Martyn James rounds up your delivery rights ahead of the busy Christmas season – including what you can do if something goes wrong or arrives delayed
It’s that time of year when we start browsing the online sales or begin buying gifts for Christmas.
That means millions more parcels than usual are zipping around the UK every day. And that leads to the single most common complaint that I hear from you all: Delivery disasters.
Almost everyone I speak to has a delivery nightmare story. In fact, many people have had multiple disastrous experiences with rubbish delivery companies. Just ask any of your friends, family or colleagues and I’m convinced almost everyone will have a tale of woe to tell.
Citizens Advice are due to announce the results of its annual parcel delivery firm league table in the coming weeks. Last year, not one single delivery company scored higher than three out of five stars. Half of all people who reported a problem with a delivery experienced further difficulties when trying to sort things out.
Why are there so many complaints about delivery companies?
So why are packaged delivery problems so ubiquitous? Well, part of the reason is the way we shop has dramatically changed in recent years – and the pandemic led to most of us relying on online orders.
Yet the package delivery industry has become very competitive, with a race to the bottom when it comes to prices. That cost cutting means huge pressure is put on the delivery drivers who often have ludicrous targets. Remember that “knock and run” parcel you were left with the other day? That driver isn’t running away from you or trying to keep fit – they are desperately trying to meet their targets.
Of course there are also some delivery drivers who couldn’t care less about the job, which is why social media is filled with images of parcels being booted around distribution centres or lobbed over fences. But do spare a thought for the drivers you see rushing around at this time of year. Be nice.
To be fair to the delivery firms, we’ve largely been dragged back to the office, so we aren’t around as much as we were to collect items. That means if parcels can’t be left somewhere safe, they should go back to the depot. We might moan about parcels that are left outside our doors, but imagine the queues if we all had to go and pick up parcels that we weren’t in to receive.
Having said that, many delivery companies are terrible at customer service and have websites that seem designed to make it near impossible to speak to them or make a complaint. One business had a notoriously useless chatbot as its only way of contacting the firm to make a complaint. This customer-dodging behaviour should be stopping now, after regulator Ofcom introduced new rules for delivery firms in April 2023.
These rules state that if you complain to a parcel company, you should be told:
- Who to contact
- Which channels you can use to make a complaint
- What the complaint process will be, and how long it should take to resolve
- That the complaint should be dealt with by staff who have received appropriate training
Now I take that to mean they have to be “contactable” in order for those rules to apply. Let me know if you find out they aren’t. Annoyingly, there isn’t an Ombudsman for the package delivery industry yet, but I’m hoping that will change soon.
Package delivery – a guide to your rights
There’s one key thing to remember when it comes to package delivery. If you have a problem with a missing or damaged package, your contract is with the retailer not the delivery firm.
That means the retailer is responsible for getting the goods to you intact and in your hands. They are also responsible for refunding you if there’s a problem or arranging for a replacement delivery. You should not have to wait for ages while the missing parcel is investigated. If you ordered it and it didn’t turn up, or was damaged, you can get a refund.
As I’ve mentioned many times, some shops fob off their customers, despite this being the law (the Consumer Rights Act). So be prepared to push back. It’s not your fault if your parcel is:
- Left somewhere you haven’t authorised
- Left with an unauthorised neighbour
- Left in a communal or unsecured area
- Left outside a door (then nicked)
- Broken or damaged when you open it
Of course, if you’ve sent the parcel, then you do have to deal with the delivery firm direct.
What are people complaining about this year?
In previous years, it’s been complaints about parcels left in bins or claims that deliveries were attempted when they clearly weren’t that drove the bulk of the complaints. This year, the complaint du jour is the picture that ‘proves’ the delivery took place’. This is where the courier insists the parcel was delivered using the ‘proof’ of a photograph.
I’ve seen loads of your pictures of parcels propped up by unidentified shoes, leaning on mysterious doors or inside unspecified containers (yep, bins still seem to be favourite here). In one recent example that I discussed with Angela Rippon on Rip Off Britain last week, a delivery company was insistent that the package had been correctly delivered – despite the wrong door number featuring prominently in the photograph!
Don’t worry, this isn’t a trigger warning about challenging content! A safe space is a place where you authorise the delivery firm to leave your parcel. This could be:
- Somewhere on your property
- Outside your door
- With a neighbour
- In an official parcel repository (like a shop that accepts delivery drops)
- In a locker in a supermarket
If you haven’t specified that the parcel should be left in a safe space, then it shouldn’t be left at all if you are not in. However, here’s a word of warning. If you’ve previously set a safe space when you last bought something, those instructions may still be saved with the shop.
So always check all delivery instructions before you make a purchase. You might have forgotten one-off instructions you gave a few years back that no longer apply.
One case I recently dealt with involved old instructions to leave an item with a friendly neighbour who had since moved out and been replaced by one that wasn’t quite as nice. Sadly, the old instructions had been followed so it was left to the neighbours to sort things out themselves.
Rules around delivery timescales are also part of consumer law. Your goods should be delivered on or around the date that you were given when your order was placed. If no date was given or agreed, the shop must get your purchases to you within 30 days of the order being placed. If this does not happen, you should get a full refund. If you paid a supplement for a specified time or date of delivery, you can ask for this back too.
Obviously, some things might delay deliveries that are out of the courier or shop’s hands, from strike action to standard shipping containers. So bear in mind some things aren’t the retailer’s fault.
Buyer beware! Ordering from those attractive ads on social media sites might mean you’re actually buying from a shop abroad. This can be a nightmare, because returns can also be difficult and expensive. In addition, I’ve heard endless horror stories about the quality of goods and out-and-out cons. So before you buy from a non-UK firm, check to see:
- If they have a UK website. Look for a UK address and confirm in writing that they are sending from the UK though
- If the prices are in Sterling. If it’s not you pay the exchange rate at the point the firm debits you, so it can fluctuate quite a bit. You will probably pay bank or credit card processing charges too
- What the policy is for returns and how to contact the firm if something goes wrong
Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist