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Study reaffirms ‘indefensible’ delivery charges

NEW research into the high cost of delivery to rural areas of Scotland like Shetland has revealed that consumers in the Highlands and Islands pay on average 50 per cent more to have parcels delivered than the rest of the UK.

The Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) study said that people in the region can also pay up to four times more for heavier items to be shipped north.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said the additional delivery charges continue to be “unjustifiable and indefensible”.

The issues of high postage charges and rural surcharges is nothing new, with isles politicians regularly raising the problem over the last number of years.

The matter will be debated in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, with Moray MSP Richard Lochhead having recently launched an online campaign to name and shame offending retailers.

Highlands and Islands list MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston will use the debate to highlight specific examples of excessive charges in the region.

On Tuesday the CAB released its Postcode Penalty: Delivering Solutions study, which says that customers in areas like Inverness and Aberdeen can be also subjected to surcharges.

The study says that over 80 per cent of consumers do not think the costs are acceptable, with many people choosing to shop with a different company to find a better deal.

The CAB is calling on the Consumer Protection Partnership to encourage retailers to be more transparent with delivery costs, and to make them “up front and justifiable”.

It says the “primary recommendation from this research is that parcel companies should consider collaborating with each other and with the public sector to reduce their operating costs in the Highlands and Islands, driving down the prices charged to all consumers.”

It has previously been suggested that a series of pick-up and drop-off locations could be created in conjunction with the public sector to reduce costs.

Carmichael said he would continue to work with CAB and other agencies on securing change.

“At this time of year many people will be looking to find Christmas presents online. It is, of course, always best to see if you can get the same product in a local shop. More often than not, that can turn out to be as cheap, or cheaper,” he said.

“There are, however, some things which can only be bought online – for those it is unfair that we should be penalised simply because of where we live.

“This report confirms what many in the islands already know to be true. Unfair charges for the delivery of goods are unjustifiable and indefensible. The fact that some heavier items can cost four times as much to post to the Northern Isles than to another UK address is a disgrace.

“The research carried out by Citizens Advice Scotland, lends welcome detail to the issue, and identifies practical solutions to work with local authorities, communities, and the Scottish Government to reduce costs and improve transparency.

“This is an issue that is regularly brought up by local residents, and I hope this is a step towards ending this unfair and discriminatory practice.”

The report notes that CAB hopes to hold discussions with the industry and the public sector in 2018 with a view of working towards trialling new solutions to counter the surcharge problem.

Shetland CAB assistant manager Paula Dunn said the issue is a “real concern” for locals and suggested they follow its three-point plan when shopping online:

  • 1. Check delivery terms. Always check delivery costs before starting your order. Online retailers should make it easy for you to find information about delivery charges on their website and should tell you the cost of delivery before your purchase is complete. If they don’t, report them to the local Trading Standards office.
  • 2. Shop around. If you think the cost of delivery is too high, check out other online retailers for a better deal as they may charge less to deliver your parcel.
  • 3. Consider your options. If you can’t find a better deal with a different retailer, you may wish to consider other delivery options that don’t attract a surcharge – like having your parcel delivered to your work or to a friend or relative in a different postcode area. Some retailers offer a ‘click-and-collect’ option that may be cheaper than having the parcel delivered to your door.

Lerwick, meanwhile, recently featured at number five on the Royal Mail’s list of the top ten areas in the UK for online shopping activity during the Black Friday weekend.