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Knife posting policy that cuts both ways

Proposals by Royal Mail to ban sending knives by post have been watered down but BASC is still on the case, says Conor O’Gorman.

In February, Royal Mail announced that it would be banning the carriage of knives and other bladed items across its delivery network (News, 10 April and 14 February). 

In March, I wrote to several senior people at Royal Mail raising BASC’s concerns about the planned ban and the impact it would have on hundreds of small businesses across the UK which rely on online orders for knives via Royal Mail. I also wrote to Kemi Badenoch, the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, about the announcement, requesting an intervention. 

A response was received by email from the office of the chairman and chief executive office of Royal Mail Group Ltd, stating that this was a “Royal Mail business decision” that was “not open to discussion”. 

The Offensive Weapons Act 2019 took effect in 2022 as regards to the sale and delivery of knives and blades, and the age-verification system operated by Royal Mail is legally compliant with the Act. 

Why was Royal Mail gold-plating UK law in trying to ban the delivery of knives and blades? After all, it had stated it would continue to carry other age-restricted items, including alcohol. I discussed this with several BASC trade members, some of whom had also contacted Royal Mail and not received any explanation for the decision. 

There seemed no logic to this from a business perspective. The delivery of small, light items as parcels are profitable for delivery providers and age-restriction checks upon delivery at the doorstep are a straightforward process for postal staff, not least when other age restricted items will continue to be delivered. 

Delivery cost 

Royal Mail is the preferred option for customers buying knives online. There were concerns that the loss of that option would impact on online sales, because people buying relatively low-cost bladed items, such as hobby knives, would be dissuaded from purchases via Parcelforce due to the relatively higher delivery cost against the value of the item. 

There were also concerns about the risk of Royal Mail’s unexplained decision triggering reviews by other delivery companies currently delivering knives, including Parcelforce, DPD and UPS. 

We went back to Royal Mail with feedback, requesting postponement of its decision. There was then some email ping-pong which culminated in an announcement that the ban would be replaced with more targeted restrictions. 

So, as things stand, the revised Royal Mail policy, due to take effect on 7 May, is that it will continue to carry “any knife or knife blade, including cutlery knives, bread knives, knives that can be used for hobbies and trades (for instance, utility knives and snap-off cutters, gardening, camping, lock knives, bushcraft and farming tools with a blade or any other trade tool that could commonly be described as a knife), butcher knives (including meat cleavers), felling axes and razor blades”. 

Prohibited items will be “hunting/ combat/survival type knives, daggers, movie knives (such as Rambo or Crocodile Dundee style knives), replica fighting knives (such as Bowie knives), throwing knives, machetes, swords, fantasy knives, knives with images or words that suggest use for violence, stiletto knives, battle axes, open razors/ folding razors and any similar items“. 

Initial feedback from retailers on the restrictions are that the definitions are vague and leave them open to their deliveries being randomly stopped by postal staff with little training, resulting in unfair penalties. A key issue is what is meant by “hunting” knife. 

We will continue to try to discuss these issues with Royal Mail as the revised policy takes effect. 

–  If you encounter issues with your knife orders via Royal Mail after 7 May please email [email protected] and it will be used in improving policy implementation.