In 2023, 4,672 postal users appealed to ombudsman poste and 2,260 admissible disputes were the subject of a mediation investigation. A concern about sending a parcel or letter that cannot be resolved after direct contact with the postal operator may give rise to a complaint to our services. The mediation carried out by our team resulted in an amicable solution in 2,016 cases. A fine result achieved thanks to a motivated team!

We have experienced in 2023 a continuation of the type of complaints already observed in the sector for several years. The loss of a parcel remains by far the main reason why complainants turn to our service. The inaccessibility of customer service for recipient complaints is also a major source of frustration driving individuals and businesses to turn to the Ombudsman. A relatively recent practice is for parcels to be left unattended in the absence of the recipient during delivery. This practice is part of the drive for efficiency in the distribution sector and is also appreciated by some postal users. However, this approach can sometimes lead to parcels disappearing and to heated discussions about each party's responsibility in this respect. Each complaint is unique and is the subject of an individual mediation investigation.

Our role goes far beyond handling individual disputes. It places us in a very privileged position: that of having an overall view of the problems and issues of the postal sector and even of being able, on the basis of the analysis of complaints and investigations carried out in this respect, to make observations regarding recurring problems which, if the Ombudsman considers it necessary and relevant, may give rise to structural recommendations. On the basis of the complaints received in 2023, the Ombudsman makes three structural recommendations to the sector and one structural recommendation to bpost in its capacity as universal postal service provider. Two specific issues are also brought to the attention of the competent authorities.

This annual report is being published for the first time in the form of a small website. We hope you enjoy reading it and are pleased to be involved in improving the sector through our day-to-day commitment.




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TOP 3 Complaints

2.797 parcels

1.004 letter post

1.133 customer service

Summary of the Parties


87% of applicants are private individuals, while 13% are legal entities. The latter are primarily self-employed traders, members of the liberal professions and SMEs (as both addressee and sender). Associations and government bodies also make appeals to ombudsman poste. Senders which are large businesses usually have a bespoke contract and a contact within the postal firm who maintains the contractual relationship. Private individuals mostly apply to the Ombudsman service as addressees, whereas legal entities are more likely to be senders.

In 2023, 71% of the users who lodged a dispute with ombudsman poste were addressees, while 27% of the complaints came from senders. The other 2% concerned users of other services, such as post office financial services or philately.

In 2023, the typical customer of the Ombudsman service was again a private individual addressee. It is, of course, primarily the addressee who is inconvenienced when a parcel, letter, bill, registered mail item, etc. is not received. Nevertheless, we saw a shift towards more senders requesting mediation between 2021 and 2022, among both private senders (24% in 2023 vs 13% in 2021) and business senders (45% in 2023 vs 42% in 2021).


In 98% of cases, the postal sector customer contacts the Ombudsman service directly. Mediation requests are submitted using the complaint form on (50%) or by email (46%). 67 complaints were submitted by letter and 3 persons explained their dispute in person at the ombudsman poste offices.

46 cases were referred by the Consumer Mediation Service, 62 by another ombudsman and 6 by the online mediation service Belmed.

Requests for mediation can only be made in writing. However, to ensure that our services are easily accessible, we can also be contacted by telephone for information. Callers inquiring by phone can explain their problem and obtain information about how the sector operates, what their rights are and how they can complain either to the postal firm (in first resort) or to the Ombudsman (in second resort).


The Office of the Ombudsman for the Postal Sector conforms to the European and national goal of settling disputes by consensus. Requests for mediation can be submitted by the users of post and parcel services. ombudsman poste then contacts the operator concerned. Since February 2007, following the opening-up of the postal market to competition, the Ombudsman has been authorised to deal with all firms that transport post and packages and operate in the Belgian postal market.

In each case, ombudsman poste endeavours to reach an amicable agreement between the parties. The Ombudsman mediates on the basis of the opinions of the parties, the applicable regulations, and the principle of fairness.

ombudsman poste puts great effort into cooperating with postal firms in order to maximise the chances of achieving an amicable solution in every case. For instance, approximately every six weeks the Ombudsman holds a face-to-face case review with bpost for the further discussion of cases that cannot be resolved amicably through the normal mediation procedure.

Similar organised reviews have also been held with UPS, DPD, GLS, Fedex and PostNL since 2021, and with Mondial Relay and Colis Privé since 2023. Discussions with other firms are held on an ad hoc basis in order to discuss cases face to face and thus maximise the likelihood of an amicable solution.


Mediation Requests

Anno 2023

Admissible Requests

ombudsman poste mediates in any individual dispute between a customer and a postal or parcel firm. The ultimate aim is to reach an amicable agreement between the customer and the firm. In 2023, 4,672 mediation requests were made to the Ombudsman service. 2,260 of these cases were declared admissible.

Each new request is first examined to ensure that it falls within the Ombudsman's remit. The Ombudsman service then checks whether the request meets a number of requirements prescribed by law. This is known as the admissibility check. By far the most common reason why requests are inadmissible is that they have not yet been submitted to the operator itself (premature complaints). ombudsman poste is an appeal service: it cannot start an investigation until the postal firm has had the opportunity to resolve the dispute according to its internal customer service and complaints procedures. Senders or addressees must therefore first raise their problem with the firm concerned. If the customer does not receive a response from the firm, or is unhappy with the proposed solution, then they can appeal to the Ombudsman.

Inadmissible Requests

In 2023, 2,412 mediation requests were declared inadmissible. ombudsman poste refers inadmissible complaints to the customer service department of the operator concerned, in accordance with its statutory remit.

