The nation is on tenterhooks as the rampaging new Covid variant threatens to cancel Christmas for millions of us.
Yet as Omicron forces more of us to do our gift shopping online, postal and delivery services risk being overwhelmed as the virus and self-isolation hits staffing.
The Post Office has warned it is expecting its busiest week of the year, with an extra five million visits.
And last week Royal Mail warned families in 23 postal areas across the country — including Belper in Derby, Chelmsford in Essex and Shrewsbury in Shropshire — that, due to staff illness and isolation, their presents and cards might not arrive in time.
Postal and delivery services risk being overwhelmed as the virus and self-isolation hits staffing
At the same time, complaints are stacking up. There were 3,173 gripes raised with consumer-rights website Resolver in the first two weeks of December — more than double received over the same time in November.
Problems include delayed or missing parcels and goods arriving damaged.
As a result, some frustrated shoppers are now turning up at depots to collect their orders themselves.
Last year, millions of us missed out as parcels and letters were held up in the post. A survey by consumer campaigners Which? found half of us had problems with online deliveries over Christmas.
Just last week, an undercover investigation revealed parcels were being hurled about and damaged by staff at a warehouse owned by delivery giant Hermes.
At one point, the undercover reporter was even encouraged to throw parcels over gates if customers were not at home.
The Times also reported how drivers were being told to fob off customers complaining about delays by pretending their courier had been in an accident.
Almost two-thirds of customers have experienced problems with deliveries in the last three months, according to regulator Ofcom.
And a quarter of people who send a package found it difficult to make a complaint or contact parcel firms.
As complaints soar, the regulator plans to better hold delivery firms to account. Proposals include rules that require customer service staff to be appropriately trained.
Yet Matthew Upton, director of policy at charity Citizens Advice, says the watchdog should go further.
He says: ‘With almost 600 people dealing with a lost or stolen parcel every hour, Ofcom needs to come forward and lay down fines for companies if their negligence causes problems for consumers.’
So for now, what happens if your Christmas gets lost in the post? Here, Money Mail guides you through your refund rights if parcel firms do not deliver . . .
I stormed the depot to find my gifts
Lyndsey Bennet was told her packages had reached her local Hermes depot but they were never sent out for delivery
Lyndsey Bennet was so fed up after waiting for her Hermes delivery to arrive she drove to the courier’s depot herself.
The mother-of-four ordered £226 of Christmas presents from JD Sports, Sports Direct and Wowcher on December 12, and paid for next-day delivery.
But while Hermes informed Lyndsey the packages had reached her local depot, they were never sent out for delivery.
Despite countless calls to customer service, the healthcare assistant could not get through.
Eventually, Lyndsey, 46, decided to visit the depot herself on Monday — which is a five-minute drive from her Dundee home. A large sign informed any visitors that this was ‘not’ a customer service centre.
While four male employees did speak to Lyndsey, they were unable to find her parcels.
She says: ‘I’m furious, because I just think the men at the site were fobbing me off.’
When she tried again yesterday staff found her packages.
A Hermes spokesman says: ‘Any customers experiencing delivery issues need to contact their retailer/seller and they will contact Hermes if required.
‘We have been in contact with Lyndsey to apologise for the inconvenience. She has now received all of her parcels.’
Can I claim any compensation?
If your package does not show up within the promised time frame you can claim back the cost of the postage.
What you can get will depend on the courier or retailer’s terms and conditions.
Royal Mail’s Special Delivery Guaranteed by 1pm promises delivery by 1pm the next day and starts at £6.85, or £6.75 online, for a 100g letter.
If the delivery date is missed you can get a refund on the postage. Special Delivery compensation for delays starts at £5 if the item is more than 24 hours late and rises to £10 if it is still not delivered after seven days.
Delays to first or second-class post will be compensated with a six-pack of first-class stamps if the item arrives three days late.
Parcelforce promises a 100 per cent refund if items sent by express9, express10, expressAM services do not arrive in time.
You will get a 50 per cent refund if your express24 parcel, which starts at £16.68, is not delivered by the close of business the next working day.
Some couriers such as Yodel allow customers to collect parcels from depots. But others, such as Hermes, will not allow this.
