Ofcom has sounded the death knell for first class post. It says it is considering getting rid of the distinction between first and second class letters, so that all letters put in the post could take two days to reach their destination.
So why is it making this change, and will this be the end of the days of the hand-written letter?
ProposalAs part of its duties as a watchdog, Ofcom is legally required to survey whether the postal service is doing a decent job every so often. It has just published the results of its latest survey, and proposed a number of possible changes.
The one it claims to have most support for is bringing an end to first and second class stamps - and replacing the 60p stamp and the 50p one with a single 53p rate - which aims to get to its destination in two days.
Letter-writers would be right to feel a little put-out by this suggestion. After-all, if they were used to sending their post first class, they have to accept a service that takes twice as long - and have no choice but to go online if they want something faster.
Billy Hayes, CWU general secretary, said: "This research clearly shows the value that people put on the post and highlights growth areas for consumers who predict they will increasingly rely on postal services for the delivery of parcels and online purchases. We want to see innovation not cuts in order to maintain and improve service standards."
Who benefits?Clearly those who use the post aren't going to benefit - so why suggest it?
The problem is that the postal service is in dire straights. The research suggests that the average number of items sent by residential consumers each week has more than halved since 2006 (from 3.5 to 1.5 items), while over a fifth of consumers (22%) expect to send even less mail in three years time.
It therefore needs to find a way to become more cost-effective while still meeting people's needs. Ofcom says that operating a two tier system brings extra costs and complexity into the business - and that phasing it out for a single type of post will enable significant streamlining and savings.
Doesn't matterOfcom said in its report that it didn't think the extra day really mattered, saying: "The benefits of a next day service would appear to be diminishing over time as the use of other communication methods can fulfill the need for speed." It added: "a significant proportion of first class mail does not actually need to arrive the next day".
The research found that 59% of consumers use First Class - and 66% of businesses, However, few in comparison (9% of residential consumers), say they need to deal with all or most of their post on the same day it arrives.
Best of a bad lotThe report essentially concludes that given that costs need to be cut, this seems to be one of the most palatable ways of doing so.
Other ideas they floated included offering fewer deliveries each week. Alternatively, they suggested having post delivered to secure lockers or mailboxes at the end of people's drives, to save the postman time. However, most people were strongly opposed to both ideas - as they seemed to lack the necessary service and security.
What do you think?While in many cases the logic for a single tier looks sound, there are some important exceptions. It seems like a huge leap of logic to say that you have emails for speed, because there are simply some things you can't send by email, but it doesn't mean you can hang about for them.
Take the self-assessment passwords and bank PINs - they are both currently sent by post, and many people cannot wait another day for them to arrive. Likewise, just because you want to send someone a birthday card with a tenner tucked inside rather than just liking it on their Facebook profile, it doesn't mean you don't mind if it gets there a day too late.
At the moment, the suggestions are open for consultation, so we have the power to register our views before consultation closes on December 18. Ofcom will then publish its decision in March net year, so if it gets widespread approval, the double tier system could be phased out in the spring.
But what do you think? is this the tragic end of an era, or a necessary step to stop the demise of the postal system altogether? Let us know in the comments,