Questions & Answers: Reform of the postal law: Sending letters will take longer

Questions & Answers: Reform of the postal law: Sending letters will take longer
Questions & Answers: Reform of the postal law: Sending letters will take longer

After a quarter of a century, the postal law is finally being modernized; the rules are pretty dusty. Consumers are likely to feel the consequences of the new law next year.

The reform of the postal law is in the final stages. On Thursday afternoon, the Bundestag will vote in plenary, after which it will be the turn of the Bundesrat. An overview of the amendment to the law and its consequences for consumers.

What does the Postal Act regulate?

After the privatization of the Federal Post Office in the 1990s, the state established rules to ensure that citizens could continue to receive letters reliably and buy stamps easily. Since then, the federal government has stipulated that every large village must have a post office, that mailboxes must be within easy reach and that letters must reach the recipient fairly quickly. In addition, letters must be delivered six days a week – including Mondays, although few letters are sent at the weekend and the mailbox is therefore often empty at the start of the week.

What is the problem?

The rules date back to a time when online commerce was still in its infancy and letters were part of everyday communication. A lot has changed since then: in the digital age, people rely on chats and emails instead of letters, and they often shop online rather than in the city center. As a result, the volume of letters has been shrinking for a long time and the number of packages is through the roof. For the post office, unit costs have increased massively; after all, it has to operate a mail network of the same size, in which it has fewer and fewer shipments. It has to deliver letters everywhere in Germany, even to isolated farms. The postal law has not yet adapted to the changing demand – this is considered long overdue and should now finally happen.

What is the most important change?

Deutsche Post is under less time pressure than before. At present, at least 80 percent of the letters posted today must be with the recipient on the next working day and 95 percent on the day after that. The new law stipulates that there is only a mandatory value on the third working day after posting, namely the aforementioned 95 percent. On the fourth working day, it should be 99 percent. This will enable the post office to reduce costs, and the domestic flights used for decades to deliver letters have been canceled – this also helped with climate protection. For consumers, however, this also means that they have to wait longer on average for a letter than before. Those in a hurry can, however, send a faster priority letter. This is more expensive than the standard letter.

How do consumers feel about the foreseeable longer waiting times?

The mailbox is no longer as full as it used to be – more and more people are even receiving bank statements and insurance documents digitally rather than by post. In the internet age, most letters are not urgent – for many citizens it is no longer so important whether a letter arrives today or tomorrow. The main thing is that it arrives reliably at some point. According to a YouGov survey conducted on June 11 among 2,577 people, 50 percent of respondents supported this central point of the reform and 37 percent rejected it; the rest did not provide any information.

What else is changing?

In future, vending machines will probably be found more frequently in villages and on the outskirts of towns than before. In certain cases, they can be counted towards the obligation to have a strong branch network, which existed in the old law and is to be retained in the new law. The local municipality and the Federal Network Agency have a say in this. The advantage of vending machines is that they are available around the clock. Branches staffed by people – often kiosks or supermarkets with post offices – have opening hours. Other key points of the old law will remain, such as six-day delivery – so deliveries will still have to be made on Mondays.

Does this also apply to the parcel industry?

Although there are no government delivery time requirements for packages, other parts of the law do affect this sector. They are about better working conditions: packages that weigh more than 20 kilos should normally be delivered by two deliverers, unless suitable technical equipment is available. In this case, one-person delivery is also permitted. In addition, subcontractors, whose use the Verdi union is very critical of, should be monitored more effectively: they will be required to keep information on working hours, among other things. Authorities could compare this information with the data recorded when packages were delivered – and thus identify violations of the Working Hours Act.

Will postage be more expensive?

In a calculation procedure, the Federal Network Agency determines every three years how much leeway the post office has for increasing postage. The Postal Act provides the framework for the procedure. In 2019, the cost of sending a standard letter domestically increased by 10 cents to 80 cents, and in 2022 postage increased by 5 cents to 85 cents. Prices for other types of mail – such as postcards and maxi letters – also increased. From January 2025, postage is likely to become more expensive again. How much is still unclear. However, the traffic light coalition wants to ensure that standard letter postage does not become more expensive than one euro.

How is Deutsche Post reacting to the reform plan?

The market leader Deutsche Post, as a “universal service provider”, is most closely bound to the legal requirements. The Bonn-based company is not particularly enthusiastic about the reform. On the one hand, they welcome the fact that the rules are finally being dusted off and the time pressure for mail delivery is being reduced, which has meant that letter flights could be eliminated. On the other hand, they are critical of the fact that competitors are being promoted and bureaucracy is being increased in the rapidly shrinking mail market. In future, small mail competitors will also be allowed to hand over consignments of goods to the post office for delivery.

What does politics say?

The traffic light coalition, in which there is a lot of friction in other policy areas, has agreed on a compromise on the reform without any loud background noise despite different ideas. Politicians from the SPD, Greens and FDP see this as a success and an expression of their ability to act. Social Democrat Sebastian Roloff also sees the consumer as a winner: “We are ensuring comprehensive postal services six days a week for a long time and in all regions of Germany and are ensuring that the letter market continues to function despite falling volumes.” The opposition CSU politician Hansjörg Durz, on the other hand, criticizes – similarly to the post office – an increase in bureaucracy. This can be seen in the scope: the previous postal law comprises 19 pages and the new one 80 pages.

Source: Stern

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