Shopping deliveries have been a lifeline for millions of us this year.
Now, with swathes of the country in Tier Four lockdown over Christmas, the pressure on delivery firms and their drivers has never been greater.
This week millions of Britons have braved long queues at their local Post Office to get last-minute presents sent in time for Friday, while online retailers have seen a surge in orders after families in London and the South East were told not to mix over Christmas.
Christmas by post: This week millions of Britons have braved long queues at their local Post Office to get last-minute presents sent in time for Friday
But things do not always turn out the way we would have hoped. Money Mail has now heard scores of stories from disappointed readers who have been let down after presents were not delivered in time, or they were forced to put up with appalling customer service.
In a picture of nationwide delivery chaos, we have heard from shoppers whose parcels have been damaged, dumped and lost.
Some drivers claimed to have attempted to deliver packages despite the customer waiting at home, while others have sent photographs of parcels left in a ‘safe place’ the customer does not even recognise. Shoppers are also waiting for refunds on goods that never arrived.
And ruthless scammers are now also capitalising on the confusion – acting as delivery firms to con Christmas shoppers waiting for parcels.
Here is Money Mail’s ultimate guide to where you stand when it comes to fraud and your online orders.
How do I avoid the scammers?
Major delivery firms, including Royal Mail, DPD, Yodel and Hermes, are warning of a rise in text messages, emails and calls from fraudsters posing as delivery companies. The emails may direct you to a fake website and ask you to pay a fee or provide details to rearrange the delivery.
Banking trade body UK Finance also warns of fake delivery notes posted through letter boxes asking for information which could be later used for fraud.
There has also been a rise in online retail fraud — with customers buying expensive items that never arrive. If you are fooled by one of these scams and lose money, you may be able to get it back via your bank. However, you will have to show that you took reasonable care.
You can report scam texts to your mobile network provider by forwarding them to 7726, and send any suspicious emails to email@example.com.
Piling up: Parcels at a Bristol sorting office at the weekend. Online retailers have seen a surge in orders after families in London and the South East were told not to mix over Christmas
What if items are stolen?
The most important thing to remember is that your contract is with the retailer, not the courier. Under the Consumer Rights Act it is the store’s responsibility to get the goods to you on time and in one piece.
If your parcel was left somewhere you didn’t agree to — such as on your doorstep or with a neighbour — and then goes missing or gets damaged, the retailer must resolve the issue with its courier on your behalf. This means you should receive a refund or replacement.
Contact the retailer as soon as possible to explain what happened. It is up to the firm to prove you received the goods, not the other way around.
However, this won’t help those expecting Christmas deliveries because a new order is now unlikely to arrive before Friday. There is no set time limit for resolving any issues but problems should be dealt with as swiftly as possible. If you are especially stressed or inconvenienced, ask for compensation, although there are no rules in place to force the firm to oblige.
If you asked for an item to be left in a safe place such as a greenhouse and something went wrong, you may struggle to get your money back if it goes missing.
Martyn James, of complaints site Resolver, says: ‘In this situation you would need to be able to prove that leaving the parcel in your chosen location was ill-advised — if the courier left it out in the open during a storm, for example.’
And remember to check if you set a ‘safe place’ last time you purchased from the retailer in case you need to update it.
But spare a thought for posties who keep delivering
They are facing their busiest Christmas yet – carrying four times their usual number of parcels.
It’s no wonder that one postie, who works on the Welsh Borders, says he barely has the energy to collapse into a hot bath with a whisky when he gets in at night.
Postmen are facing their busiest Christmas yet – carrying four times their usual number of parcels
He told Money Mail he is now packing his van with around 60 parcels a day, instead of just 15. It takes him around three hours to sort the mail each day before he sets out on his seven-hour round of more than 200 properties.
The postman, who has worked for Royal Mail for more than 30 years, says the posties usually enjoy a quieter period in the summer but the pandemic has meant a heavy workload all year. Now they are facing their most exhausting Christmas yet.
‘When you’re carrying four times as many parcels, it’s a lot more labour-intensive. It’s not like an envelope you can pop in the letterbox. You’ve got to knock on the door to see if anyone is in,’ he says.
‘I’m in my 50s now and by the time I get home I need a nice bath and a glass of whisky. I grin and bear it because I love my job but I’ve talked to other posties both in my area and in cities and we’ve all been hit hard this year by the increase in parcels coming through the system.’
He has also seen a jump in the number of enquiries from worried households asking when their parcels will arrive.
‘I have noticed more people are anxious about when their parcels are going to be delivered — probably two or three times as many as this time last year,’ he says.
The veteran postman has been advising everyone to send packages via Special Delivery as standard ones are taking around a week longer to arrive.