2015–2023 Evolution

4,672 disputes were lodged in 2023. This represents a 14% drop from the total number of mediation requests in 2022. The number of cases that the Ombudsman service actually began to investigate and mediate (admissible cases) decreased by 11%.

After the service was founded in 1993, the number of requests for mediation rose gradually until 2003. From 2004 onwards, we noticed sharp annual increases in the number of disputes arising, driven by the growth in parcel delivery. Numbers peaked at around 9,000 requests in 2018, 2019 and 2020. The large number of disputes in 2020 was also due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which gave a strong boost to e-commerce and consequently to parcel deliveries. In 2021, the number of cases began to decline. This fall was initially masked by a strikingly large number of cases in the second half of 2021, due to the introduction of the new European VAT rules for parcels arriving from outside the EU and the procedures that operators put in place to comply with them. The number of new mediation requests fell sharply in 2022, and continued to decline in 2023.

We do not have a conclusive explanation regarding the fall in the number of disputes submitted to ombudsman poste in 2022 and 2023. However, we believe that the following matters played a part in this change:

  • A fall in the number of complaints about letter post in a declining market for letters.
  • A decline in customs-related disputes regarding international parcels.




From mediation requests to complaints

TOP 3 Complaints

2.797 Parcels

1.004 Letter Post

1.133 Customer Service

5,024 admissible complaints

All requests for mediation are coded by ombudsman poste in accordance with a European CEN standard. A mediation request may be classified as containing multiple complaints, based on the customer’s description of the dispute. This methodology gives us a more refined picture of the problems that people experience in sending and receiving parcels and letters. This information also helps the sector and the firms to identify opportunities for increasing customer satisfaction. In 2023, 2,260 mediation requests were declared admissible and investigated. These 2,260 unique mediation requests comprised 5,024 complaints, i.e. an average of 2.2 complaints per case.

The graph above shows the proportion of complaints in each category. The proportion that concerned letter post declined between 2017 and 2021, reflecting the downward trend in the Belgian market for letters. Over the same period, the proportion of parcel complaints increased, in line with the growth of e-commerce and the consequent increase in parcel deliveries. The relative shares remained more or less stable between 2021 and 2023. This finding should be seen in the light of the decline in the total number of complaints addressed to the Ombudsman's office for the postal sector since 2021, which mainly concerns letters, but also parcels.

Admissible complaints
follow the trends in the postal market.

Complaints by Operator

Operator Parcels Post Customer service Other services Total
BPOST 2071 1003 886 90 4050
POSTNL 176 - 57 - 233
DPD 143 - 65 - 208
UPS 91 - 31 - 122
COLIS PRIVE 88 - 25 - 113
MONDIAL RELAY 79 - 21 - 100
GLS 60 - 19 - 79
FEDEX 52 - 19 - 71
DHL EXPRESS 19 - 4 - 23
DHL PARCEL 10 - 3 - 13
HOMERR 7 - 3 - 10
EASYPOST - 1 - - 1
BUDBEE 1 - - - 1
TOTAL 2797 1004 1133 90 5024

Over the past three years, the number of complaints to the Ombudsman service about bpost has declined. This trend continued in 2023, with the company’s share of total complaints decreasing by 16%. With respect to letter post, bpost was in 2023 the only provider offering a full letter post process across the whole of Belgium. As expected, complaints continued to follow the decline in the letter post market. The number of complainants raising a dispute with bpost about parcels also decreased. bpost accounted for 74% of parcel-related complaints in 2023 (2022: 82%; 2021: 88%). bpost’s share of ombudsman complaints thus fell by a remarkable 14% between 2021 and 2023.

The other parcel firms accounted for 26% of all complaints about parcels to ombudsman poste. Colis Privé, which has been operating in Belgium since mid-2021, has seen strong growth. PostNL, DPD, GLS and Fedex are also seeing an increased number of ombudsman complaints. UPS and Mondial Relay saw a decline in the number of ombudsman complaints in 2023.


In Figures

Parcels Other Customs clearance Total
Lost items 776 33 809
compensation claim 482 82 564
Delivery errors 391 - 391
delays 188 109 297
charges/costs/billing 42 253 295
wrongly returned 143 41 184
tracking 105 1 106
damage 87 - 87
other 55 9 64
Total 2269 528 2797

The number of complaints about parcels has risen gradually over the past 30 years, reflecting the changes in the postal sector. In 2022, we noted a sharp decline in the number of ombudsman complaints about parcels. In 2023, there is a continued decline in complaints about the customs clearance of international parcels. Such disputes peaked in 2021 following the change in the European VAT rules on non-European e-commerce shipments. The number of general complaints about parcels in 2023 remained steady relative to 2022.


of mediation requests made to ombudsman poste about parcels concerns parcels sent and received within Belgium


concerns parcels within the European Union


concerns parcels to or from non-EU countries

The relationship between senders and addressees was as follows:

The C2C category includes gifts sent between friends and family members. Complaints about these items usually concern international parcels. This category also includes a growing number of mediation requests about C2C sales.

Complaints about parcels primarily concern lost items, closely followed by requests for compensation. Requests for compensation are often not the sole reason for a complaint, but a secondary request accompanying the main complaint about an item that has been lost, damaged or delayed, or when the customer feels that their complaint was not properly dealt with by customer service.

Complaints about parcels :

The 10% decrease between 2022 and 2023 is exclusively due to a decline in customs issues disputes.

The 528 ombudsman complaints about customs charges mainly concern complaints from importers about the extra charges they had to pay for their international shipments. The second-largest cause for complaint was delays in clearing the parcel.

