Home > News
Mind my data Click to visit the homepage
The ICO is manipulating the process again
The basics
Plausible deniability
Employment agencies
Useful links
Open in a new window/tab
The Information Commissioner
Mailing Preference Service
Telephone Preference Service
Royal Mail junk mail opt-out
Register of data controllers
Analysis
My response to the ICO's tweet about policy
Are data controllers 'officially' lying to us?
Why do we need to accept a Privacy Policy?
Can I opt-out of a renewal quote under section 11 of the DPA?
Who's texting me about PPI?
Marketing corporate employees by e-mail

How to stop receiving unaddressed letters and leaflets from the Royal Mail

The Royal Mail have a voluntary system in place that allows householders to opt-out of receiving unaddressed post for two years. However, to me, the opt-out process has been overly complicated by the highlighting of a dubious security issue, and the pointless need for the householder to submit biometric data.

In recent years the Royal Mail has adopted a policy of posting unaddressed (mostly marketing) letters and leaflets through your letterbox along with your addressed post. Personally I find this annoying because I believe this method of advertising to be outdated for anything other than a menu for the local takeaway. It's gone the way of the door to door salesman as people are far less likely to trust unsolicited advertising these days, instead we want feedback, reviews and comparisons.

Fortunately, the Royal Mail have provided a process for opting-out of unaddressed items delivered by them. Unfortunately, unsubscribing is tedious and overly complicated in my opinion. It seems to me that they've agreed to provide a process but don't actually want householders to use it. To opt-out of unaddressed post delivered by the Royal Mail therefore, you have to visit this pageNew window on their website and send them an e-mail with your address details. They will then post you an opt-out formNew window which you have to sign and return back to them by post. After I complained about this long-winded process the Royal Mail sent me a PDF of the opt-out form.

Obvious question, why can't they just put a PDF of the opt-out form on their website - why do they have to post it to me? Or better still, why can't they allow me to enter my postcode on their website, select my house number and tick a box to opt-out? Why, because apparently the Royal Mail need your signature for "security reasons". They say:

We will then send an opt-out form to your address, which you must sign and return. We do this for security reasons - to verify that those resident at the address have requested the 'opt out'.

I have the following issues with this statement:

    1. Why is it a security issue?

    2. Why do the Royal Mail require my biometric data - my signature?

Why is it a security issue?

What exactly is the security issue here; that they need to post the form to my address or that they need to obtain my signature as the householder? And why is it a security issue at all? We're talking about unaddressed post right, so there's no legal obligation for the Royal Mail to deliver it to me. Neither is there any contractual obligation between the Royal Mail and the householder to deliver unaddressed post. Indeed, the only obligation that the Royal Mail has is a contractual obligation with the company that paid them to deliver the unaddressed post door to door. Let's be clear, when a Royal Mail postman is putting unaddressed letters and leaflets through your letterbox he or she is playing the role of a leaflet distributor.

As a householder, if someone wants to post unaddressed items through my letterbox, there's very little that I can do about it. And if someone posts unaddressed items to all of my neighbours but not to me then there's not much that I can do about that either? The fact is, a householder has no say whatsoever in the delivery of unaddressed items and as such, I fail to see why this is a security issue - where's the risk? For something to be an issue of security, a level of risk has to exist so what is that risk; that I might not receive something that I didn't know I was going to receive in the first place and have not claim to anyway?

But let's imagine for one moment that it is a secruity issue and that the Royal Mail need to obtain a signature, who's signature do they acutally want - the signature of the householder or the signature of anyone living at the property? What if I were 12 years old and hated marketing but my parents loved it. I could request the form, wait for it to be delivered, sign it and return it. Would the Royal Mail accept my signature as a minor? Can they legally process my signature as a minor? Would the Royal Mail accept my signature even though I'm not the householder? I if forged a signature for my dad, would the Royal Mail accept this? How will they validate the signature? As the householder, what if I sell my house three months after opting out for two years, will the new owners receive unaddressed marketing? If not, isn't that a security issue - afterall, they didn't opt-out? Will my opt-out be transferred to my new property or will my signature be associated with a property that I no longer own? Will the Royal Mail require the signature of the new owner before they start delivering unaddressed post again? And so on... and so on. It's utter bollocks! The only security issue here is the one that the Royal Mail is potentially creating by requesting a signature. If it really is a security issue then a member of Royal Mail's staff should identify the householder and witness their signature.

The Royal Mail should clarify what the security issue is and what system they have in place to ensure that they are obtaining the correct signature.

Why do the Royal Mail require my biometric data - my signature?

The third data principle states that 'Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed'. What purpose is served by the Royal Mail obtaining my signature - other than to overly complicate the opt-out process? What does the Royal Mail do with my signature, how do they validate my signature, and how long is it kept for? Do the Royal Mail accept signatures from minors and if not, how do they secure against this?

