Responding to Post Office Limited’s plans for a network transformation programme which will turn 6,000 branches into Post Office ‘Locals’ and ‘Mains’1, Trisha McAuley, Depute Director of Consumer Focus Scotland, said:
‘The Post Office network needs to be put on a firm footing for the future, so it can continue to serve communities who rely on their local post office. Many post offices are economically unsustainable and the network as a whole needs improvement and investment.
‘The scale of the task is considerable, and it is both an enormous opportunity and challenge for Post Office Limited. These huge changes will affect over half the post offices in the country and the people who use them. What will matter to customers is that this programme delivers improvements and provides a sustainable and accessible local network which meets their needs.’
Consumer Focus will work with Post Office Limited to make sure consumers’ needs are at the heart of the programme. As part of its statutory duties on postal issues Consumer Focus will be monitoring the programme and taking an active role in providing support around local changes, to help deliver the best outcome for consumers and to deal with any problems that arise during implementation.2
Consumer Focus jointly operates the Code of Practice with Post Office Ltd, which sets out POL’s responsibilities to communicate and consult with consumers when it proposes making changes to post office branches.
Consumer Focus believes the following criteria will determine whether the programme is successful. Post Office Locals and Mains must deliver:
· A comprehensive range of products and services that reflect what consumers want and need
· An improved customer experience – offering the reliable and consistent service that consumers rightly expect
· Maintained or improved access, for all customers, through greater convenience and longer opening hours
· Branches that offer a suitably private environment for personal or sensitive customer business – such as the collection of benefits payments or managing bank accounts
· Effective consultation and communication on the changes. Consultation must be an essential part of the process, particularly where branches are relocating e.g. into a convenience store, or there is a significant change to the branch
Notes to editors:
1. Around 6,000 post offices (more than half of in the entire network) will be transformed into new operating models. Two thousand will be converted to Post Office Local branches, of which we expect the majority to involve the relocation into new premises; 4,000 will be converted to Post Office Mains, some of which will also be relocated to other premises, such as a high street shop.
A Post Office Local is located in a separate retail business ( most would be situated in convenience stores, but other outlets may include, for example, a petrol station or pub). It typically opens the same hours as the host business, which may be longer than a traditional sub-Post Office. PO services are offered from the main retail counter, not a dedicated space, and by retail employees, not dedicated PO staff. Post office services are provided as a secondary retail service. Locals offer core services but not, for example, DVLA or passport services (which are currently offered through some sub-post offices), paper-based bill payments, banking transactions using a passbook, or international mail weighing over 5kg.
A Post Office Main is a new operating model for High Street branches. These are expected to be the largest and busiest branches in the network. Main POs are expected to offer a number of benefits for consumers, for example queue-reduction measures and in some cases extended opening hours. It is likely some branches will also move location when they convert to Main POs.
2. Research for a Consumer Focus report ‘Local but Limited?’ asked consumers for their views on Post Office Locals in 45 areas where the model was being piloted. While the research showed the PO Local model offers benefits, and consumers welcomed the longer opening hours, it also raised a number of potential issues. These included: restrictions on the services available; lack of privacy; problems with quality of service (including caps on cash and benefit withdrawals); levels of staff knowledge and expertise, and poor layout. Consumer Focus is conducting further research into the experience of customers as the trials progress, which will be published this Spring.