Sunday 18 February 2018

High Court rules post can be delivered only to postal address

Tim Healy

AN Post is entitled to deliver mail to a postal address rather than to an actual geographical address, the High Court has ruled.

An Post had brought High Court challenge to a direction by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) - which regulates postal and telecomunication services - to deliver mail using the actual geographical description of a customer's house instead of their postal address which was different.

An Post opposed the direction on grounds including that it amounted to an unacceptable form of micromanagement of its postal delivery service.

It also argued that if had to use geographical addresses - as opposed to postal addresses - on a nationwide basis it would require a costly and fundamental restructuring of the manner in which mail is sorted and delivered throughout Ireland.

In a ruling today, Mr Justice John Hedigan quashed ComReg's direction and said An Post is entitled to use what it describes as 'postal addresses' to facilitate its system of delivering and sorting post.

The court further granted declarations including that An Post has an obligation to deliver post to the 'postal address' of the customer and not to any other of a number of addresses such as for example the District Electoral Division in which the customers house is located.

The case arose after ComReg issued a direction in November requiring An Post to deliver post to a disputed address. The premises is owned by Patrick and Sandra O'Connell, who wanted to use the address: Blackstone Bridge, Watergrasshill, Co Cork.

The couple said this was their official address, and the most accurate geographical description of their location. However anything posted to that address was often delivered late.

An Post said that as part of their delivery system in that part of Cork the O'Connell's postal address is Blackstone Bridge, Rathcormac, Co Cork.

In 2011 as part of An Post's program to increase the use of correct postal addresses any packages received O'Connells had stickers placed on them indicating the packet had been incorrectly addressed.

The O'Connell's complained to An Post as items posted to then were delayed for several days and some of their post was returned to sender. They got no response.

In November 2011 ComReg, who asserted that An Post's legal obligation to deliver post related to the official address as determined by the local authorities and not to postal addresses, issued a direction to An Post to accept the O'Connell's address as being at Watergrasshill.

An Post argued in its High Court proceedings that in order to comply with the direction it would need to restructure delivery routes, and that other people in the area would have to change their postal addresses to include a reference to Watergrasshill.

Opposing the proceedings, ComReg argued that it is empowered and obliged to direct An Post to deliver post to the customer's actual geographical address. It also claimed that An Post is trying to establish itself as the addressing authority of the State, which it was not entitled to do.

In his judgment Mr Justice Hedigan said that An Post "has a complex web of delivery routes" to fulfill its obligations as "Ireland's' designated Service Provider". It has designated post distribution centres, called post towns, close to delivery points.

An Post's system means that customers in rural areas are served their mail via a post town that can be located some miles from their exact geographical location. In order to ensure a quick delivery some people have postal addresses different to their actual geographical location. There are many examples of this in Ireland, the judge noted.

This use of the postal address is an "essential part of An Post's delivery web," which he said seemed to be accepted by the State and the EU.

"The concept of a postal address is and has been since the foundation of the state, and long before, a well known and accepted reality." he said. The system An Post uses to deliver post "cannot in all cases mirror the precise geographic location of a particular house, " he added.

If people wished to use An Post's postal services it was necessary for them to use the name of the postal town from which mail will be distributed. While it maybe "an irritant to some customers" the inconvenience was outweighed by the benefit of how An Post delivers post.

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