It seems a bit excessive to me and as far as I'm concerned, a data controller has no valid reason to request a signature unless they're able to validate it; either by comparing it to a hard/digital copy that they already hold, or by witnessing the signature. Furthermore, it should be absolutely clear in their privacy policy why they need your signature, how they process it, who has access to it and how long they will retain it. It was only the other week that CWCS - a hosting company that I had registered with, wanted my signature as part of the process for cancelling my account. But when I questioned them about it; why they specifically needed my signature and how they processed that information, they told me that I didn't need to provide it. So why request it in the first place? I would recommend questioning any company that specifically requests your signature.

Anyway, I've contacted the Royal Mail to request answers to the two questions above. If they don't provide me with answers - and so far they haven't, then I'm going to opt-out via their opt-out procedure and then submit a subject access request and ask the same questions; except this time they will have to answer them or risk contravening the DPA. Failure to comply with a subject access request is a contravention of section 7 of the DPA.

I've previously contacted the ICO about the Royal Mail's opt-out process but my question was related to the Royal Mail requiring me to opt-out every two years. According to the ICO,

'The unaddressed mail opt-out service offered by Royal Mail is not a legal requirement; it is a service that Royal Mail has chosen to offer at its discretion. We therefore cannot require Royal Mail to change the requirement to renew unaddressed mail opt-outs every two years. If you are unhappy with the unaddressed mail opt-out service, this is a customer service issue that you will have to take up directly with Royal Mail itself'.

I will however be looking to submit a complaint to the ICO as I believe that specifically requiring my signature is excessive processing because it serves no purpose and they're unable to validate it. Indeed, I am of the opinion that the only reason why the Royal Mail require a signature is to make the opt-out process more complex. If they didn't require a signature then there's no reason why they can't use a web form for the opt-out process: you visit a page on their website, enter your postcode, house number and tick the box to opt-out. This causes a letter to be sent to you, the letter contains a hyperlink and a pin number; you type in the link and visit the page, enter the pin number and you're opted-out. This method is more efficient and just as secure as the Royal Mail's current (long-winded) method if you remove the requirement for a signature.

Here is a copy of the letter that the Royal Mail send you when you request the opt-out form.

Dear Householder

Royal Mail Door to Door

Thank you for contacting Royal Mail about the 'opting out' of Door to Door deliveries. We are happy to stop deliveries of unaddressed items to your address, but before doing so we need to make you fully aware of the implications of opting out, and to get your written authorisation to stop deliveries of these items.
The main areas for you to consider are:

• The opt out service only relates to unaddressed mail delivered by us.
Royal Mail is still legally obliged to deliver all addressed mail, which includes mail that is addressed “To the Occupier” (or with any other generic recipient information), as well as mail that is personally addressed to you by name.

• It is not possible for Royal Mail to separate material you don’t want from material that you do want, such as advertising offers or leaflets from Central and Local Government and other public bodies. Opting out from Royal Mail Door to Door stops all unaddressed items from being delivered by us (although in exceptional circumstances Government may request that we make an exception to this opt out). Election material is not delivered by the Door to Door service and is therefore not affected by this opt out.

• Opting out means no one at the address will receive unaddressed mail items - is this acceptable to everyone living at the property?

• Please be aware that Royal Mail only delivers about 25% of the total volume of unaddressed mail items in the United Kingdom. The opt out will not cover any other distributors, who will continue to deliver unaddressed mail items. Opting out of Royal Mail Door to Door deliveries will not necessarily reduce by a significant amount of the number of items that you will receive, as there are other carriers in the market place.

If you would like to opt-out from deliveries from other unaddressed mail distributors, who are member of the Direct Marketing Association, you may wish to register with the 'Your Choice' preference scheme run by the Direct Marketing Association. The contacts details are:

'Your Choice' Preference Scheme
Direct Marketing Association (UK) Ltd
DMA House
70, Margaret Street,
London W1W 8SS
Telephone: 020 7291 3300
Fax: 020 7323 4165
Email: yourchoice@dma.org.uk

If  you  would  like to stop any other unwanted communications please visit The Mailing Preference Service www.mpsonline.org.uk, which provides details on all other preference services, or call the Mailing Preference Service on
0845 703 4599

If you still wish to opt out of receiving Door to Door mail items, please complete the attached form and return it to the address given on the form and we will process your request. Every effort will be made to prevent the delivery of Door to Door mail items by Royal Mail. Exceptionally, if relief staff are used, an occasional delivery may occur. Please be advised that it may take up to 6 weeks for your request to be implemented, and that your opt out will last for a period of 2 years. If you wish to resume deliveries of Door to Door to your address during this period please contact us.

Please note that your address will be opted out of receiving Door to Door items for a period of two years. At the end of the period you will need to confirm that you are still resident at the address and wish to continue opting out of Door to Door deliveries.

Yours sincerely
Opt Out Team
Royal Mail Door to Door

Added: 28.12.2012