“I Remember They Were 28p!”

It’s another rising cost — this time it’s stamps.

Belfast shopper’s have reacted as sending a letter first-class is now just shy of a pound at 95p (a ten pence increase) with one woman laughing, “Maybe they were being generous?”

At Royal Mail’s Bridge Street branch, customers were far from impressed.

Posting a handwritten letter, one lady said: “A book of stamps used to cost me around £7, it’ll be interesting to see what they are now.

“I’m sending second-class today, it’ll take a bit longer but it’s cheaper.

“Everything’s going up and then you find yourself trying to find offers to keep the costs down.”

Outside Ann Street’s Card Factory, a shopper said: “I’m going to hand post, the cards are actually going to New York, and I’ll be delivering them myself to save on the stamp. What it cost me at Christmas was horrendous.”

“I remember they used to be 28p,” exclaimed a shocked member of staff at Lecky’s Newsagents.

They’re not selling stamps, as is the case in most city centre convenience stores with staff agreeing demand has dwindled over the years.

The price increase comes at a time that sees Royal Mail’s annual profits quadruple to £726m with speculation they plan to sack up to 900 managers. Unite the Union is currently preparing for industrial action which could see strikes beginning this month.

“Disgusting, that’s another P&O scenario, I thought this was going to happen,” said an Armagh woman shopping.

The government had previously announced a £227m investment for the Post Office for 2021/22.

This was made up of a £50m network subsidy payment alongside £177m investing in the future of the network.

The number of Post Offices branches have nearly halved since the 1980s. There were 11,415 branches recorded across the UK in March 2021 with a decrease of 223.

Whilst demand on parcels is high, partly due to the increase in online shopping due to the pandemic, letter volumes have fallen by more than 60% since their peak in the early 2000s with many choosing to send digital messages instead.

“Everything’s gone up sadly. I don’t send much post myself — e-mails.” smiles Hayley, a member of staff from The Merchant Hotel, whilst posting a large handful of business letters on her break.

Nicola Campbell (30) from Carrickfergus regularly uses the mail service, posting to family abroad on behalf of her grandmother (whom she is a full-time carer for)

Nicola said: “My granny isn’t very tech-savvy, she wouldn’t be comfortable using social media. We’ve posted letters for years and this increase, although small, is the latest in a long line of financial pressures. She’s only on a state pension, it can be difficult.”

For others, they feel the service isn’t worthy of a price increase. Museum worker, Simone McCloskey, regularly sends mail but has found herself frustrated by delays: “I’ve waited days for people to get post when it should have only been one or two. For instance, last year I posted my Dad’s birthday card on November 29, he finally got it on December 4. He lives in Hereford, not outer Mongolia.”

The Royal Mail has a projected target of delivering 93% of first-class mail the next day. 2017/2018 results had this number at 91.6%.

Delivery targets were significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in which millions of users took to online-shopping. The 2020/1 result dropped to 74.9%, well below service targets. Similarly, customer complaints rose to a record 1,040 during the same period.

Responding to customer complaints, Ofcom (the postal services regulator) said:

“This is clearly a very difficult time for people across the country, including many businesses and their workforces. The pandemic has placed significant pressure on Royal Mail – particularly in recent weeks as cases have risen sharply. So it’s important the company takes all necessary steps to keep both its staff and customers safe.

We have recognised this as an emergency situation under our regulatory framework, which means Royal Mail can change its operations to manage the challenges it faces, without the need for formal Ofcom authorisation. We continue to monitor Royal Mail’s performance carefully and will remain in close contact with the company to ensure it is providing the very best service it can to customers.”

Whilst postal services may have returned to a new sense of normal, the shared sentiment is that it’s not worthy of a price increase. Most customers can agree that, whilst small, the increase is a sign of the times reflecting the current cost-of-living crisis.

“Never mind the post, I’ve no fuel in my car”, exclaimed one city worker on her lunch break. A sentiment that was shared by many others on the streets of Belfast.

For now, the stamp of approval remains to be given.

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Fermanagh-born, Belfast-based - MA Journalism '22 @ Ulster University