DPD depots are currently closed to the public due to Covid restrictions, but you can opt for collecting at one of the courier’s ‘pickup shops’ which could be a local newsagents.
Fast: Royal Mail’s Special Delivery Guaranteed by 1pm promises delivery by 1pm the next day
Refund from the retailer?
Some retailers, such as Amazon, offer guaranteed delivery options that should be refunded if the goods do not arrive as promised.
In this case, Amazon says you will be refunded the delivery fee on to a gift card within three-to-five business days of the missed date.
For online or telephone orders you have a 14-day cooling off period under the Consumer Contract Regulations.
So if items are not with you in time you can cancel the order and send it back, although you’ll need to cover the cost of return postage.
If no date was given or agreed the seller must get the package to you within 30 days of ordering. If not, you are entitled to a full refund.
Customers at home who are left a ‘missed delivery’ note can complain to the retailer, but there is no guarantee that you will get compensation.
Those who can prove that the delivery driver didn’t bother to ring the doorbell (for example, with a video doorbell recording) have a strong case. Raise this with the retailer and ask for an immediate redelivery.
Explain to the retailer what has gone wrong, how it has impacted you and what you want it to do to resolve this.
I dug out gift from bin
The last thing Anna Cargan expected to be doing in the run-up to Christmas was rummaging through her recycling bin for a present she’d ordered.
But she was left with no choice after realising that’s where Hermes had left it — a jumper for her brother — days earlier.
Anna, 34, from Cumbria, who runs her own business Build A Bundle, assumed she would have a paper card posted through her door in such circumstances.
Anna Cargan was forced to retrieve a Christmas present for her brother from her recycling bin
But this did not happen and Anna was left wondering where the parcel had gone after it still hadn’t arrived after nine days.
Her recycling bin was by then filled to the brim with rubbish.
Anna says: ‘It’s a good job I caught it before bin day.’
A spokesman for Hermes says they no longer leave physical cards to reduce infection risk and that it is now done digitally.
They add: ‘Hermes provides its couriers with a comprehensive list of what is an acceptable safe-place location — this does not include a bin and we apologise for the inconvenience.’
Has my parcel been stolen?
It is not your fault if goods go missing in the post or someone steals them.
Social-distancing rules have created a new problem with ‘knock and run’ deliveries where items are dumped on your doorstep following a ring on the doorbell.
If you are not in, packages could end up being left outside your house all day — at the peril of doorstep thieves.
If the goods go missing, contact the retailer and explain what happened. It is up to them to resolve this as per the Consumer Rights Act and you should be refunded or sent a replacement.
This is the same case if goods are put somewhere you did not agree to — such as a shed or with a neighbour — and are stolen.
Remember, it is for the retailer to prove the goods were delivered, not for you to prove you did not receive them.
However, if you ask a retailer to leave goods in a ‘safe place’ such as a shed or with a neighbour and they are subsequently stolen, you are unlikely to get your money back.
Gifts gone missing?
If items sent by Royal Mail are not with you in ten working days — or five days for Special Delivery Guaranteed — after the expected date you can claim compensation for loss.
Goods sent by first and second-class post are covered up to £20 plus the cost of postage, excluding money and jewellery.
Special Delivery Guaranteed offers cover of up to £500 but you can pay for extra if sending more valuable goods.
Claims must be made within 80 days of delivery to be considered. You will be contacted within 30 days with the outcome.
Couriers also have their own terms and conditions for what items are covered if lost, damaged or late.
For example, Hermes excludes a number of goods including antiques, kitchen appliances and vinyl records.
If goods arrive damaged the retailer is responsible as per the Consumer Rights Act. This is unless the problem occurred after being left in an agreed safe place or with your neighbour.
As soon as you spot an issue take photos and include these in an email to the retailer. If it tries to blame you, it must prove you are responsible for the damage within the first six months of receiving the goods. It should also cover the cost of returning them.
If goods arrive damaged the retailer is responsible as per the Consumer Rights Act
Can I get parcel protection?
Most major delivery firms offer the option to pay extra to cover their packages against theft and damage.
But their small print is often littered with exclusions which can leave customers out of pocket when they try to claim.
