Read in the Mirror online:


After the initial shock of lockdown – and a few ethical battles about whether spending was appropriate – many, many people went online and did a bit of shopping.

We often associate this wave of spending with people treating themselves or going a bit stir crazy after a few beers and buying a 10-foot inflatable flamingo. But the fact of the matter is many more were trying to get vital deliveries, pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.

All of this raises questions about package delivery. The industry was already under attack due to endless problems with damaged packages, failed or faked deliveries and non-existent customer service. But I had begun to see some signs that businesses were listening and changing.

However, 1.5 million people are shielding and many more are potentially ‘vulnerable’ and for them, goods like medical masks, thermometers and other supplies are vital. So what happens when things go wrong?

Dodgy deliveries and knowing your rights

As with our online shopping guide last week, the most important thing is your rights have not changed or been watered down due to COVID 19. Yes, it is taking longer to deliver items and some stores are claiming they can’t accept returns just yet, but the law remains the same – so stand your ground if you think you’re losing out.

Complaints about delivery services are the fourth most complained-about sector at Resolver with around 90,000 complaints last year, up a whopping 56%. And that’s not counting the complaints about the retailers.

Now, it goes without saying that every time I write about parcel delivery, it really touches a nerve. People are literally seething about some of the crazier scenarios. Everyone has a story – from delivery companies that don’t attempt to deliver to items left in bins or chucked over fences.

The rules

When you enter in to an agreement with a retailer, your contract is with them, not with any third party they use. So if items you order are not delivered, are damaged or faulty, are delivered or left in an unauthorised place or another delivery-related problem occurs, it is the responsibility of the retailer to sort out the problem.

Of course, this doesn’t let the delivery company off the hook. Loads of the complaints we see revolve around how hard it is to actually contact them to arrange a collection or redelivery. A lack of phone numbers, direct email addresses and complicated websites drive many people to distraction. Annoyingly, the person who posts the item is usually the person who needs to chase the goods if there’s a problem. This can be particularly pronounced if you order goods online from abroad. Earlier this year, I watched as some books I’d ordered from a UK website were dispatched to me from Germany, failed to be delivered and were returned back to Germany. Three times. The postage problems must have cost the retailer three times more than the books themselves.

However, as a general rule if there’s a dispute over delivery the retailer should be able to pin down where the driver was around the time of the delivery, who signed for the item, or where it was left. Remember the onus is on them to prove that you received the item, not the other way around. You’re entitled to ask for proof of delivery if you’re being charged for an item you haven’t received.

What about delivery dates and estimates?

You are entitled to expect your goods to be delivered on the agreed date that you were given when your order was placed. If no date was given or agreed, the trader must get your purchases to you within 30 days of the order being placed. If this does not happen, you are entitled to a full refund. This is stated in the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 (formerly the Distance Selling Regulations applied) if you fancy getting all factual with a stubborn seller! If you paid a supplement for a specified time or date of delivery, it is reasonable to ask for this back.

These rules just cover the basic rights, not the full range of scenarios that might occur. So – for example – though there isn’t a specific rule that covers goods left with a neighbour without permission, the rules do cover the ‘delivery’. So if you’ve not received the goods directly or given instructions for them to be delivered elsewhere, you can pursue a complaint.

COVID 19 quirks

Many websites are now giving longer estimates for delivery, so check before you make the final click. If the firm has given a deadline, then you have a reasonable expectation that the goods will be delivered then – and if they aren’t you should be able to cancel or make a formal complaint to the retailer, regardless of whether it’s their delivery driver that has messed up.

If a firm doesn’t give a delivery date – and this is something that I’m hearing about a lot lately – then you can argue that if the subsequent delivery date is excessive or repeatedly delayed, you can demand money back or make a formal complaint. If they drop a long estimate on you after you’ve paid, then remember that you have 14 days to cancel an online purchase and get a full refund. So check that receipt and the payment details.

Another major annoyance is returns. Many big retailers are claiming they can’t take these till their high street branches reopen. I’m not buying this. If you can ship goods from a warehouse then you can take them back. But regardless, your rights don’t erode because of this. Tell the firm you want to return the goods – by tweet if necessary if you can’t get hold of a person at the business – and if they tell you further down the line that you’re too late, complain – and let me know!

Meanwhile back at the depo

Delivery men and women often have ludicrous targets for delivery, which puts them under a great deal of pressure to get the items out to customers asap. We understand the money is rubbish too. This approach to business is why so many issues arise. Better working conditions and attainable targets would vastly improve the industry.

Recent reports have suggested that some delivery companies fine their drivers for being off sick and not being able to find cover.

It’s easy to blame delivery drivers for rubbish service, but if this is how they’re treated, it’s not surprising standards are so low. Behind all the bad service are people paying for the harshness of the gig economy. 

I think that better treatment of overstretched delivery drivers leads to better treatment – so it’s time for tougher rules and an ombudsman for the industry.

Remember that the person delivering your goods doesn’t run the company. They are tired, overworked and taking a risk with each parcel dropped off. Show them you care.

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