Every year customers take their time choosing Christmas cards for friends and relatives. They then spend time carefully thinking up messages that carry their love and best wishes.

According to Royal Mail some 400 million Christmas cards are poorly addressed or badly written every year. About 5 million are so badly addressed or just not addressed at all that they cannot be delivered. Many cards are eventually destroyed.

It could also be the case this year that cards and packets are not delivered because the incorrect postage has been used. Although pricing in proportion was in place last December because it was new the Royal Mail adopted a common sense approach to surcharging for underpaid postage and largely waived it. This is the first Christmas when Royal Mail will be surcharging receiving customers for cards and packets failing the pricing in proportion test. Receiving customers might find themselves having to queue, at this busy time of year, at Callers Offices to pay the underpaid postage plus the GBP 1 per item handling fee.

Postwatch, the watchdog for postal services hopes, that the Royal Mail will apply the spirit of Christmas rather than the letter of their rules.

Postwatch recommends customers:

• post early;
• address cards and parcels properly and clearly;
• add a return address; and
• use the correct 2nd class postage.

Pricing in proportion: Christmas cards do, of course, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The correct postage to use will depend on a card’s size and thickness. The relevant dimensions are:

• Standard letter: Up to 240 X 165 mm, 5 mm maximum thickness and 100g in weight

• Large letter: Maximum dimension are 353 x 250 mm and 25 mm maximum thickness and maximum weight of 750g; and

• Packet: The maximum weight for a second class packet is 1Kg.

Why 2nd class postage? 1st class delivery performance in the weeks building up to Christmas is substantially worse than the rest of the year. The number of letters being delivered next day falls from over 90 per cent to under 70 per cent. The good news is that during the same period the 2nd class post performance just dips a little. The 2nd class 3 day post therefore represents better value for money. There is a 10 pence difference this year, for the standard letter size, between 1st (34p) and 2nd (24p) class postage.

Last posting dates: The following dates are deadlines by which mail has to be posted to arrive before Christmas. Ideally all cards should be posted well before these dates are reached.

1st Class letters and large letters: Thursday 20 December

2nd Class letters and large letters: Monday 17 December

Standards Parcels/packets: Friday 14 December

Special Delivery: Saturday 22 December

Return Address: If something does go wrong the mail can be returned and also those receiving the card may want to send one back but might not otherwise have the correct address including, of course, the postcode.

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