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NZ Post fails to stamp out free mail

The same stamp was used multiple times without being cancelled by NZ Post. PHOTO/CAL ROBERTS

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If you posted a letter recently, odds are you could have got away without paying for postage.

After learning that NZ Post was no longer postmarking mail last month, the Times-Age asked what processes were in place to detect a stamp that had already been used.

A spokesperson assured us that while letters may not be postmarked, “we do have processes in place to detect the reuse of stamps and postage included envelopes”.

Over the past six weeks the Times-Age tested the limits of such processes, to see if that was true.

Of five letters sent, only one returned with a stamp that was marked, rendering it unusable again – that’s a hit rate of just 20 per cent.

The rest went through the mail without being voided – essentially getting a free ride.

Four of these letters were sent using the same stamp.

Back in September, the letter’s first and only paid voyage was from Masterton to the Times-Age office in September.

The letter arrived two days later, with no postmark to denote its journey.

The same letter and stamp was then posted from Carterton – and completed its trip to the office unscathed.

To test the range on this boomerang stamp, the letter was sent again from a post box in Wellington in October.

It arrived at its destination a little worse for wear, but otherwise intact – and without a postmark.

Our luck ran out when the same letter was sent from Taihape and returned with a postmark mid-October.

When NZ Post was contacted to explain how one stamp could be used four times before being voided, the answer was equally as unexpected.

In the period we had been trialling how far a letter could travel on a single stamp, NZ Post had been doing a trial of its own.

A spokesperson for NZ Post told the Times-Age that in the face of ongoing letter decline, it decided to stop “cancelling” stamps and postage-included envelopes temporarily.

“When making the decision to start the trial, we considered a number of risks, one of which was the possibility of customers choosing to reuse products.

“This was considered along with a number of other factors, including the significant costs that we would be able to save from not cancelling mail.”

The spokesperson said the decision was made to reactivate stamp cancellations, with adjustments to save on ink, from October 8.

It seemed like case closed, until a fresh letter was sent from Masterton to the office on October 24.

The letter arrived this week with no postmark.

Previous responses from NZ Post have yielded little clarity on the processes to detect a used stamp.

When asked specifically how NZ Post was able to detect a used stamp and how much was being saved on ink versus the prospect of people gaming the system to avoid paying altogether, NZ Post said it had “a number of ways to detect a reused stamp,” and that “costs savings are commercially sensitive”.

“We don’t want to potentially provide information about how to avoid detection,” a spokesperson said.

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