Building a strong future together
Following the agreed settlement in December 2019 of the group litigation between Post Office and a group of mainly former postmasters, we are resolving past issues fairly where we got things wrong. We have made a wide range of changes to the way we do things to improve support for postmasters, from training to transactions and, importantly, when things go wrong.
Many of the changes were already being planned, such as the reintroduction of area managers and dedicated trainers for the whole network, but the Common Issues Judgment in March 2019 was a very strong signal that we needed to review all support touchpoints.
Remuneration for postmasters continues to be increased and in 2020/21 will be 10% higher than in 2018/19. The latest increases to remuneration started from April 2020 with increases to banking transactions, Travel Money services and Special Delivery transactions. We also recognised the need to act with speed to provide postmasters with remuneration support during the current Covid-19 crisis.
We have significantly increased field-based support for branches and we now have nearly 100 area managers spanning the UK. Every Post Office branch now has an area manager who will visit them at least twice a year and is accessible via phone, email or WhatsApp.
They provide tailored support for an individual branch’s needs, taking a holistic view of the overall business, not just their Post Office, and not solely focused on income performance but sharing data and discussing operational issues too.
Regional and area managers hold regular forums for branches – 564 postmaster events were held last year and more listening and feedback sessions are being introduced this year, even if these need to be virtual events for the time being during the ongoing Coronavirus restrictions. We have also launched regional Facebook groups that have quickly become a valuable way for postmasters to share issues and ideas with each other and with Post Office.
We work in a more partnership-focused way with postmasters – for example, we spent several weeks with more than 200 branches to understand better all aspects of their business and ways of working and took significant feedback from this to help us improve their experience of the overall Post Office business.
We have a Branch User Forum where Post Office branches get a chance to input into changes that will affect them and we are increasing the number of branches involved.
The way we onboard new postmasters has changed to give those new to running a Post Office a dedicated caseworker during their application process and more comprehensive training once they join. We now have 18 classroom trainers in dedicated sites which are available for top up training all year round, plus 40 specialist trainers around the country who deliver six days of on-site training at the new Post Office. More recently we have launched additional operational training and work aids, and extended training making it available to postmasters’ teams.
Business support managers are at the postmaster’s side for the first six months of trading to help them realise their Business Plan ambitions by supporting, connecting them with other postmasters, and guiding them through the various operational processes that go with running a Post Office, such as cash and stock control.
At the counter
As part of the litigation, the Court found the current version of Horizon, the point-of-sale system in Post Offices, to be robust compared to similar systems. Since then we have made lots of design changes to transactions on Horizon based on postmaster feedback. These include prompts to key in amounts twice for banking transactions to prevent potential errors and colour coding buttons to distinguish between different transactions. This work will continue as postmasters tell us what else would make life easier for branches.
Most recently we have launched Branch Hub, a portal containing helpful troubleshooting guides and a digital IT service desk, with more features such as ordering cash and stock, including personal protective equipment, and tracking being added soon. This is to help postmasters get the information or service they need whenever they need it, without having to wait to get through via our contact centres.
Support with problems
In direct response to the Common Issues Judgment, we changed our discrepancy support processes and have launched a Branch Support Guide setting out where branches can go for information or if something goes wrong. This includes advice on how to dispute an unexpected discrepancy.
The helpline for postmaster queries has been restructured and we now have a Branch Support Centre which enables quick queries to be dealt with immediately, with more complex queries handed to dedicated case handlers so postmasters and branch teams have a named contact to help them resolve their issue.
If we see a potential issue, we work quickly to alert branches to the issue and when it will be resolved. This can range from product updates to external security threats, aimed at protecting the postmaster by keeping them informed.
A new loss prevention team has an ‘early intervention’ approach to help branches prevent losses in the first place by contacting the branch as potential discrepancies arise and discussing how to remedy the potential issue. The team also works closely with retail and crime organisations to improve protection from external crime and security threats. Our investment in security devices for ATMs has virtually removed the damaging attacks we saw in 2018.
In some circumstances, we will still need to suspend postmasters and will work hard in partnership with the postmaster to avoid this. Our suspension rate has halved since our new operating approach came into effect, but if we do need to suspend a postmaster pending investigation, we ensure their business can keep running by a combination of continued remuneration and finding a temporary operator while any issue is quickly resolved.
In the loop
We have improved communications with postmasters too, sending fewer and targeted communications about product or process changes, making sure questions are responded to quickly, and we have a dedicated email address for postmasters for any questions or feedback they may have.
More to come
We will publish soon a step-by-step guide for new and existing postmasters so everyone is clear where to go for help, for general support and information and in the event of a dispute.
We want to be open, honest and transparent so that we can thrive together, and we are seeing positive results – a recent survey of postmasters showed eight out of 10 feel the relationship between postmasters and Post Office is better and continues to improve.
And that’s not the end of the story – we know there is still much more to do. We will not let up in strengthening further our relationship with postmasters and make sure they and their customers are at the heart of our current and future direction.