Lost Parcels: A Sore Point in the Sector

In 2023, parcels that failed to arrive at their final destination were again the most common reason for appeals to the Ombudsman.

Out of 2,797 disputes about parcels, more than 3 in 10 concerned a lost parcel. Mediation requests for lost parcels were a major issue with most firms the Ombudsman is authorised to deal with.

Following investigation, some of these disputes were resolved because the parcel was found – with a neighbour, at a sorting or delivery office, at a collection point, or in the undeliverable items department. However, in many cases the outcome was that the parcel had vanished without a trace.


A sender drops off his parcel in a parcel locker to be shipped to Mons (C2C, second-hand sales). The recipient does not receive the parcel and asks the sender for a refund. As compensation for the loss, the sender receives a refund of the postage costs from the postal operator. He complained to the mediation service, claiming that no search had been done to locate his package.


The investigation revealed that the parcel had only been scanned after the parcel locker was emptied. Furthermore, the package had not reached the sorting facility and there was no sign of it. A search of the department that stores undeliverable items also produced no results. The postal operator confirms that the parcel has been lost. The investigation's findings are shared with the sender, who is also notified that a refund in line with the shipping label they selected has been issued.

If for some reason a parcel goes off course, there should be sufficient procedures in place to enable it to be located and resent. Firms do of course have such processes, but ombudsman poste repeats that these processes are insufficient, and many parcels continue to be lost. Often all that can be proved is that an item was last scanned at a particular time at a particular location, without there being any further trace of it. The final stage of the process – delivery to the addressee – also appears to come with a high risk of disappearance. The cause of these missing shipments too often remains under the radar. We recommend that firms carry out an in-depth investigation when they identify a large number of disappearances at a specific location or stage of the process. We also ask firms to start such in-depth investigation from front-line customer service.

Non-Traceable Shipping Labels: No right to Investigation or Compensation

Victims whose parcel has vanished are least likely to obtain compensation if their shipment was not tracked. E-commerce sellers often use untracked economy services for international parcels, which are passed between universal postal operators. In these cases, UPU rules apply. Such shipments have little to no traceability and as a result there is seldom any way to obtain compensation for the loss.

For such methods of delivery, the UPU regulations do not provide for investigation or compensation in the event of a problem, and this is reflected in the postal firm’s general terms and conditions. This is the case for letter post items or “economy parcels” that contain goods. Low-cost packages of this type are exchanged between national postal operators worldwide, especially in relation to e-commerce. They are not scanned during transportation and therefore cannot be tracked. Universal postal operators (bpost in Belgium) bear no liability in disputes about non-traceable items.

In an ombudsman case, however, bpost is asked to perform whatever investigative actions are avaiblable for unscanned parcels, such as questioning the delivery office/postman, checking for possible problems at the recipient’s address, and inquiring with the undeliverable items department.

The Ombudsman service finds that the loss of a non-trackable item seldom leads to a positive outcome: the item is not found, and the sender has no right to compensation.

Mediations indicate that private or occasional senders are unaware that such items are untrackable once sent, or that they are uninsured against loss.

It is also difficult for addressees to assert their consumer rights when an untrackable item fails to arrive. The postal firm is not obliged to investigate such items. Belgian consumers also have no recourse in any subsequent dispute with the sender/retailer, since they have no proof that the item was not received. In theory, consumers are legally entitled to either a replacement shipment or a refund of the purchase price, but this is often not granted in such cases. Postal legislation and consumer law are contradictory in this respect.


A consumer made a purchase from a merchant in China. The parcel did not arrive. The postal firm informed the customer that the parcel was sent with an economy label, with the shipment receiving a final scan when it leaves the international exchange office. No further investigation was possible, as the package could not be tracked. The customer did not accept this explanation and appealed to the Ombudsman service.


The Ombudsman service asked the postal firm to search its undeliverable items department to see if the contents of the parcel had turned up there. This was not the case. The Ombudsman service informed the customer that no further investigation is possible, due to the lack of tracking. The consumer received a certificate from the postal firm indicating that he had filed a complaint due to non-receipt of this parcel. With this certificate, he could contact the sender and request a replacement shipment or compensation, since it was the sender who opted for the non-trackable label. The seller failed to respond.

The Office of the Ombudsman for the Postal Sector advises private and occasional senders to make sure they fully understand the terms and conditions of the different services on offer in the postal market. We advise consumers buying from abroad to choose a trackable method of delivery for their purchase whenever possible.

Given the technical options that now exist for tracking parcels, the Ombudsman service questions whether these non-trackable shipments are still appropriate to the modern expectations of e-commerce merchants and consumers.
The question therefore arises as to whether the current European Postal Directive, last amended in 2008, should be updated.

The fact that bpost, as the universal postal service provider, only offers trackable delivery methods for domestic parcels is certainly to be welcomed.

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Leaving a Parcel Unattended: A Growing Trend in the Sector

Carriers, addressees and society as a whole benefit when a parcel is delivered right the first time. Postal and courier firms are therefore making efforts to expand and optimise their range of delivery options, such as obtaining the addressee’s permission to drop off the parcel, a preferred delivery option (neighbour, safe place, etc.), parcel letterboxes, parcel lockers, etc. These are safe alternatives to the standard delivery into the hands of the addressee at their home address.

