Broken post International parcel post from the UK is in a real mess

A sticker on a wooden fence, that says in capital red letters on a white background: "PLEASE ..." There used to be 2nd word, but it's been ripped away.

The Royal Mail got hacked, and for weeks, it simply wasn’t possible to post copies of my book to other countries. Branches of the Post Office (which, remember, is a separate organisation) were instructed not to accept any packages that required a customs declaration form.

Which, of course, these packages do require, since Brexit.

So the weeks passed and I kept sending emails to people who’d ordered the book with international delivery, saying “Did you know about this? Do you want to wait? It might be weeks. If not shall I send you a refund?” Most buyers, bless them, said they were happy to wait.

And now the Royal Mail has recovered from the hack and Post Offices can accept packages with customs declarations on them again - hooray!

Except - not hooray. Very much not.

I turned up at my local Post Office today, and smiled at the woman behind the counter.

“Is it true? I can send international parcels again?”

She grimaced.

“Yes, it’s true. But you’re not going to enjoy it.”

She was right, because the revised post-hack posting process is utterly broken.

I couldn’t see the computer that woman was using, but it soon became apparent that it was presenting her with a very long and complicated form to fill in - for each and every package. I was sending 4 of them, to 4 different countries.

It took 25 minutes.

Not only did that poor Post Office staffer have to laboriously type in the address of each package, and my address as a source; she also had to answer some utterly baffling questions.

“Phone number?” she asked me.

“I’m sorry? It wants a phone number?”


“Mine? Or the recipient’s?”

“It doesn’t say.”

“Do I have to provide one?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“What happens if I don’t?”

She shrugged, as mystified as I was.

“I have no idea,” she said.

We skipped the phone number bit. And the email address bit, for the same reason.

She tapped on. She sighed, and looked at the queue of people behind me. “God help us when we get to Christmas,” she muttered. But deliberately loud enough for me to hear.

Then she looked at me again.

“It wants to know the ISO code for the country of origin.”

“The what?”

“The ISO code.”

“I have no idea what that is,” I said.

That turned out to be another optional field, so we skipped it.

Then another:

“Was the item sold through a marketplace?”

I stared back. Behind me, I could hear the queue of customers shuffling their feet and making polite coughing noises.

“What does it mean when it says marketplace?”

She shrugged again.

“Maybe it means eBay,” she offered. “Did you sell it on eBay?”

“No. I sold it on my website. But I wouldn’t call it a marketplace.”

She ticked the “No” option for that one.

This is how it went. Four times, this poor woman had to go through this form. I’m not faulting her at all: she was polite and professional throughout, and tapped as fast as she could on her keyboard. I knew where the fault lay: with the people, or the committee, who designed the form, and the process behind it.

After 25 minutes of this, I was finally able to pay for the postage. I said effusive thanks, and turned to leave. She gestured to make me pause.

“It might be quicker to do it yourself online,” she said. “In fact, I’m starting to think they’re doing it this way to make people do that more often.”

Maybe they are, I thought. Maybe they are.