Skip to main content

Armed Forces: Postage

Volume 691: debated on Monday 30 April 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will permit letters and packages to British forces personnel in Afghanistan and the Gulf region to be posted free of charge. [HL3226]

The Government have never charged to carry postal packets up to 2 kilogrammes through the British Forces Post Office system to personnel serving on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost payable is that charged by Royal Mail Group to carry postal packets from local post offices to the British Forces Post Office depot at Mill Hill, London. This means that the overall cost of postage to operational theatres is fixed at the standard UK inland rate for packages up to 2 kilogrammes (currently £5.31 for a 2 kilogramme packet), which are dispatched by surface mail; an air mail service is also available. However, for operational reasons an airmail-only service is operated to Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost of this service is currently £6.50 for a 2 kilogramme packet, which represents only 38 per cent of the Royal Mail Group airmail rate for those countries of £19.58. The prices charged by Royal Mail Group are a commercial decision for that organisation.

A scheme whereby the Government paid Royal Mail Group's charges was 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 now available in theatre. When the provision of goods and services in Iraq reached the required standard, the decision was taken to end the scheme on 8 April 2004. It was later reintroduced for a period of one month before Christmas 2004, and subsequently confirmed by the then Secretary of State for Defence, prior to Christmas 2005, that the government payment of Royal Mail Group charges in the pre-Christmas period was to become a standard element of the operational welfare package. The centrally funded posting dates for Christmas 2006 were 10 November to 8 December inclusive, for which Royal Mail Group charged the Government £577,000; this sum does not include the costs for additional air transport and onward distribution that were also paid for by the Government.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much they estimate that the British Forces Post Office (BFPO) receives in payment for packages and letters sent to British forces personnel in Afghanistan and the Gulf region on a monthly basis; and what are the operating costs of the BFPO to deliver such items to these destinations over the same period. [HL3227]

The British Forces Post Office (BFPO) does not receive payment for letters and packets sent to HM forces deployed to operational theatres in Afghanistan and the Gulf.

The distribution of mail to BFPOs overseas is heavily subsidised by the Ministry of Defence. The net operating cost of the BFPO for the year ended 31 March 2006 was £30,235,000. This figure does not include the cost of providing RAF transport, which delivers the majority of BFPO mail to operational theatres and permanent bases by air, or the costs incurred in distributing the mail to the individual addressees in theatre. To attempt to allocate these costs specifically to the mail being handled would involve disproportionate effort.

The BFPO does receive a limited contribution from Royal Mail Group (RMG) towards the cost of its UK operations, to reflect the work it does in collecting BFPO mail in bulk from a central RMG sorting office.