However, the Ombudsman service is seeing an increase in the number of parcels left in an unsafe manner, resulting in a dispute between the addressee and the courier firm. These are cases where the postman or courier decides to leave a parcel at the addressee’s home when the addressee is out. In these mediation cases, the addressee then testifies that there was no parcel to be found when they returned home, even though the tracking showed that the package was delivered. If the parcel contains a purchase, it is not straightforward for the addressee to invoke consumer law and claim a replacement shipment or refund, as the sender is informed (via the tracker) that the parcel has reached its destination.


A retailer sends spare parts to a bicycle shop (B2B shipment). According to the tracking system, the parcel was "hand-delivered". However, the retailer reports that he did not receive the parcel and that the shop was closed on the day of the supposed delivery. In accordance with the general terms and conditions of the postal operator, the sender gets compensated up to €7.80. The sender files an appeal with the Ombudsman, asking for payment equal to the worth of the package's contents.


The investigation showed that, although not being able to recall the exact location, the driver had chosen to leave the parcel close to the store. After determining that the parcel had been discarded, the Ombudsman suggested to refund the value of its contents. The postal operator accepted and reimbursed its customer with a commercial gesture equal to the value of the parcel's contents.

Most courier firms do not allow their drivers to choose freely where they leave a parcel if the addressee is not at home. Despite this, we see that the number of complaints about this problem is increasing at various postal firms. For Colis Privé, a new player in the market, parcels left unattended were the main reason for complaints to the Ombudsman service in 2023. We should stress that the company has told the Ombudsman service that this practice is not permitted and that optimisation processes are therefore ongoing.

bpost goes further, stating in its general terms and conditions for contractual customers that a parcel may be left in a safe place chosen by the postman if the addressee is not in. bpost’s general terms and conditions also state that “If the delivery is to an apartment building, bpost may deliver the Parcel at the entrance to the building.”

The Ombudsman service notes that such practices lead to complaints about lost parcels.

For the delivery of parcels covered by the universal postal service provision, the Ombudsman’s view is that there is no room for doubt. The law in this regard is clear. “If the presented parcel cannot be delivered to the addressee’s address, it shall be kept at a location in the addressee’s municipality, and the addressee shall be notified hereof by a message left in his letterbox.”

Every mediation case is unique and the outcome of the investigation determines the position ultimately taken by the Ombudsman. However, in cases where parcels are left unattended, the Ombudsman service starts from the premise that the risk that a parcel may disappear is a risk taken by the postal firm and that addressees should be compensated for their loss.

In view of the increasing number of cases about parcels that go missing after being left unattended by the postman/courier, the Ombudsman service makes a recommendation.


Postmen and delivery drivers strive every day to take hundreds of thousands of parcels to their addressees. ombudsman poste has identified a rising trend in disputes about the delivery of items: 340 complaints in 2022 and 391 complaints in 2023.

For several years now, the sector has been investing in the diversification of final parcel delivery, in line with customer demand and for sustainability reasons. This is also what has emerged from our mediations. For the final stage of the journey - traditionally, delivery to the recipient's door - there are now alternative options, such as delivery to a collection point, an automated locker, a preferred location, a neighbour or a parcel drop box.

From our contacts with addressees, we find that the use and appreciation of alternative delivery methods is increasing.

However, many people still want traditional home delivery. In this context, ombudsman poste noted a remarkable number of complaints in 2023 about parcels being taken straight to a collection point without any attempt to deliver the parcel to the destination address.

For PostNL, complaints about delivery (55 complaints) were the main reason for submitting a case to ombudsman poste. These complaints mainly concerned parcels that were taken straight to a collection point without an initial attempt to hand them over at the destination address.

Requests for Compensation

In 564 ombudsman cases, the customer asked either for compensation or for higher compensation than was offered by the operator.

We read in the complaints that private citizens and non-contractual business senders expect to be fully compensated if their parcel is lost or damaged. There is also an expectation of compensation in the event of (significant) delay or the unjustified return of a parcel to the sender. However, liability in the sector is limited by national and international legislation.

Universal postal operators also enable small parcels to be sent between private citizens, associations or the self-employed. The limited compensation scheme for parcels of this type repeatedly leaves senders incredulous as well as prompting a complaint to the Ombudsman service.

Given that the universal postal service should provide a fair offering for every citizen, the Ombudsman service recommends that Parliament creates a clear legal framework for compensation for domestic parcels shipped via the universal postal service.

ombudsman poste also receives requests from addressees to mediate for compensation in cases of lost, delayed or damaged postal parcels. For purchases, the addressee should first contact the sender, with whom they have a contract for the purchase. However, the Ombudsman service stresses that in the event of a problem with a shipment, the addressee is always entitled to have an investigation performed by the postal or courier firm concerned.
The sector also has a limitation on its liability in commercial contracts, leading to complaints.


A private individual sent a return parcel (value = €499), exercising his right to revoke a purchase. He purchased his own shipping label. He contacted the carrier because two weeks later, the parcel had only been scanned once, when it was first handed over to the courier firm. He asked the Ombudsman service to mediate as the courier firm kept asking him to wait and see.


The firm began an investigation at the site of the last scan (= at drop-off) but the parcel remains untraceable. The parcel was not insured, so the compensation is calculated in accordance with the CMR Convention at €59.49. The firm declined to pay any further compensation. The Ombudsman finds nothing in the case to justify recommending a higher compensation payment. The customer is unhappy with the regulations limiting liability but accepts the €59.49 as he does not believe that taking legal action would be worthwhile considering the amount of the loss.

