Royal Mail admits to overcharging

Screengrab from Price Finder website Problems have come at the busiest time of year for many customers

Royal Mail has admitted to charging some customers twice for postal services as problems continue to hit its website.

Some 600 customers had cards debited twice, at an average of £50 each time, after repeating a purchase which the system told them had initially failed.

Various online postage applications - such as Price Finder - have been down since 21 November.

Royal Mail apologised for the pre-Christmas difficulties.

'Upgrade'

A week ago, the BBC News website revealed how small businesses and people starting to send Christmas cards and presents had faced problems on the Royal Mail website.

The Price Finder page - which calculates postal costs of packages based on size and weight - has been closed due to "technical difficulties". Online stamp buying, redirection and redelivery services were also affected on occasions.

A Royal Mail spokesman said that the shutdown had been caused by a shift of online services to a new server. The entire website closed for a short period on Wednesday evening.

Now, Royal Mail and Capgemini, which manages the Royal Mail website, have admitted to charging problems owing to the technical issues.

Start Quote

[We] would like to sincerely apologise for the disruption at this key time of the year for our customers”

End Quote Royal Mail and Capgemini

The problems surround the SmartStamp and Online Postage sections of the website.

Customers who have been charged twice will be refunded and receive a "goodwill payment" of £25. The maximum amount charged wrongly in a single transaction was £200, a spokesman said.

'Disruption'

Some customers who have paid for postage online have found that this has not printed out onto envelopes. Others have found that top-ups to their pre-pay account cannot be seen on the screen.

"Royal Mail and Capgemini would like to sincerely apologise for the disruption at this key time of the year for our customers," said chief executives Moya Greene and Paul Hermelin in a statement.

"We do really appreciate the level of inconvenience this is causing some of our SmartStamp and Online Postage customers."

No estimate was made as to when the service would be back in order.

One angry customer is Iain Campbell, 51, who runs a mail order children's clothing business with his wife in St Helens.

He said they were being forced to write out addresses on packages by hand at the busiest time of the year, were having to rely on post office staff getting pricing correct, and international orders were proving difficult.

"About 75% of our business is done in the last two or three months of the year," he told the BBC News website.

"Why did they have to work on the website at Christmas, rather than in January when it is quieter?"

The final deadline of Christmas post for sending overseas is on 12 December, and for standard packages is 14 December.

The Christmas deadline for second-class post is 17 December and is three days later for first-class deliveries.

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