Just when you think you know everything there is to know about stopping junk mail you get a question that opens an unprecedented can of junk mail worms:
"We have registered with the two opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail and have a no junk mail sign on the door. Two political parties have put stuff through our door and when confronted, the candidates have claimed that they are exempt due to 'national importance'. Could you please confirm if this is the case and if so, is there any way to make them stop putting election flyers through the door?"
The claim that political leaflets have 'national importance' is pompous and false. Here's how the three opt-out regimes for unaddressed mail items treat political leaflets:
Royal Mail's Door-to-Door Opt-Out is rather vague about political leaflets. On its website, Royal Mail states that election material is not delivered via the company's the door-to-door scheme and that it's therefore not affected by the opt-out scheme. However, when I recently checked if a booklet from the Electoral Commission about today's local elections and the referendum on our voting system was also being delivered to households registered with the Door-to-Door Opt-Out I was told that it was not. Although the booklet was clearly "election material" it was affected by the opt-out…
As far as I'm aware the only type of "election material" that can't be stopped by the Door-to-Door Opt-Out are so-called 'election communications'. At a general election all candidates are entitled to have one political leaflet distributed free of charge by the Royal Mail, and this leaflet is delivered to each and every household in the candidate's constituency, including households that are registered with the company's Door-to-Door Opt-Out. Any other political leaflets distributed by Royal Mail are probably not exempt.
The Your Choice Preference Scheme for Unaddressed Mail stops all political leaflets distributed by companies that are a member of the Direct Marketing Association. Straightforward as that may be, the Your Choice scheme is hopelessly complicated in other ways. One of the problems with Your Choice is that you usually have no way of knowing whether or not a particular leaflet was distributed by a member of the Direct Marketing Association. And even if you're confident that a leaflet was pushed through the door by a representative of a political party and that the political party is a member of the Direct Marketing Association, you'll probably find you can't lodge a complaint because political parties are not distribution companies. (Making a complaint is still worth a try, though a better option is to follow…).
So how about 'No Junk Mail' signs? Although there's no agreed definition of 'junk mail' it's more or less accepted that the term refers to unaddressed, unsolicited and commercial advertisements. In other words, a 'No Junk Mail' sign should stop commercial items such as take-away menus and calling cards from local businesses, but not non-commercial items such as a leaflet from the local Council about bin collections around bank holidays or a leaflet from a neighbour about a missing cat.
Political leaflets don't advertise a commercial product and should therefore be classified as 'non-commercial' mail items. So, the candidates whose actions we're discussing are correct; they can ignore 'No Junk Mail' signs when delivering leaflets. That said, any claim that this is because political leaflets have 'national importance' is ludicrous. Many decades ago political leaflets might have been a vital part of the democratic process but such an argument is nonsense nowadays. Few people rely on unsolicited leaflets for information, and the average political leaflet contains nothing but negative campaigning and information about horse races. To many people political leaflets are like a red rag to a bull, and politicians know it.
It seems obvious, then, that the decent thing to do for political parties is to simply respect people's wishes. If someone contacts a political party directly to stop unwanted leaflets, why not comply? Not only is insisting on delivering unsolicited political leaflets needlessly provoking, it also contradicts the spirit of the Direct Marketing Association's Code of Practice:
"Members must have in place a structure to enable every effort to be made to respect a householder's wish not to receive unaddressed items, whether such requests are made directly to the member or via any industry schemes approved by the Association." (13.23 - Requests not to receive unaddressed items).
The three main parties are members of the Direct Marketing Association, and so the Code of Practice applies to them. The best best way to stop election flyers from any of these political parties is therefore to make a complaint to the Direct Marketing Association (which you can do via the Direct Marketing Commission).
Will it work? Personally, I find the above article 13.23 of the Direct Marketing Association's Code of Practice not very reassuring. It reluctantly talks about 'having a structure in place' and 'making an effort' - it doesn't say that it's an offence to deliver junk mail to people who have asked not to receive any. Still, it'd be interesting to see how the Direct Marketing Commission would deal with a complaint about candidates who insist on pushing junk mail through the door because of 'national importance'.