‘A standard parcel would normally take around two days, but at the moment they are taking at least ten,’ he says.
When can i get a refund?
Under consumer law you should receive goods ordered online within 30 days, even if no delivery date is stated at the checkout.
If the retailer stated that the delivery was ‘guaranteed’ before Christmas and it fails to arrive, you can cancel the order and ask for a full refund. You can try to ask for compensation but the store is under no obligation to pay it.
If you have paid for delivery on a certain day and this isn’t met then you should be able to claim the cost back.
If you cannot cancel because the order had already been dispatched, you should be able to send it back if you no longer want it.
Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations you have a 14-day cooling-off period during which you can change your mind and get a full refund.
This window starts from the day the items arrive at your home — not the day you ordered them.
Once you have notified the retailer you wish to return your order, you then have another 14 days to send it back. You should also be refunded any standard postage costs. However if you paid more for set-day delivery, you are not entitled to this money back.
And if a present doesn’t arrive in time?
You can ask for the postage cost to be refunded, although this is unlikely to reflect the stress and inconvenience caused.
And the firm is also not legally obliged to pay you any compensation, so it could refuse.
Your rights depend on your chosen courier’s terms and conditions. If you sent an item via Royal Mail’s special delivery service and the item arrives after the guaranteed delivery date, you can submit a claim to have the postage cost repaid.
The Royal Mail has now suspended its special delivery guarantee, so if you have not yet sent your item you will not receive a refund.
It says it will not be able to consider claims for delay or consequential loss as a result of delay for items posted today.
At Parcelforce, your refund rights depend on the service you purchased.
If you use Parcelforce’s Express 48 option, which starts at £10.10 plus VAT, for delivery in two days, and it arrives late you will get a 25 per cent refund.
If you choose Express 24 for next-day delivery you will get half your money back. A full refund will be given if your ExpressAM package, which promises delivery by 9am, 10am or midday the next day, does not make it in time.
what happens if my gift goes missing?
You may be able to get your money back depending on the service you have paid for and what you have sent.
Royal Mail says a claim can be submitted as long as its terms have been met, including packing guidance to ensure the goods were sent in appropriate packaging and sealed securely.
The sender must submit proof of postage and the value of the items, such as a receipt. Compensation depends on your postage option.
For example, items sent by 2nd-class post are covered up to £20 excluding valuables such as jewellery and money. Yodel and Hermes request customers get in touch via their webchat services. Make sure you have your tracking number.
Gary Rycroft, from Joseph A. Jones & Co Solicitors, says: ‘You do not need to have bought insurance as your contract with the delivery firm should be enough. In the event of a dispute it is up to the firm to prove it delivered the goods, not the other way round.’
It’s too late to get another gift in time
Kevin Lewis, 60, (left) is furious after a gift for his partner failed to turn up, while Andrea Jumpp (right), had to buy last-minute gifts for her two grandchildren
Kevin Lewis, 60, is furious after a gift for his partner failed to turn up. He paid £7.99 for next-day delivery on a £167 set of bedsheets from House of Fraser. It referred him to courier Hermes, who told him the parcel was lost.
Kevin, from Newport, says: ‘They’ve taken my money and now I’ll have no chance of buying a replacement present in time.’
House of Fraser did not respond to requests for comment.
Hermes has offered Kevin £20 as a gesture of goodwill.
Andrea Jumpp (right), had to buy last-minute gifts for her two grandchildren after hearing the £60 of clothing she ordered from JD Sports in November was out of stock. She received text messages saying her delivery would be delayed.
Three weeks later, Andrea, 53, received an email saying most of her order was out of stock.
Andrea, of Mitcham, South London, says: ‘I don’t understand why it let me place the order for things it didn’t have.’ JD Sports says: ‘We apologise to anyone who has experienced issues with their order.’
If I order now will it arrive on time?
Many retailers can no longer guarantee a delivery before Christmas. You should be given an estimated arrival time before you pay.
Argos says its customers can place orders up until 1pm on Christmas Eve for a same-day delivery. Slots are on a first-come first-served basis.
Gifts bought on Amazon could arrive before Christmas if you order them today and opt for one-day or express delivery. If you have a Prime subscription, you are eligible for free same-day delivery on selected items.
If you order by midday on Christmas Eve you should get your parcel by 10pm. But the service is only available in a handful of cities, including London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.
If you do not have Prime, you must place your order by 10am and pay £5.99. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial of Prime but don’t forget to cancel or you will be charged £7.99 a month thereafter.
Many retailers will also still accept orders if you can pick them up in store. Next customers can place fast-track orders until today to collect tomorrow. At Currys PC World you have until 3pm on Christmas Eve to place an order if items are in stock and must collect it by 5pm, when most shops shut.
