Consumer information

Common issues

Unwanted mail

Direct mail is an addressed communication consisting solely of advertising, marketing or publicity material, which comprises an identical message to all recipients. The average British household receives approximately 77 items of direct mail each year (or 6.4 items each month). While the majority of customers open direct mail (86 per cent) and many consumers are happy to receive information by mail (eg 51 per cent for supermarkets and stores, 37 per cent competitions, 36 per cent holidays, 35 per cent mail order catalogues), some customers do consider this type of mail a nuisance.

Advertising mail is delivered by a range of organisations, including Royal Mail and other postal operators, but also by local businesses. Under the Postal Services Act 2000 operators are obliged to deliver all addressed mail items unless the contents have been proven to be illegal or in breach of British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion. There are, however, a number of services available that attempt to stop advertising mail at its source.

Consumer Focus Labs, the online arm of Consumer Focus, runs a website that brings together the registration for Direct Marketing Association’s services – Mail Preference Service (MPS); Telephone Preference Service (TPS); Baby MPS; Corporate Telephone Preference Service; and Fax Preference Service  – in one place. Visit the website for a one-stop-shop registration form.

Addressed mail

Register with the Mailing Preference Service

The Mailing Preference Service (MPS) is a free service set up and funded by the direct mail industry to enable consumers to have their names and home addresses in the UK removed from lists used by companies which use direct mail marketing. You can register for the MPS by writing to:

Mailing Preference Service
LON 20771

or by visiting the MPS website. You do not need to re-register on to the MPS. Once you have registered, your details will remain on the service until you inform MPS otherwise.

To note

  • It will not stop mail that has been sent from overseas, unaddressed material or mail addressed to ‘the occupier’, and the MPS will not stop advertising mail from companies to whom you have given your permission to send you advertisements
  • MPS can remove customer details from up to 95 per cent of direct mail lists, but given the provisos above, the Stop Junk Mail website estimates that MPS stops up to 50 per cent of addressed unwanted mail
  • It can take up to four months for MPS to have full effect, although you should notice a reduction of the mail during this period

Opt out of being on the edited electoral register

When you fill out the annual electoral registration form you can choose for your details not to be added to the ‘edited electoral register’. This list can be bought by any person or company and may be used for any purpose – including sending unwanted mail. If you would like to opt out you should tick the box to ensure that your details will appear on the ‘full register’ only.

If you are not sure if you have opted out, or if you would like to opt out, you can do so by contacting your local elections office. It is possible to opt out of being on the edited electoral register at any time of year.

Tick the box

Customers often give their name and address to a company, for instance when buying a product or service. If you don’t want any further information about ‘other products and services’ you should look in the small print and tick the box to say that.

To note

  • Often a second tick box will ask if personal details may be shared with other ‘carefully selected’ companies; your name and address will be added to numerous mailing lists, resulting in more unwanted mail
  • Although it is only fair that companies try to keep in touch with customers, the problem with tick boxes is that they are usually difficult to find and always too small. As a result many people consent to having their personal details added to unwanted mail lists without realising it

‘Return to sender’

If you receive unwanted mail with a return address on the envelope you can write ‘unsolicited mail, please return to sender’ on the envelope and put it back in the post unstamped. The sender will have to pay the return postage and might remove your details from its mailing lists. Most companies will understand that there is no point in continuing sending further advertisements and leave you alone.

To note

  • Returning unwanted mail to the sender is a ‘polite request’. It is not unlawful for a company to ignore the returned item; only an ‘official request’ has to be respected
  • That said, returning unwanted mail is a lot easier and less time-consuming than contacting individual bulk mailers

Contact the sender

Under the Data Protection Act 1998, any organisation has to stop ‘processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes’ if you directly request them to do so. This makes contacting the sender a very effective way of stopping unwanted mail. There is no legal way an organisation can refuse to take your name, address and any other personal information off its mailing list. However, your request does need to follow a number of guidelines. Simply phoning an organisation and telling them that you no longer require their advertisements can be effective, but it is not legally binding.