Private citizens and non-contractual business senders are reliant on the compensation regulations in the event of problems with a shipment. Postal and courier firms are liable for the loss, theft, delay and damage of shipments in their care. The extent of their liability depends in part on the shipping method chosen by the customer, but there are minimum amounts that the carrier must pay out. In practice, these amounts depend on the means of transport used. The postal sector is subject in this regard to the same international conventions as transport operators such as shipping companies, airlines, railway companies and other firms offering freight transport.

For road transport, the CMR Convention applies. The weight of the goods is an important factor in calculating the amount of compensation. Although this can lead to appropriate compensation for some shipments, in other cases the calculated compensation only represents a fraction of the true loss. It is worth asking whether these regulations (originally intended for cargo transport) are still appropriate to modern social contexts, such as the growth in online sales of relatively expensive IT products or the growing market for second-hand sales between private individuals, where valuable but low-weight goods such as mobile phones, clothing and collectibles are sent by post. The same reasoning applies to the compensation provided for parcels transported by air under the Montreal and Warsaw conventions.

On the other hand, the sector has options for insuring shipments of goods, either up to a certain limit or for the value of the contents. In this regard, the Ombudsman service stresses that senders should have clear pre-contractual information about different shipping options so that they can make an informed choice.

In some cases, the Ombudsman service will still mediate in order to obtaining compensation for the addressee from the postal or courier firm based on liability in tort or the principle of fairness.

In 2022 and early 2023, Mondial Relay was reminded by the mediation service of its responsibility to abide by the regulations pertaining to CMR legislation when calculating compensation for contractual customers. Following multiple consultations, Mondial Relay ultimately provided the complainants with the appropriate compensation. The Ombudsman insists on compliance with CMR legislation and, when appropriate, on its application in every dispute in this respect, and not only in cases involving recourse to the mediation service.

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Returns and Consumer Law: A Complicated Story

For various reasons, a certain proportion of e-commerce orders end up being sent back to the seller by the consumer.

The quantity of disputes involving these return shipments increased significantly in 2023. Most of the cases received by ombudsman poste relate to bpost. Many online retailers supply a ‘free’ returns label with customer orders. However, there is a risk that the parcel will go astray on its way back to the seller. From the cases, as well as from conversations with the Consumer Ombudsman Service and the ECC, we can see a clear rise in the number of online stores (especially the e-commerce giants) refusing refunds for returns. The sellers argue that the return shipments either did not arrive or were empty when delivered to their premises.


A consumer returned a keyboard to an online store, as the wrong type of product had been shipped. The retailer informed the customer that the return parcel was empty when it arrived at their premises, and consequently refused to provide either compensation or a replacement shipment. They referred the customer to the carrier. The carrier stated that the parcel was passed to the retailer in accordance with their contract and referred the consumer back to the retailer. The consumer contacted the Ombudsman service.


The investigation failed to provide a definitive answer as to where the contents of the parcel had gone. Based on some elements in the case, a goodwill payment for half the value of the contents was accepted by both parties as an amicable solution.

Due to a lack of evidence, consumers cannot prove that they returned the goods in good faith. Equally, however, couriers cannot prove that the package was correctly passed to its contractual customer, the e-commerce merchant.

There is usually evidence for the drop-off of the return shipment. However, these shipments are not weighed, either upon drop-off or upon delivery to the retailer. The retailer’s statement that the parcel arrived empty at their premises cannot be refuted by the consumer, nor can the customer prove that the goods were actually in the parcel when it was dropped off. The ability to track these shipments is also limited. For example, contractual customers may agree with the postal firm that these parcels will be gathered in a container at one of the postal firm’s sorting centres. The containers are then collected from that location by the retailer. Once they are placed in the container, they are no longer scanned. If the merchant reports that the returned goods were not received, the consumer has no way to prove otherwise. Neither, for that matter, does the postal firm.

If an investigation reveals that the lost or damaged parcel is due to mishandling by the courier firm, this finding may enable consumers to enforce their consumer rights in some cases. In numerous cases, however, we see that even then the retailer refuses to give a refund and refers the consumer back to the carrier. This is despite the provisions of European consumer law.
For completeness, we note that the merchant has the option to insure its goods against loss or damage during transport to the consumer. If the same goods are returned, the insurance option is usually not available.

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Damaged Parcels

In disputes about parcels whose contents were damaged in transit, reaching an amicable solution is not straightforward. The Ombudsman first tries to bring the parties to an agreement using the results of the investigation. In cases about damaged parcels, however, this often results in an irreconcilable argument about whether or not the item was suitably packed.

Works of art, collectibles, whisky and wine bottles, electrical and IT equipment are all fragile goods that need to be suitably protected for transport in a postal circuit. Such cases frequently involve goods that are also insured by the sender on account of their value. However, if a parcel firm judges that the packaging was not sufficient to protect the contents during transport, the firm points to its terms and conditions and no compensation will be paid, insured or uninsured.

If the parties cannot agree, the Ombudsman will issue an opinion based on the facts of the investigation. However, the following elements make this a difficult balancing act:

> Lack of evidence from both parties: to judge whether the goods were sufficiently safely packed, it is essential to have photographs, both of the parcel before it is sent and of the damaged goods on arrival. The photos must show both the inner and outer packaging as well as the goods themselves. Addressees should report the damage immediately, with evidence, to both the sender and the carrier. Some postal firms ask their customers to provide them with the damaged parcel, so that they are better able to assess the cause and extent of the damage.