Last orders at The Body Shop is midday tomorrow for a collection by 3pm. Most major retailers will keep customers updated on the progress of their order by email or text message.
It may be easier to send presents direct to the recipient. You may want to include their phone number should the courier need to call.
This week millions of Britons have braved long queues at their local Post Office to get last-minute presents sent in time for Friday
Can i still do click and collect?
Non-essential shops are still open as usual in Tiers One, Two and Three. So if the retailer is still claiming it can fulfil orders in time for Christmas, you should be fine to shop in store or pick up online orders.
In Tier Four, non-essential shops were forced to close their doors. But many are open for collection. Argos is still open for shoppers picking up goods ordered online. Returns can be taken to some Sainsbury’s supermarkets that host Argos branches.
Waterstones branches are also open for click and collect until December 23 but check your local store’s opening hours in case they have changed. You can also pick up online orders at New Look until December 24.
What if money is stolen from cards?
Many people include cash in the envelope of a Christmas card and pop it in the post box with a first- or second-class stamp. But you will not be covered if the money fails to arrive.
Royal Mail recommends customers send valuable items via its special delivery service. This offers compensation if valuables – including cash – are lost.
A letter weighing up to 100g would cost £6.70 to send and you will be covered for up to £500. You are unlikely to be compensated if you use a courier.
Many, including Hermes, Parcelforce and Yodel, will not cover you if the cash goes missing.
Travel plans cancelled? How to get a refund
If your flight or holiday is cancelled, you are legally entitled to a refund. Package holiday customers should receive their money back within 14 days and from airlines within a week.
But firms have been inundated with refund requests so it may take longer.
What’s more, some airlines are refusing to refund customers who can no longer travel under Tier Four restrictions.
They claim this is because their flight is still going and it is not their fault the passenger is not on it.
This is despite the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) currently investigating airlines for failing to refund customers for this very reason.
However, with more than 40 countries now banning travellers from the UK, it is more likely flights will be cancelled. In the meantime, check your airline’s refund policy.
EasyJet is offering cash refunds to those living in Tier Four areas. But BA will only allow customers to re-book or accept a voucher for the same value of their flights.
If you booked accommodation or car hire separately, it may be harder. You could argue that you were only unable to use the service due to the pandemic and see how generous they are about refunds, rebooking or vouchers.
You may also be able to claim on travel insurance – though be aware that many exclude cover for Covid-related cancellations.
You could also make a Section 75 claim with your credit card. Under consumer law your provider is equally liable if services cannot be delivered – but you may struggle if the hotel or villa is technically still open for business.
If you paid by debit card, you could make a chargeback claim with your bank.
However, the firm could claw the money back if it can prove it is not at fault.
If you simply no longer want to travel, you have no legal right to a refund but many travel companies are being understanding and may allow you to re-book a later date.
Those who had booked train and coach tickets between today and December 27 and can no longer go are guaranteed their money back – even if you purchased a non-refundable ticket, though it may not include any booking fee.
To make a claim, contact the company you bought the ticket from. It could be a third-party booking site such as Trainline rather than the train operator.
To be eligible, you must have booked a trip on or after November 24, for a journey that begins or ends in England or Wales.
Tickets booked before then are not covered, but ask the booking site or operator if you can reschedule or get a voucher.
Do I have longer to return items?
Many retailers have extended their Christmas returns window to give shoppers more time to send or bring back items.
At Sainsbury’s and Argos, items purchased between October 18 and December 25 can be returned up until January 24.
Asda shoppers have 100 days to return George products. John Lewis will take back items bought between October 8 and Christmas Eve until January 28.
High-street shops do not have to accept returns just because you no longer want the goods. However most have a ‘goodwill’ returns policy and will offer a refund, credit note or exchange if you return something within 28 days.
This typically excludes perishables, such as food and flowers, personalised items and earrings and underwear.
If an item is faulty, you are legally entitled to a refund if you return it within 30 days.
After this, the retailer should offer a repair or replacement, or your money back if this is not possible.
Will vouchers be covered?
A legal principle known as ‘frustration of contract’ would apply if you couldn’t use a gift experience. This means the contract — which is any transaction — cannot be fulfilled because of government restrictions.
Voucher firms should either extend the expiry date or offer a refund but this will depend on their terms and conditions.
Are any grocery slots left?
You will be hard-pressed to find a free delivery slot at this point.
Sainsbury’s says there are still some times available but it depends on your location.
Can I cancel a food order?
M&S says that if you want to change your order you should go into the store you were due to collect your items at your selected time and staff will do what they can to help.
Orders made via Asda.com can be cancelled up until 10pm the day before delivery. After this point, unwanted items can be returned to the driver for a full refund. Those collecting in store can leave items in the locker.