There are around 11,500 post offices in the UK, including approximately 500 outreaches.
The post office network is the country’s largest retail branch network. With over 90% of the population living within one mile of a post office, post offices provide easy public access to essential services including mailing, access to cash and retail goods.
Just under four hundred post offices are run by people directly employed by Post Office Ltd (POL). These offices are called ‘directly managed’ or Crown offices. However, 97% of all post office outlets are sub post offices, run by private business people, subpostmasters.
Subpostmasters are not POL employees, but instead have a contract with POL to provide services using their own premises and staff. Generally, subpostmasters receive a fixed payment from POL; this is topped up by a variable payment based on the number of transactions they carry out. Most subpostmasters run their post office business under the same roof as another retail business. In urban areas this is often a newsagent or stationery business. In rural areas it is typically a village shop.
Post offices offer a wide range of services including:
- Postal services
- Bill payments
- Benefits and pension encashments
- Driving licence applications, car insurance and tax discs
- Passport applications
- Bureau-de-Change and travel insurance
- Telephone service, phonecards, mobile phone vouchers and E-top ups
- Personal loans
- Savings stamps
- Home insurance
- Postal orders and MoneyGram
- Local travel tickets
- National Lottery tickets
But our national post office network is currently under considerable pressure. This is due to long-term lack of investment, trends in retailing, car use and technological innovations. The government’s decision to pay state pensions and benefits straight into accounts has also had a serious impact, alongside the withdrawal of several other government services from post offices. These combined pressures have resulted in large numbers of post office closures. Over the last 20 years, one third of UK post offices have closed.
A changing post office network
In November 2010, recognising the major challenges facing the UK’s post offices, the government published new plans for the future. The government proposes to separate POL from Royal Mail Group, and may also convert POL from 100% state ownership into a mutual structure.
Government funding of £1.34bn has been made available for 2011-2015. The majority of the funding will go towards maintaining the government’s subsidy for the non-commercial element of the business; and modernising the post office network, including investments in about 4,000 ‘Main’ post offices based in town and city centres. From 2012 POL will also convert about 2,000 post offices to the new Post Office Local model, in which post office services are offered for all the hours the shop is open in an open plan setting alongside the retail till. The government has committed to no further post office closure programmes.
Whilst mail services will remain an important source of revenue for post offices, the mail market is in decline. The government proposes that POL should focus on expanding its financial and government services. The Post Office’s role as a ‘front office for government’ should be extended. Post Offices can pay a key role in offering citizens face-to-face access to government services – such as identity verification, making or receiving payment for government services, and assisted applications. Post offices should also provide more services for local government.
The government wants POL to increase its banking provision, including an expansion of Post Office products, access to more high street bank accounts and credit unions at post offices. The government has published a report setting our their proposals in full.
The NFSP works closely with both government and POL to ensure the best possible future for our network of sub post offices. We continue to press for urgent government action to ensure that UK citizens can access a network of bigger, better and brighter post offices - providing communities with postal, banking and financial services, access to national and local government services and anchorage to local shops.
Further details of NFSP’s campaigning and policy work can be found under Polcy and Campaigns.