> Lack of a damage report on the parcel firm’s side. Senders are justly infuriated when they are told that their parcel has been destroyed due to damaged contents but receive no further explanation. A damage report, with the necessary photos, is crucial in order to determine the cause of the damage and reach agreement on compensation. Senders should be able to prove that they sent the goods in a sturdy box with inner packaging, but the postal firm should also be able to show why, in their opinion, it was not sufficient. A damage report is then indispensable. In a structural consultation with bpost (68 out of 87 complaints about damaged shipments concerned bpost), the ombudsmen were told that scaling up such damage reports (taking a photo of the damaged parcel) is one of the measures the firm is deploying in order to prevent or better handle complaints about damaged shipments.

> Senders, especially newly established businesses and private individuals, lack the knowledge and understanding to assess postal transportation risks. We cannot stress enough the importance of pre-contractual information in this regard. Instructions on adequate packaging should be readily accessible and clear to the sender, both at the counter and when purchasing a shipping label online. We recommend to senders (link naar 5.3.2) that they carefully follow the postal firm’s packing guide and take sufficient photos of the inner and outer packaging.

It is also difficult for the Ombudsman service to judge whether a shipment was sufficiently packed to withstand the risks of postal transportation. In such mediation cases, the photos of the damage and packaging are always carefully reviewed by several of our case handlers, who compare them with the courier firm’s instructions.

Disputes About Clearence and Customs Formalities

In 2021, the introduction of the new European VAT scheme (and the impact of Brexit) led to a high number of 1,558 mediation requests. This large number of complaints was due firstly to the new procedures that bpost introduced to apply the new scheme, and secondly to ignorance among both Belgian addressees and non-EU senders of the new scheme and the procedures to be followed for importing goods into Europe/Belgium.

In 2023, we see that users have largely grown used to the clearing of all parcels regardless of value and that the procedures for disputing a payment with bpost have been clarified. ombudsman poste received 528 complaints in this regard. Despite the fall, disputes about customs charges made up 19% of the complaints mediated by the Ombudsman service. Most of the complaints we see concern shipments that are delayed in the clearance process or the calculation and billing methods used by the courier firms.

528 complaints, mainly about delays in clearance processes but also communications about costs and billing

Since 1 July 2021, all goods entering the European Union have been subject to VAT. Parcels that arrive by the postal route must have a customs declaration by a customs declarant (parcel firms have in-house declarants) and the addressee must pay the customs charges to the postal firm. The postal firms calculate and collect customs charges on behalf of Belgian Customs and Excises, in accordance with the latter’s procedures and under its supervision. The VAT, customs charges and import duties collected are then passed on by the firms to the Federal Public Service for Finance. The postal firms also bill the end customer (the addressee) for their own administration costs in relation to their work on customs clearance.

Costs and Billing: 253 Complaints

The import duties and VAT calculated by postal firms on parcels from outside the European Union and the associated billing were the predominant reasons for lodging a complaint. ombudsman poste increasingly handles complex cases with a tax dimension. The postal firms apply the tax legislation on inbound mail from non-EU countries on behalf of and under the supervision of Belgian Customs and Excises. It is therefore the postal firms who bill the importer/addressee. Complaints about the calculation and amount of the bill are therefore directed to the postal firms in the first instance and then to the Office of the Ombudsman for the Postal Sector if they cannot be resolved. The Ombudsman service receives numerous complex cases about tax exemptions, use of the correct goods codes, deferred VAT, reverse charging, the calculation of VAT on customs values and administration costs, excise goods, prohibited goods and so on. If the dispute is purely tax-related, the customer is referred to Belgian Customs and Excises in the first instance, with the possibility of appeal to the federal ombudsman.


A customer orders manga from a website based in the United States. Upon reaching Belgium, the products are processed by customs. The customer pays €43 for customs clearance. On receiving the goods, he realises that he has paid VAT twice on his purchase: once to the seller when he placed the order and again during the customs clearance procedure in Belgium. He requested reimbursement from the postal operator for the fees associated with clearing customs, but they declined.


During the mediation investigation, it became clear that the goods had been shipped under the IOSS (Import One Stop Shop) system and therefore did not require customs clearance in Belgium. However, as the digital data accompanying the parcel was not entirely clear (the IOSS reference was almost illegible), the parcel was cleared through customs anyway. The costumer was able to prove that he had already paid VAT at the time of purchase with the aid of his purchase invoice. The postal operator reimbursed the customer for the customs clearance costs as a commercial gesture.

The rising number of B2C parcels in the postal sector means that firms must pay extra attention to the manner in which they communicate with and bill the end customer, i.e. the consumer. ombudsman poste deals with numerous complaints from consumers (and SMEs) who misunderstand and contest the billing procedure or the calculation of the amounts. Although it may be normal in a B2B context, the billing method used is evidently not transparent enough for occasional senders. Examples include the practice of submitting advance bills followed by final bills, sending bills after the goods have already been delivered, such that delivery of the parcel cannot be refused, the lack of a detailed calculation of the taxes and duties, and so on. We mainly see cases of this type in relation to complaints about customs charges, but also in relation to unexpected additional carriage costs for national and European postal items. For three courier firms (UPS, Fedex and DHL Express) this was the most common cause of complaints submitted to ombudsman poste.

These issues led to a recommendation by the Ombudsman service in 2022. During 2022 and 2023, at the Ombudsman service’s behest, a structural discussion of the issue was held with the two firms about which we received the most complaints in this regard. These companies have made efforts to present costs more clearly. We note that the number of complaints on this issue has gone down.

Delays in the Clearance Process

These were the subject of 109 complaints. Carriers operate in this regard on behalf of the Belgian Customs and Excises, and all parcels must obtain final approval from Customs and Excises before they can continue their journey. It is no surprise that shipments can be somewhat delayed by this process. Disputes, however, tend to involve delays that drag on for weeks without the addressee being given any information about the reason for delay. Process optimisation is required here. Doubtless there is also room for improvement in the communications from postal firms to their customers.

