The universal postal service
Section 29: Duty to secure provision of universal postal service
142.Subsection (1) of this section provides that the primary duty of OFCOM in relation to postal services is to secure the provision of a universal postal service. This section should be read in conjunction with paragraph 57 of Schedule 12 to the Act, which amends the Communications Act 2003 to provide that, in pursuing their duties in relation to postal services, OFCOM must give priority to the duty under this section to secure the provision of a universal postal service.
143.Subsection (2) makes it clear that OFCOM’s duty to impose access conditions, and other regulatory conditions, is subject to their duty under subsection (1) to secure the provision of a universal postal service.
144.Subsection (3) sets out that OFCOM must have regard to both the need for the provision of a universal postal service to be financially sustainable and to the need for the provision of a universal postal service to be efficient before the end of a reasonable period of time when performing their duty under subsection (1).
145.Subsection (4) provides that, when having regard to the need for the universal service to be financially sustainable under subsection (3)(a), OFCOM must include the need for a reasonable commercial rate of return for a universal service provider on any expenditure incurred for the purpose of, or in connection with, providing the universal postal service.
146.Subsection (5) defines "reasonable period" in subsection (3)(b) as a period beginning on the day that the provisions in this Part of the Act come into force and which OFCOM consider, in all the circumstances, to be reasonable.
147.Subsection (6) requires OFCOM to carry out their functions in relation to postal services in a way that they consider will secure the provision of sufficient access points to meet the reasonable needs of users of the universal postal service.
148.Subsection (7) enables the Secretary of State to direct OFCOM to take, or refrain from taking, action to ensure that sufficient access points are provided throughout the United Kingdom to meet the interests of the public. "Interests of the public" in this subsection may be distinct from "user needs" in subsection (6). Subsection (10) requires the Secretary of State to consult OFCOM before making such a direction.
149.Subsection (11) defines the meaning of "access points" in this Part of the Act.
Section 30: The universal postal service
150.Subsection (1) provides that OFCOM must set out in an order, which will be known as the “universal postal service order”, a description of services that they consider must be provided in the United Kingdom as a universal postal service. This subsection also provides that they must set out the standards with which those services must comply.
151.Subsection (2) introduces section 31 which contains the minimum requirements for a universal postal service.
152.Subsection (3) provides that before making or modifying the universal postal service order, OFCOM must assess the extent to which the postal market in the United Kingdom is meeting the reasonable needs of users. This “market testing” is to enable OFCOM to determine what services (if any), other than those specified in section 31, should be provided as part of the universal service in the United Kingdom, in order to meet the reasonable needs of users.
153.Subsection (4) waives the requirement for OFCOM to carry out an assessment described in subsection (3) for their first universal postal service order. It requires that OFCOM must have carried out such an assessment within 18 months of Part 3 coming generally into force.
154.Subsection (5) allows the Secretary of State to direct OFCOM to exclude certain types of postal services from their first universal postal service order.
155.In Part 3 of the Act, the universal postal service means the universal postal service as defined by OFCOM in their order.
Section 31: Minimum requirements
156.This section sets out the services that must as a minimum be included in a universal postal service. These minimum requirements are broadly similar to those set out previously in the Postal Services Act 2000 (section 4) and comply with the requirements of Article 3 of the Directive defining the universal postal service. They are subject to certain exceptions as set out in Section 33.
157.“Requirement 1” is that, as a minimum, the universal postal service must include at least one delivery of letters every Monday to Saturday and one delivery of other postal packets every Monday to Friday. It makes clear that international mail is part of this minimum requirement.
158.“Requirement 2” is that at least one collection of letters every Monday to Saturday from every access point in the United Kingdom, and at least one collection of other postal packets every Monday to Friday. It makes clear that international mail is part of this minimum requirement.
159.“Requirement 3” is that there must be a service of conveying postal packets at affordable prices determined in accordance with a uniform public tariff. It makes clear that international mail is part of this minimum requirement.
160.“Requirement 4” is that there must be a registered items service at affordable prices determined in accordance with a uniform public tariff.
161.“Requirement 5” is that there must be an insured items service at affordable prices determined in accordance with a uniform public tariff.
162.“Requirement 6” is that specified services for blind or partially sighted persons are provided free of charge.
163.“Requirement 7” is that there must be a service of conveying qualifying legislative petitions to Parliament and devolved legislatures free of charge.
Section 32: Section 31: definitions
164.This section gives the definitions of “insured items service”, “legislative petitions and addresses” and “registered items service” for the purposes of section 31.
165.Subsection (1) introduces the term “insured items service”, defined by Article 2(10) of the Directive, which makes specific provision for the payment of an amount up to the value declared by the sender in the event of theft, loss or damage of a postal packet.
166.The definition of “legislative petitions and addresses” broadly reproduces the description of Parliamentary petitions and addresses given in the Postal Services Act 2000 at section 100.
167.Subsections (2) and (3) clarify that legislative petitions and addresses are those petitions to Her Majesty sent to a member of a legislative body (which includes either House of Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales or the Northern Ireland Assembly); or those addressed to a legislative body and sent to a member of such a body or to the Clerk of the Scottish Parliament; or those forwarded to Her Majesty (or in Northern Ireland the Secretary of State).
168.Subsection (3) clarifies that petitions and addresses (other than those forwarded to Her Majesty or, in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State) fall within the definition only if they do not exceed 1kg and are sent without covers or in covers open at the side.
169.Subsection (4) defines the meaning of “registered items service”, which is similar to that in section 125 of the Postal Services Act 2000.
170.Subsection (5) clarifies that references made in the section to conveying postal packets from one place to another include conveying them to places outside the United Kingdom.
Section 33: Exceptions to minimum requirements
171.This section sets out when the minimum requirements described in section 31 need not be met.
172.Subsection (1) sets out the maximum weight and dimensions of postal packets (as defined in section 27(2) to include letters) to which the minimum requirements apply. This definition is similar to the definition of “relevant postal packets” in the section 4(7) Postal Services Act 2000 and implements Article 3(5) and (6) of the Directive.
173.Subsection (2) removes UK public holidays from the requirements of section 31. It further provides that the minimum requirements do not need to be met in geographical conditions or other circumstances that OFCOM consider to be exceptional.
174.Subsection (3) provides that the services required by section 31 do not need necessarily to continue uninterrupted during an emergency. It further provides that nothing in section 31 prevents individual agreements with customers on prices.
Section 34: Review of minimum requirements
175.This section gives OFCOM the power to review the needs of users of postal services and the extent to which the minimum requirements specified in section 31 meet those needs. Subsection (2) allows such a review to consider whether the minimum requirements could be changed better to reflect those needs.
176.Under subsection (3) a copy of any review of this nature that OFCOM does conduct must be sent to the Secretary of State and subsection (4) gives the Secretary of State the power to direct OFCOM to undertake such a review at any time.
177.Subsection (5) gives the Secretary of State the power to amend, by order, the minimum requirements for a universal service, provided that OFCOM have carried out a review under subsection (1). An order to amend is to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. No order can result in the service being non-uniform throughout the United Kingdom in respect of the tariffs, number of days' collection or number of days’ delivery.