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ACM: failure to deliver mail on time in 2020 caused by force majeure as a result of COVID-19 pandemic

In 2020, Dutch postal operator PostNL did not meet the statutory standard for on-time mail delivery. At least 95 percent of letterbox-sized mail that is subject to the five-day delivery requirement must be delivered on time, but, in part because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, PostNL achieved a rate of 94.3 percent in 2020. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) believes that it can be sufficiently argued that this was a case of force majeure, and has therefore decided not to take any action against PostNL.

“PostNL, too, was faced with extraordinary circumstances because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Manon Leijten, Member of the Board of ACM. “For example, sickness absenteeism was higher than usual, and workers had to comply with social-distancing rules.” With regard to letters subject to the six-day delivery requirement (medical letters and funeral cards, which must also be delivered on Mondays), PostNL achieved an on-time delivery rate of 96.8 percent in 2020. When including these letters, PostNL did meet the statutory standard of 95 percent.

Sufficient service locations

All PostNL services have to be available within a range of 5 kilometers for 95% of inhabitants in the Netherlands. With a result of 99.5%, PostNL more than fulfilled this requirement in 2020. Outside of towns with more than 5,000 inhabitants, at least 85% of citizens must have access to the full range of products and services within a five-kilometer radius. With a result of 97.3%, PostNL has met this requirement as well.

Obligations on PostNL

PostNL is the only postal operator in the Netherlands that is required to provide a basic set of postal services. Therefore, PostNL has to comply with certain statutory requirements. ACM enforces compliance with these rules. The rules stipulate, among other things, that, from Tuesday through Saturday, PostNL must deliver letterbox-sized mail on the next delivery day. Funeral cards and medical letters must also be delivered on Mondays.

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