In addition, addressees complain about being sent back and forth between the postal firm and Belgian Customs and Excises when they ask for more information about the status of their delayed shipment. Most of these complaints concern bpost. Their import department or customer service department refers customers to the Federal Public Service for Finance for more information, which in turn refers them back to bpost. Customers rightly feel that they are being sent from pillar to post. In a discussion with the various parties about this unclear communication, it was also found that the names of the different divisions (import department, customs department, customs clearance services, etc.) create confusion not only among addressees but also among the customer service staff who are supposed to give them the right information. The Ombudsman service is following up to determine whether improved communication between the relevant departments is leading to a decrease in complaints.

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In the 2023 Annual Report, the Ombudsman service again draws attention to complaints about the customs clearance of gifts.

As such gifts pass almost exclusively through the international circuit of universal postal operators, all of these complaints concerned bpost.

Although only 79 such complaints were received in 2023, the issue concerns the universal postal service that the public should be able to rely on. Moreover, these cases cause considerable outrage among citizens who feel they have been unfairly treated, or at the very least misinformed.

The Ombudsman service is therefore making a call to the authorities in this context.

Letter Post

In Figures

Letters Registered mail Magazines Newspapers Other Total
Lost items 161 90 20 22 3 296
Delivery errors 166 110 2 8 4 290
Requests for compensation 45 46 - 1 19 111
Delays 48 27 12 3 - 90
Redirection/change of address 45 3 - - - 48
Return to sender 24 19 - - - 43
Damage 10 3 1 5 8 27
Other 11 35 18 5 30 99
TOTAL 510 333 53 44 64 1004

Quality of the Universal Postal Service

The number of complaints about the delivery of letters has dwindled substantially in recent years. This mirrors the declining trend in the letter market. Since 2022, the number of letters per inhabitant has fallen for the first time to fewer than 100 per year.

However, the fact that fewer people are using these services does not diminish the important social function they perform.

Letter post items about which people contact ombudsman poste are often items of personal significance, such as private letters, announcements of births or deaths, invoices, notifications of appointments from government bodies or educational campaigns. The quality of delivery of ordinary mail remains important. It forms part of the package of universal postal services defined in the legislation, for which a clear quality requirement is thus set.

The digital divide is worth mentioning. People who lack online skills depend on the orderly receipt of their correspondence and registered mail for the management of their personal affairs.

In short, the universal postal service includes services with legal or administrative evidential value, which are important for every citizen, and this is especially true for people in a vulnerable position, e.g. as a result of the digital divide. This, combined with the fact that bpost is the only major player on the market and users therefore do not have a free choice in most cases, means that the firm, the legislator and the regulator must remain alert to the quality and reliability of the service.

Since 1 January 2011, there has been free competition in the European postal market. In practice, this means that any operator in the market may provide postal services under the same licences and legal conditions as the historical postal operator in our country. In the parcels market, this free competition has long been a reality, but in the oldest segment of the postal market – the so-called ‘universal postal service’ – bpost is currently the only operator offering services across the whole of Belgium.

The universal postal service is a legally enshrined guarantee that states that every citizen has the right to quality postal services at an affordable price, irrespective of whether the user lives in a densely populated city or a rural area (where it takes longer on average for a postman to deliver a shipment, resulting in a higher cost). This guarantee includes a list of services that the operator must offer. The regulator (BIPT, the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications) assures the quality of these services and a number of other services of public interest.

An important part of the universal postal service is the handling of letters and registered mail. Only bpost offers this throughout Belgium. In recent years, the digitalisation of society has led to a systematic decline in demand for these services. Emails and other forms of electronic communication have long since become normal among the vast majority of the population. Parliament has created a framework for electronic registered mail which has the same legal evidential value as the paper version. Communication platforms such as eBox or Doccle also form part of this evolution.

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Lost and Delayed Letters

As with parcels, an ordinary letter that fails to reach its addressee and vanishes without trace is the main cause of complaints to the Ombudsman service. Complaints may be about an individual letter to which people attach great importance, such as an invoice, a notice of a person’s death or a birthday card. However, when people complain about lost letters, it is usually because they receive no correspondence at all or very little. Since ordinary letters are not scanned in the postal circuit, it is virtually impossible to detect one missing letter in the daily letter flow (an average of 5.57 million letters and newspapers per day in 2022). If there is a pattern, however, the reason for the problem can usually be found: confusion of street names, omitted PO box numbers, trainee postal workers failing to locate a particular address, a change of house numbers or street name, etc. Action taken by the postal firm usually resolves the problem. Where there are repeated reports of non-receipt of correspondence, the Ombudsman service keeps the case open until the situation is normalised.

Cases about the late delivery or disappearance of death notices are sensitive matters. ombudsman poste receives only a few such cases a year (12 in 2023), but it is clear that every family counts and has a right to the proper and timely delivery of death notices. The emotional loss in these cases weighs very heavily and must be given close consideration during mediation. The affected family also feels financially put out, but in such disputes a cool-headed discussion between the parties cannot be achieved merely by calculating the direct costs (postage) and indirect loss (printing costs, part of the funeral refreshments) and furnishing the necessary proof. Achieving a solution usually involves taking sufficient time to mediate between the family and bpost and requires an apology from the postal firm, an explanation of where things went wrong and financial compensation, too.