If you contact an organisation you need to follow a number of guidelines. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the body responsible for enforcing the Data Protection Act, has the following guidelines for writing a notice:

  • The notice needs to be in writing (this can be an email)
  • You need to make it clear that you are asking the organisation to ‘stop (or not to begin) processing your personal data for direct marketing purposes in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998′
  • Your notice needs to be dated
  • You need to give the organisation your full name and address
  • Your notice has to include a ‘reasonable date’ from which you want the organisation to stop processing your personal data (usually a period of 28 days)

To note

  • Asking individual organisations to stop sending unwanted mail is very time consuming, but the Data Protection Act gives you a clear right not to receive unwanted mail and the tools to enforce it

Unaddressed mail

Royal Mail’s Door to Door opt-out service

You can reduce the amount of unaddressed mail you receive by registering for Royal Mail’s opt-out service. To opt out you need to ask Royal Mail to send you an ‘opt-out confirmation form’, either by writing to:

Door to Door Opt Outs
Royal Mail Freepost RRBT-ZBXB-TTTS
Kingsmead House
Oxpens Road

or by emailing Royal Mail will then send an opt-out form to your address, which you must sign and return for security verification.

To note

  • Royal Mail is only one of many operators that deliver unaddressed mail items in the UK. The opt-out service will not cover other distributors who will continue to deliver unaddressed mail items
  • It is not possible for Royal Mail to separate material you don’t want from material that you do want. Although this includes leaflets from central and local government and other public bodies, election material is not delivered by the Door to Door service and is therefore not affected by this opt out and another service will be used in case local or national government really need to contact each and every household in a certain area
  • Royal Mail will still be legally obliged to deliver all addressed advertising mail, including items addressed ‘to the occupier’. The opt out will stop unwanted mail without a ‘delivery point’. So, if an item only says ‘to the occupier’, it will not be delivered. However, if the item also includes an address it will be delivered
  • Usually, a registration with an opt-out service is valid for five years. Registration with the Door to Door opt-out service is only valid for two years. Royal Mail will not send you a new opt-out form
  • It will take up to six weeks for this service become effective

Get a letterbox sticker

Putting a ‘no junk mail’ sign on your door is a way to stop unaddressed unwanted mail delivered by local businesses.

The Stop Junk Mail campaign group sells two types of letterbox stickers. If you want to stop leaflets but do want to receive free local newspapers they have a sticker saying ‘No Commercial Leaflets, Yes Free Newspapers’. If you want to stop both leaflets and free papers there is sticker with the text ‘No Commercial Leaflets, No Free Newspapers’. These stickers distinguish between commercial and non-commercial leaflets, as some people do not see street newsletters and political leaflets as unwanted mail.

To note

  • You should take care over the wording of any signs; a problem with signs simply saying ‘no junk mail’ is that people disagree about what is and isn’t unwanted mail

Register with the DMA’s ‘Your Choice’ scheme

The ‘Your Choice Preference Scheme for Unaddressed Mail’ was launched in 2008 to help householders reduce unaddressed unwanted mail delivered by members of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). To opt out you need to ask the DMA to post you an ‘information pack and opt-out form’, either by writing to:

‘Your Choice’ Preference Scheme
Direct Marketing Association
DMA House
70 Margaret Street

by emailing, or by phoning 020 7291 3300. Registration with the ‘Your Choice’ scheme does not expire.

To note

  • After the opt-out form has been returned it will take 12 weeks before the opt-out becomes ‘fully effective’
  • The ‘Your Choice’ opt out does not cover unaddressed items that are not delivered by members of the DMA

The Bereavement Register

REaD UK maintains a bereavement register, which removes the names of deceased people from mailing lists, databases and telemarketing files. It is a free service, and you can register via telephone (0800 082 1230 – 24 hour automated registration service), through their local Co-op funeral service outlet or by visiting the Bereavement Register website. The Baby MPS is a similar service for those who wish to stop receiving baby-related direct mail following the loss of a child. Further information is available at the Baby MPS website.

Environmental Considerations

In July 2003 the DMA signed a voluntary agreement with the Government committing the industry to increase the proportion of direct marketing material going to recycling (specifically addressed and unaddressed mail, and loose inserts in newspapers and magazines). At the time of signing the agreement research showed that approximately 13 per cent of direct marketing material was going to recycling. Research carried out at the end of 2005 for the DMA indicated that this had risen to nearly 30 per cent, and research carried out in 2009 indicates a recycling rate of 76.5 per centfor all direct mail material.

Approximately four per cent of the UK’s total paper usage is for direct mail, and approximately two per cent in volume terms, of household waste accounted for by direct mail, equivalent to about a third of a Sunday newspaper per week. However, it is estimated that more than 95 per cent of paper used in direct marketing comes from recycled or managed resources.