A free packet scheme was first introduced on 17 April 2003, as a temporary measure unique to Iraq, at a time when service personnel did not have access to the welfare facilities that are now available in both Iraq and Afghanistan. A decision was taken to end the scheme on 8 April 2004 when the provision of goods and services in Iraq reached the required standard. These include welfare telephones (30 minutes free calls per person per week to anywhere in the world); unlimited free letter mail and electronic letters (where available); free e-mail and internet access; newspapers, magazines, books and board games; fitness equipment; and shopping facilities provided by the Expeditionary Forces Institute. The Department recognises that relatives will wish to send Christmas presents to those in operational theatres and a pre-Christmas free-packet scheme has therefore been a standard element of the Operational Welfare Package since 2005.
Operational welfare is a high priority for the Department and we have looked at extending the free packet scheme to become a permanent feature to all operational theatres where UK service personnel are deployed, but personnel on the ground stated a preference for improvements to welfare telephone and internet provision above free mail. On 10 October 2006, we announced improvements to the telephone and internet services, increasing the number of free telephone minutes from 20 to 30 per week.