Call and Check


I sometimes think there’s a special relationship between postal workers and dustmen. We deliver the rubbish, they take it away again. We used to get paid per item for the junk mail we dropped through your letter box. These days we get a delivery supplement: a fixed amount per week no matter how many advertising leaflets we carry. The maximum we are allowed to deliver has also increased, to seven per household.

It’s the one thing I disagree with my union about. They say that this unaddressed mail – we call it ‘door-to-door’ – is necessary because it helps to pay my wages. I say I’d rather not be involved in delivering unwanted advertising to people who will throw it in the bin without a second glance.

There are better things we could be doing: the ‘Call and Check’ scheme developed in Jersey, for example. For the price of a special delivery letter, postal workers will knock on your door and have a brief chat, to make sure you’re all right. We can check if you’ve taken your medication, or find out if you need additional services, such as a lift to the shops, or someone to pop in for a visit. If you say yes, we’ll pass this information on to social services, the NHS or a local voluntary organisation.

We could also deliver repeat prescriptions, collect post on your behalf, remind you about hospital appointments, or supply information on available services. Postal workers would be required to go through a police check and given first aid training.

Call and Check visits can last from two to ten minutes, and the postie is supported by a customer service team, who liaise with the associated agencies and make sure that the information is co-ordinated between the different parties.

The scheme has been so successful in Jersey that, after a pilot in one area, it has been rolled out in many parts of the island. It is also being trialled in Finland, Iceland and Ireland and is being considered in the United States.

I’ve known since my early days as a postal worker that we are a lifeline for some people, albeit on a casual basis. I already collect mail for one 96-year-old and I’m always on the alert when I reach certain doors. Call and Check would formalise the arrangement and offer me the proper training and support.

It wouldn’t be hard to administer. We already put markers in our frames to show if there’s been a repeat complaint, or if someone has opted out of door-to-door. A card to remind us to call on a particular customer could be loaded into our frames on the appropriate days, with all the necessary information included.

Of course, such a scheme would involve the postal worker being responsible for a single round, which goes against the privatised Royal Mail’s philosophy of making us interchangeable cogs in a machine, who can be moved at a moment’s notice. It would make us what we used to be, valued and trusted members of the community, instead of the mere carrying devices for advertising that we’ve become.

From the LRB:

For more information:


Junk Mail

Me: if I had the choice I would refuse to carry it.

We call it Door to Door, or Household.

You call it junk mail.

The council calls it landfill.

It comes in different forms. Sometimes it’s in an envelope, with “Delivered by the Royal Mail” on the front. There’s no name on it as it goes to every address.

Sometimes it’s a little booklet with various products for sale. Or a large card with a detachable portion with a return address advertising such things as double glazing or hearing aids.

We’ve been sending out the same advert for hearing aids ever since I came to this office. It goes round and round the office, from walk to walk, from postman to postman. And then, when everyone from every walk has delivered every one of them to every door, we start out all over again.

Hearing aids, hearing aids, hearing aids.

How many deaf people do they think there are in this little town? How many ears to they think we have?

Worst of all are the glossy A4 sheets. They’re big and shiny and they smell of ink.

They stick together.

They flop about.

They rip. They crumple. They won’t go through the letter box.

You try to push them through the letter box and they turn into something resembling papier-mache. They go soggy in your hand. They soak up your sweat. By the time you’ve finished clutching a bunch of them they’ve half-melted, turning into a mush and sticking to your fingers as you try to force them through the letter box.

It’s like trying to post fresh salad. Not letters, lettuce.

And we’re not even paid for them.

We used to get paid per item, 1.67p each. That worked out at about £20 a week. Nowadays it is included in our workload. We have to stick them in our frame, one for each address, up to six items per household per week.

Think about it. I have 600 delivery points on my round. That’s “letter boxes” to you. Each delivery point has a slot on my frame with a house number underneath. (The roads are colour coded.) So I have to throw each one of each Door to Door item into each slot individually. I couldn’t say how long that takes. It varies from week to week and on the nature of the item (the A4 glossies are the worst): but it’s never less than an hour and a half.

On top of that you have to deliver them. This is all weight in your bag, in addition to the regular mail. Our bags are supposed to be a maximum of 16 kilos each. Sometimes they throw spot checks to make sure you’re not going over the limit, although everyone does of course. But all this extra weight means extra bags, which mean extra journeys to the drop-off points, which means you are later going home.

Me: if I had the choice I would refuse to carry it.

I hate it.

The customers hate it.

It’s embarrassing.

Sometimes it’s all I have to deliver.

Sometimes people come to the door to collect the mail, and it’s all I have to hand them, this trash. A bulk letter about home-insurance, a glossy sheet about boiler repairs, and a large printed card about hearing aids. Always something about hearing aids. And I hand it to them and say, “Sorry, it’s only rubbish,” and they look down at it, wrinkling their noses, and then back up at me with real disappointment – for some older people the postman’s visit is the highlight of the day – and they say, “I’ll just redirect it to the council, shall I? That’s straight in the bin then,” and I think, “What am I doing this for? I never became a postman to deliver this rubbish.”

Because that’s what it is. Rubbish. Literally rubbish. From my hand, through the door and into the bin. They might as well put a bin next to the letter box with two arrows. “This is for the mail” pointing at the letter box. “And this is for the rest of the junk,” pointing at the bin.

Or maybe we should just deliver the whole lot of it direct to the dump.

I wouldn’t mind so much if the advertiser did some basic research. Like I deliver to a block of flats. It’s 11 stories high, sheltered housing, owned by the council. How many of them are going to want double glazing? And still I’m posting double glazing adverts through their doors, week-in and week-out, year after year as I have been these last god-knows how many years.

They’ve already bought all the hearing aids they will ever need.

Or I deliver items for the blind. This is the kind of stuff I like to deliver: the weekly talking newspaper. But then I have to shovel another bunch of stuff through the letter box that the sight-impaired person on the other side of the door couldn’t read even if she did want double glazing or a new hearing aid.

Why does she need a talking newspaper? It’s because she can’t read. So why send her stuff to read then?

Basic research. Don’t just throw paper at people. Find out if it’s appropriate first.

What I hate the most is our contribution to global warming.

Whole forests are being chopped down so that you can cast a quick glance at a glossy sheet or an envelope and then throw it in the bin.

Trouble is the union are complicit in this. I spoke to my union rep. I said, “can’t we run a campaign against junk mail?”

He looked at me as if I’d gone loopy.

“It’s all money,” he said.

“I should be allowed to refuse it on ethical grounds,” I said. “The government should make it illegal. Anything. Just so I don’t have to deliver junk mail any more.”

“Money,” he said, repeating himself.

If you ask me that’s the whole cause of the problem.



Up ↑