§ Mr. Roger King
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the Post Office's arrangements for customer redress.
§ Mr. Lilley
As the citizens charter White Paper indicated, I asked the Post Office, in consultation with the Post Office Users' National Council—POUNC—to draw up a report on their present arrangements for customer redress. I have now received reports from the three Post Office businesses: Royal Mail, Royal Mail Parcelforce, and Post Office Counters Limited, together with responses from POUNC in respect of all three businesses. I will place both the reports and the responses in the Library of the House today.
One of the key principles of the citizens charter concerns redress for consumers when service falls below the standards they are entitled to expect. Of course, getting it right first time is much to be preferred to compensating for service failures. But when things go wrong, it is important that the customer can be assured, first, that Post Office practice matches up to the best in the field; and secondly, that the customer knows what he or she is entitled to.
On the first of these, the reports demonstrate the continued commitment each Post Office subsidiary is making, in consultation with POUNC, to ensure that they have the right compensation and redress practices for each business. While comparisons are not always straightforward, I am satisfied that Post Office arrangements are comparable to—and in several areas, surpass—those of similar companies or institutions.
The need for increases in amounts paid in compensation must be carefully evaluated, for it would be wrong for money to be diverted from service improvement into over-generous compensation for poor services. I do recognise, however, that there is some scope for increases where they help stimulate efficiency, and I welcome, therefore, the Post Office and POUNC agreement, for example, on increased payments for added-value letter service failure to up to twice the service fee or a book of 10 first class stamps, whichever is the greater.
On the question of ensuring a well-publicised and available complaints procedure, I note the commitment by all the businesses to increase the publicity given to compensation and redress schemes. Furthermore, I understand that it is the intention of the Post Office to set out compensation entitlements in the next edition of the "Post Guide", which is to be distributed to every home in the country during the course of this year.
I am grateful to the Post Office and POUNC for all the hard work and hard thought that has been put into these reports, and encourage both organisations to continue these productive discussions—which are entirely in keeping with the spirit of the citizens charter.