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92-year-old left without gifts and unacceptable Royal Mail fail to help

Pam, 92, is just the latest example of a quality of service at Royal Mail that the Communication Workers Union say is 'not at an acceptable level' 

March 27 2024, 11.45am

When cold weather struck in the weeks before Christmas, Teesside native Mark Hesse decided against risking frozen roads and making a return trip to see family in the North East. Instead, he packaged up a box of gifts which included watches and a gold-tipped fountain pen to be delivered to his 92-year-old mum in Thornaby. 

Little did he know this would lead to months of frustration and the parcel being apparently and inexplicably stranded at a warehouse in Northern Ireland. After multiple emails and phone calls, he now has no idea if the goods will ever be seen again and has been left frustrated by what he feels has been an uncaring and unhelpful response by the Royal Mail.

Mark, 60, moved away from Teesside around six years ago after meeting Julie, now his wife, online. The pair married in Southport, Merseyside, in 2020 and still make regular trips back to see his family.

Before Christmas 2023, the couple planned to make the 300 mile round trip back home to deliver presents for a packed season of celebrations which included Christmas, a 50th birthday and a 60th birthday. But with freezing weather eating into the little free time available around Mark’s job as a delivery driver for a car parts shop and Julie’s work in a care home, the pair decided it was best not to risk getting stranded making the journey.

Instead, they visited the Post Office a few minutes from their house and paid around a little over £5 for the box of presents to be delivered first class. That would prove to be the first of a series of incidents which left the pair feeling let down.

“I was expecting it to be a lot more expensive,” Mark told The Teesside Lead. “We paid what we were told to do - £5.39. The box was like a shoe box so we expected it to be more but if they tell you the price, why wouldn’t you believe it?”

While this was considered an honest mistake at the Post Office, what has left Mark most frustrated is what he sees as an disinterested response by the Royal Mail since.

Instead of a box containing Lladró figurines, two watch gift sets, a bluetooth watch and the fountain pen, Mark’s mum Pam received a note saying that delivery wasn’t possible as the incorrect postage amount had been made and a further £7 was owed.

She rang Mark and Julie to explain and it was initially feared the note could be a scam, something which the first Royal Mail call handler agreed was a possibility, Julie said. In any case, Pam was unable to go online to make the payment herself or to visit the sorting office. 

“Our Mam’s 92, she’s got inoperable cancer,” Mark explained. “It’s like five miles so she’d have to get a taxi there to pick it up, a taxi back and she’s too frail.”

With Pam unable to go, she asked another family member to go for her and take the slip. However, he says he was told he was unable to collect it as he lived at a different address and the problem remained without a solution.

On one phone call to the Royal Mail, Mark says he was told to wait 18 days, at which point the parcel would be sent to the main sorting office where it could be opened and returned. Eventually, it was indeed sent to the National Returns Centre in Northern Ireland. 


According to the Royal Mail, undelivered mail is sent here to be opened in an effort to find a sender’s address. It states: “If we do, and the contents aren’t newspapers, magazines or advertising materials, we’ll then return it to the sender. 

“If we can’t find a return address, items may be held for one month (depending on item type and/or value) pending a customer enquiry. Items not claimed within one month will be disposed of. This includes items containing vouchers/gift cards.”

Despite multiple calls and emails, Mark has no idea if his goods have been found, disposed of, or remain stuck somewhere in the office. He even believes it could have been stolen somewhere along the way.

After the 18 days, I rang and was told to wait 30 days for a call back. They never did and after 35 days, I rang again and asked for a manager to call me back. No-one ever did.”

Meanwhile, an email sent on 13 February received an automated response promising a reply within three working days but again this self-imposed deadline was missed.

A week later, an email was received which stated: “I’m sorry our investigations are taking longer than expected. I’m continuing to look into your enquiry and will contact you as soon as my investigations are completed. Thank you for your patience.”

One month on from that email and another phone call which Mark says ended with a promise for a return call, no further correspondence has been received. All this despite the parcel having its contents valued at an estimated £1,000 by one of the call handlers who took a description.

“They’ve just not been bothered,” Mark said. “I’ve explained all about Mam and it’s like ‘ok, uh huh’. You’re trying to explain something and they’re not interested. 

“It’s not just the money, it’s the sentimental value and it feels like they don’t care. When we bought the figurines for Mam, we’d sent her pictures and she was dead excited to receive them.”

Mark added: “When I lived in ‘Boro, I’ve seen the delivery driver pull up, get the parcel out and close the back door. As he’s gone to the door, someone’s come and opened the side door and nicked parcels. Maybe that’s happened.

“I don’t think we’ll ever find out.”


Mark Hesse


Those phone calls which ended without resolution have involved long waits on hold before even being able to speak to anyone. Facebook and Reddit posts contain many similar stories of people being left frustrated at an inability to contact the Royal Mail over undelivered parcels and come on the back of massive cuts since the service was privatised in 2013. 

Since then, there’s been thousands of jobs axed, repeated strike action, a £5.6m fine for missing delivery targets and now a request to drop Saturday deliveries.

Earlier this year, BBC Panorama shone the spotlight on woes at the service, with whistle-blowers and senior management warning change was needed for the company to survive. It highlighted the issue of delayed and undelivered post as the service prioritised more profitable parcel deliveries over letters, with examples of patients regularly not receiving NHS appointment letters until after they were due to attend.

At the time, a Communication Workers Union spokesperson said the documentary “shone a light on what postal workers have been warning about for years – that the quality of service is still not at an acceptable level”. 

They said: “This can’t be allowed to continue, and Royal Mail needs to work with workers’ representatives at all levels to find lasting solutions to these issues.

“This includes addressing the failed changes that have been imposed on workers in recent years, as well as recruitment and retention issues.

“There must also be recognition from Royal Mail’s corporate leadership that imposed workplace changes like excessive later start times are creating a collapse in morale in delivery units, which will cause more retention issues and further damage to service quality.” 

As the service buckles under the strain of its obligations and a battle to turn a profit, its customers are seemingly left in the lurch. Frustrated at the lack of useful response, Mark concluded: “I think it’s a lost cause now.”

A spokesperson for Royal Mail told The Teesside Lead there had been difficulty locating Mark’s parcel as he no longer had the card containing the reference number. They added there had been a misunderstanding over whether the item was sent first class or traced and that the returns centre is particularly busy at Christmas 

The spokesperson continued: “The complaint was intended to be escalated to our Escalated Complaints Resolution Team, however there was a fault with our system and this wasn’t done automatically. This is why there has been a delay in correspondence, we apologise for this.”

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