Send Snail Mail: How To Address An Envelope UK

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In the age of electronics, communicating via "snail mail" is becoming a lost art. However, there are times a quick electronic note won't do. Sending a handwritten note affords a personal touch that email doesn't provide. 

Other times a physical document may be necessary for legal purposes. Whatever your reason for sending snail mail, it is crucial to understand what to include on the outside of the envelope to ensure the post delivers your letter correctly and on time.

Why Does It Matter? 

Every year billions of letters are sent within the United Kingdom. Parliament briefing about postal service performance in 2018 reported the volume of mail pieces for UKPIL (UK parcels, international, and letters) at 14.8 billion.  

The vast majority of these items reach their destination in a timely fashion without incident. Occasionally something happens to a piece of mail, and a complaint needs to be filed. 

According to the briefing by Parliament, the largest volume of complaints, 30%, was due to lost items.  And the number one reason an item does not make it to the intended destination? You might have guessed it already — incorrect or illegible address.

What Happens To Mail That Cannot be Delivered?

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Incorrect address format or illegible address can slow things down, mainly if it necessitates hand processing. If it cannot be delivered at all, the letter is sent to the National Returns Centre. Some people kindly refer to this as the "dead letters office."  

At the NRC mail is held for one month. If the lost piece is not paired with a missing mail claim during this time, the item is recycled appropriately. Have you heard of the Australian letter from 1917 that didn't get delivered until 2015? 

Those situations are rare, and whether it be destroyed or lost you want your mail received by the person it's meant for, or you wouldn't have sent it. Right? 

There's a lot riding on the postal service's ability to handle mail appropriately. Even though they process billions of letters and parcels a year, the amount of mail actually lost and never recovered is pretty low. The number of lost pieces of mail verses delivered mail is considerably less than 0.1%. 

According to the report by Parliament we mentioned earlier, only about 761,000 pieces of mail were lost in 2017/18. Following guidelines detailed by Royal Mail will help ensure your letter does not become one of these lost pieces. 

Address Etiquette

The proper format for the address on any letter is determined by each country's governing body which oversees the operations of their postal carrier. Royal Mail Group is the public limited company responsible for transportation and delivery of most mail inside the UK. 

While there are several companies offering letter and parcel delivery services, Royal Mail is recognized as the universal postal service provider in the UK.  Postal Services Commission, or Postcomm, oversees operations and determines the regulations that postal services must operate within.  

Remember, the following guidelines are only for recipients within the UK.

To ensure your address is readable by sorting machines and postal workers make sure your address is written or printed with the following in mind:

  • It should be clear and easy to read in ink that is easy to distinguish against the color of the envelope.
  • Royal Mail recommends white labels with black ink for colored envelopes.
  • It is aligned left with no stepped or centered lines.
  • Should not contain commas or full stops (periods or other punctuation). 

Address Location

Recipient address should be written on the lower-left corner of the front of the envelope.  If you're not sure which side this is, it is the side opposite of the flap. Always leave a generous margin around the entire address so it doesn't run into the edges or become illegible during transit. 

Royal Mail Group uses ILSMs or intelligent letter sorting machines. These sort through 36,000 pieces per hour. As of 2016, Royal Mail Group had 66 of these machines in use. 

Items with typed addresses are sorted through machines using OCR or optical character recognition. 

The OCR machine translates the postcode into phosphor dots which are later used by other machines in the sorting process. Have you ever noticed a series of small lines on the envelope after you received it? Those are phosphor dots. 

Address Format

With the above guidelines in mind, the address should appear on the envelope in the following format:

Name 

Organization (if applicable)

Property Number and Street Address

Local Area or Village

TOWN (in all caps)

POSTAL CODE (also in all caps)

COUNTRY (if international, in all caps)

According to Royal Mail, it's not necessary to include the country name if mailing within the UK. If you did wish to include this, it should come after the "TOWN" line and before "POSTAL CODE." Capitalization of letters is important, so be sure to use caps when and where required. 

The recipient's name, organization name (if appropriate), and street name should follow standard capitalization for names and places. 

Addressing Mail To HM Forces

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If the person you are sending a letter to is active in the British military, then addressing the envelope looks a little different. According to Royal Mail, the format should read like this:

Service Number, Rank and Name

Unit/Regiment

Operation or location Name (if applicable)

BFPO (British Forces Postal Office) number

Unlike the address for a civilian location, when you send a letter to a person in the active military, it should not include town or country. 

Postage

Another reason your letter may not reach the intended destination is missing or incorrect postage. The right amount of postage is required for your letter to take its little journey with Royal Mail, as with any postal service. 

Inside the UK, the starting rate for a letter sent second class is £0.61, and first-class is £1.06. Both size and weight dictate the cost of postage. If you are mailing from within the UK to any address within the UK, the postage is the same. 

According to Royal Mail's website, the dimensions of a letter should be no more than 24 cm in length, 16.5 cm in height, and 0.5cm thick. It should weigh no more than 100 grams. 

First Or Second Class?

Royal Mail offers two different services for domestic mail.  Depending on the time frame you require, you can opt for first-class or second-class service. What's the difference?

Royal mail strives to deliver mail sent via first-class by the next working day. Second class service aims to deliver your letter within 2-3 working days. Both are charged based on size and weight and will be the same price for all destinations within the United Kingdom. Both are also backed by up to £20 compensation coverage in the event of loss or damage.

What Qualifies As A Letter?

Having trouble picturing what fits within the category of "letter?" According to Royal Mail's help center, a single-page personal letter and envelope typically weigh around 30 grams. A four-page document using A4 paper inside a DL envelope weighs about 44 grams.

If your letter exceeds the weight limit or dimensions for "letter" postage rates, it can still be mailed as a "large letter." Dimensions can be up to 353mm x 250mm x 25mm and weigh up to 750 grams. Anything beyond those dimensions or weights qualifies as a parcel. Postage for packages starts at £3 and increases according to size, weight, and service(s) selected. 

Royal Mail offers a price finder service free on their website to calculate postage for you.  If you're uncertain of the dimensions or weight, you can take your letter to a post office or approved mailing center to be weighed and measured. Doing so will reduce the likelihood of your item having insufficient postage.

Where To Place The Postage

Once you have the stamp or postage label, affix it securely to the top right corner of your envelope, on the same side as the recipient address. Avoid any edges of the stamp hanging over the edges so that it won't become caught up in the sorting machinery. 

Return Address

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It is always a good idea to write your return address on your mail piece so that it may be returned to you if it is undeliverable.  Royal Mail indicates you should write this on the opposite side of the envelope with "Return Address" written above it. 

As always, you should write the address in the appropriate format. 

For More Information

It may seem like a lot to remember but spending an extra minute or two to address your letter correctly can make all the difference. Whether it be a letter to a friend or a legal document, it is worth doing right. 

To find out more about mailing parcels or letters in the UK, visit http://www.royalmail.com

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