I recently returned home from a fortnight’s holiday only to fight to get my front door open. Not because the emptied bins had been left on the doorstep yet again, or because I’d left a key in the lock. No. Instead, a sea of junk mail had flooded my hall, jamming the door as I tried to get in.
The worst offenders were local take-aways and restaurants. I counted eight Domino’s pizza menus alone, which given how long I was away means the chain must be clocking up flyer drops at a rate of at least one every two days. These were accompanied by countless broadband, TV, phone, clothing and homeware mail-outs promoting deals of some kind or other.
Despite the figures the desperate paper-based direct mail industry puts out claiming most households are happy to receive useful marketing information and that they really do ‘engage’ with the companies that spam them, I never bother to read any of it.
I just throw the lot straight into the recycling – and I don’t for one second think I’m the only fed up recipient to do so. My local council seems to agree with me. It gave everyone on my street a full-size wheelie bin just for paper recycling a few months back. At least there’s somewhere to put it all now. If only the leaflet droppers would read or respect ‘no junk mail’ signs – or just chuck all their tat straight in said wheelie bin.
Britons are literally carpet-bombed with junk mail – I couldn’t even see my carpet when I finally got the door open. It’s difficult to find reliable and up-to-date stats on the exact amount of nuisance mail households receive because the only companies and organisations that really know have a vested interest in keeping quiet. However, stopmyjunkmail has done its best to round up some figures and it points to estimates (as of 2009) that 12 billion pieces of junk mail are distributed to UK households and businesses annually – the equivalent of as many as 6.1 million trees. It adds that the average adult gets 65 pieces of addressed junk mail each year and the average household gets 326 pieces of unaddressed junk.
Sadly, it seems the plague of leaflets is about to get a whole lot worse. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has just announced plans to force the nation’s gas and electricity suppliers to share ‘customer data’ with the entire energy market. Doing so, it says, will boost competition and help bring down prices – but one energy boss thinks otherwise. It will ‘lead to British households being bombarded with a blizzard of junk mail’, says Dale Vince, founder of green energy company Ecotricity.
Following a two-year review of the energy market, the CMA has put forward a disappointing set of proposals that will generally do little to help often exploited energy customers – specifically those who are saddled with expensive standard tariffs (most frustratingly for some is the CMA’s failure to enforce a cap on these costly variable rates but that’s a blog topic for another day). Rubbing salt into the wounds, Vince believes, is the fact the CMA has simply ‘opted to create a new abuse – sharing of everyone’s personal data with every energy company in the land’.
He says there are about 20 million homes that will qualify to have their data shared on day one of such plans getting the green light and, with more than 30 suppliers able to access their personal details, households could be swamped by another 600 million items of junk mail.
He insists that his company will resist all attempts to force suppliers to share their customers’ contact details. ‘Our approach to customer data, and our promise to Ecotricity customers, is not to share their data with anyone, ever,’ he says.
‘We will fight to maintain this principle, and we won’t take part in this abuse of customers, we won’t be junk mailing to this new database. We think it’s simply wrong.’
Short of removing my letter box, or installing it in my wheelie bin, I can’t see any real way of putting an end to the incessant stream of junk mail I receive. I could join the estimated 6 million people signed up to the Mailing Preference Service. This opts you out of unsolicited marketing mail from the Direct Marketing Association whose members include the likes of window and conservatory company Anglian Home Improvements. Or I could register with Royal Mail’s opt-out service which is meant to stop the postman delivering junk mail.
But neither will stop Domino’s or every kebab shop in Kingston wanting to send me their latest offers. And when the energy companies are allowed in on the act too, we’ll need Noah and his Ark to escape the next deluge.
Laura Whitcombe is knowledge and product editor at ThisisMoney.co.uk.