DPD will not pay out for more than 170 selected items, including artwork and watches.
And while most couriers offer free cover for low-value items, some charge £100 for more expensive deliveries. Complaints about this cover have also soared 139 per cent since 2018 — with 1,989 cases received by complaints site Resolver in 2020.
My order hasn’t shown up yet
If your gifts are not delivered in time, stay calm. While your contract is with the retailer, it may be worth also contacting the delivery company to see if it can solve the problem quickly. It may refer you back to the seller but it is worth a try.
You can try to find the parcel using your tracking number online if you have been sent one.
And most couriers have a helpline you can call or use online chat facilities. You will need your tracking number. For example, you can call DPD on 0121 275 0500 or contact it on WhatsApp or on web chat.
The Parcelforce customer service team is on 0344 800 4466 or if you can sum up the problem in less than 280 characters it says you can contact it on Twitter @parcelforce. Royal Mail says it aims to deliver to all addresses it has mail for, six days a week.
However in a small number of local offices this may temporarily not be possible due to ‘local issues’ such as Covid-related self-isolation and higher-than-usual levels of sick absence.
A spokesman says: ‘We are providing targeted support to the local offices affected by these issues and we apologise to customers for any inconvenience they may have experienced. Our staff are continuing to work incredibly hard.’
Hermes says it is experiencing some delays as a result of high volumes of parcels and this is being exacerbated by staff absence as a result of Covid.
DPD says it is on track to deliver everything for Christmas.
Just how late can I leave it?
With Christmas just around the corner, shoppers are cutting it fine to get gifts delivered in time.
Royal Mail recommends using Royal Mail Tracked 24 today, which starts at £4.02 for a letter, or Special Delivery Guaranteed tomorrow if you are sending gifts.
Argos customers will be able to order right up to 1pm on Christmas Eve for same-day Fast Track delivery before 6pm. These are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Prices start at £3.95.
John Lewis orders must be made by 8pm today for premium home deliveries or Click and Collect.
Marks & Spencer customers can opt for next-day delivery until tomorrow, although it has warned dates are subject to change.
Online orders will always show the expected delivery date.
Amazon advises customers to check the estimated delivery date on the product pages. Same-day delivery will be available until Christmas Eve, however it will depend on product availability and customer location.
Click and Collect can also be used for last-minute gifts. You can order in-stock goods from a Currys’ stores by 12pm on Christmas Eve and pick them up that day.
Be warned, most stores will close that day at 5pm so get there early.
Order online from Next before midday on December 23 for collection in store the next day.
If you opt for its Store Stock Checker, which allows you to reserve items in your local shop, you can order before midday on Christmas Eve for collection that day.
Unwrapped deliveries spoil present surprise
By HELENA KELLY
Keeping Christmas presents a surprise can prove tricky when you live with your loved ones.
But Amazon has made the task even harder by shipping items without any packaging.
The unwrapped parcels are part of its commitment to offer ‘frustration-free’ packaging which claims to be more eco-friendly. But scores of frustrated customers have accused the retail giant of ruining Christmas.
Amazon is sending some parcels unwrapped as part of its commitment to offer ‘frustration-free’ packaging which claims to be more eco-friendly
Mum Amy Tremain took to Twitter to share a photo of a Cluedo board game she had bought for her daughter: ‘Not really a surprise any more as she answered the door with me. No oversized box, not even a bit of brown paper to cover it. Disappointed.’
Catherine White wrote: ‘It’s Christmas, and despite my giant note on the front door telling you to deliver it next door, you delivered my parcel with no wrapping straight to my father to whom it was supposed to be a surprise . . . Thanks for ruining it.’
Student George Icke, 19, says he was nearly caught out after ordering a coffee machine for his sister. However, when he then checked the Amazon reviews, they included a warning about the see-through packaging — prompting George to cancel the order and place another, this time to be delivered to his workplace.
A spokesman for Amazon says: ‘We offer customers the option to conceal their product at no cost by selecting ‘ship in Amazon packaging’ at the checkout.
‘Amazon continually works to minimise the amount of packaging materials we use under our Frustration-Free Packaging Programme. We have worked with manufacturers around the world to design their products to ship in their own packaging without the need for additional packaging.’
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