint sparked Ms Brock’s report, yesterday described the policy as a needless impediment for businesses on the Island, and urged the Post Office to fully and permanently relax the rule.
An amendment to the Post Office Act three years ago allowed any mail to be returned if not correctly addressed with a unit and building number, street name, parish and postcode.
Ms Brock said in her report: “The amendment does seem to defy common sense.
“The public is frustrated that seemingly resolvable address infractions prevent mail from being delivered on our 20 square miles yet mail with serious infractions is delivered in much larger jurisdictions.”
Before the amendment was passed, $14,000 per month was said to be spent dealing with incorrectly addressed mail.
But Ms Brock stated: “The amendment did not end all research completely.
“Instead of post persons taking the time to research correct addresses for the purpose of attempting to deliver the mail, research continues to be conducted at the airport sorting facility — now by non-delivery staff and for the very different purpose of returning incorrectly addressed mail.”
According to Ms Brock, once a piece of mail is identified as incorrect, the researcher locates the correct information via the land valuation website, applies a ‘return to sender’ red stamp which explains how it was incorrectly addressed, and physically writes in the correct address to “educate the sender”.
The mail is then returned to sender.
Ms Brock remarked: “Ironically, once the correct postcode is located, the mail actually becomes possible to deliver, as envisioned by the Universal Postal Union Treaty.
“Instead, it is returned to senders. If the salary of the researcher is taken into account, the actual cost savings would be less than $6,000 per month.”
Last December, Mrs Minors announced the practice would be relaxed; she said costs of $30,000 to $35,000 per month had been eliminated “as a direct result of the decision taken not to deliver mail for address infractions”.
On this point, Ms Brock reflected: “The claim is that the savings to the taxpayer resulting from the amendment is almost half a million dollars a year.
“However, the evidence presented to the Ombudsman was that the cost of ‘return to sender’ mail was approximately $14,000 per month, not $30,000.”
The Ombudsman said she was on the verge of submitting a special report on the issue when Mrs Minors made her comments seven months ago.
But she continued: “However, it now appears the policy may not have been relaxed on a permanent basis.
“Again, I urge the Post Office to deliver the mail that is possible to be delivered after research at the airport sorting facility, rather than returning to sender.”
Responding, Mrs Minors said in a statement: “In an effort to be more consumer friendly and provide a higher standard of service, the return to sender policy was relaxed before Christmas 2011.
“We still expect mail to be properly and correctly addressed. Mail that is correctly addressed will be delivered as the first priority and most of the time we meet a two-day delivery standard with properly addressed mail.
“As it relates to correspondence which is improperly addressed if there are minor infractions — if we can — we will correct those pieces of correspondence and deliver accordingly.
“In instances where we cannot make the corrections or deliver the mail, the correspondence is returned to sender.
“However we want to stress to residents that if they wish their mail to be properly delivered in the first instance, then it is imperative to ensure that the address is correct.”
Useful websites: www.ombudsman.bm
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