The management agreement between the State and bpost sets high quality standards for the timely delivery of death notices. bpost in fact meets these quality standards, but this is no consolation or solution for the families who experience a problem with delivery. The Ombudsman service urges the universal postal service provider to set up a separate process and close monitoring for such sensitive correspondence.

Registered Mail

ombudsman poste received 333 complaints about registered mail in 2023. The trend is again downwards (368 complaints in 2022). bpost brought in process improvements in 2023 on the delivery of registered mail, such as taking a photo of the addressee’s identity card.

However, registered mail items continue to represent a large share of letter post complaints: one in every three complaints about letter post concerned registered mail.

The complaints come from both addressees and senders. They are varied in nature but are almost always linked to the last stage in the postal process, i.e. delivery to the addressee.

Some examples of disputes: Registered mail found by addressee in his letterbox without any identity check; registered mail deposited in the wrong letterbox; registered items not signed for by the addressee; acknowledgements of receipt not sent back to the sender; registered mail returned to the sender without the addressee having been informed that a registered mail item was waiting for them; post office unable to locate registered mail items after the addressee received a notice to collect them; signature acknowledging receipt actually belonged to the postman; undeliverable registered mail not returned to the sender. Lastly, there are also complaints from private citizens or businesses who suffer losses (such as fines, a contractual agreement that starts or ends too late, or the late submission of a certificate) because they were unable to respond to a registered letter that came late or not at all. Senders, too, attest to consequential losses.

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According to the tracker, a registered mail item was delivered to the addressee’s letterbox. The lady did not receive the item and had not given signed permission for the item to be left in her letterbox (Sign For Me). “The registered letter concerned the possible inclusion of my property on the list of vacant properties. I had a month in which to apply for an exemption, but the statutory one-month response period could not be complied with, with all the attendant legal consequences. Hence, I insist once again on an investigation and redress.’


The investigation showed that the registered letter was not properly delivered and bpost could not prove that the customer received it. bpost provided the complainant with an attestation to this effect and also informed the sender, i.e. the municipal authorities. The dispute was resolved.

The other 332 complaints about registered mail also showed that this type of postal item is used as an important legal and social instrument. We therefore recommend that bpost do more to make delivery personnel aware of the proper procedures for delivering registered mail items, and of the importance of following them.

Customer Service Complaints

1.133 Complaints



Customer service did not offer a solution, e.g. the file is closed unilaterally by customer service without waiting for a response from the customer.


On the inaccessibility of customer service:

> Customer service customer service does not open a file at the request of the addressee and simply refers him back to the sender: 200 complaints
> Customer service failed to call or email back, despite promising to do so: 79 complaints
> Customer service was unreachable: 91 complaints

149 Complaints

Inadequate communication, e.g. the customer receives a standard reply that does not apply to their specific situation.

Mediation requests submitted to ombudsman poste often have two aspects: the main complaint about the postal item itself, and a complaint about how the dispute was handled by the postal firm’s customer service.

In 2023, we received 1,133 complaints about customer service.

In itself, this figure is not surprising, since an admissible complaint to ombudsman poste implies that the user has already approached the postal firm’s customer service team and is either unhappy with how the complaint was handled, or did not receive a reply. The Ombudsman service only registers complaints in this category if the user explicitly mentions the poor communications in their written complaint.

Several complainants also stated that their reason for writing to the Ombudsman service was that customer service failed to handle the initial complaint properly.

Adressee’s Right to an Investigation

So that complaints can be handled promptly and fairly, every postal firm operating in Belgium is required by law to set up a customer service department that is readily accessible to users. The same law defines ‘user’ as both the sender and addressee of a postal item. Nevertheless, we note that almost all postal or courier firms will only initiate an investigation at the request of the sender, their contractual customer.

Seven out of ten of the mediation requests to ombudsman poste are submitted by addressees and 20% of these addressees explicitly state that the carrier refused to start an investigation at their request and told them to contact the sender. Many complainants also say explicitly that this is why they are turning to the Ombudsman service for mediation. The Office of the Ombudsman for the Postal Sector recommends that the sector respect the rights of the addressees of postal items and handle their reports and complaints.

Costumer Service Accessibility

In 2023, 170 customers reported the customer service department of the firm in question was difficult to contact. Despite multiple attempts, they failed to reach anyone from customer service on the phone, or they received no response to a complaint submitted by email or online.

This unreachability irritated the customers to such a degree that they described it at length in their mediation request. Sometimes this aspect became their primary source of annoyance, such that the complaint about the actual postal item took a back seat.


The complaint was triggered by a delayed parcel but it was the difficulty in contacting the firm that prompted the customer to appeal to the Ombudsman service. “I am extremely unhappy with the service. There is no reasonable way to contact this carrier. You can’t email them, you can only call a fee-paying phone number that is always busy.... I can’t get them to log the issue, they only allow senders to lodge complaints.”


The parcel was delivered late because the driver scanned it incorrectly. The customer was informed about his right as an addressee to an investigation and about the legislation on fee-paying numbers for customer services.

In many cases, the failure to answer a customer’s queries was evidently the reason for submitting a mediation request to ombudsman poste. Difficult communications and solutions that failed to materialise led numerous customers to file a complaint.

Several firms choose to offer customers a fee-paying number for communicating with customer services. We find that this acts like a red rag to a bull for many complainants, especially when they are kept on hold for minutes on end. The customer notices a problem or a mistake for which the firm is to blame, and then has to pay extra to have the situation put right. Some of these people try to recover these extra costs through us, usually in vain.

We remind the sector that the law requires every postal firm to set up an easily accessible, “low-barrier” customer service department. While the relevant clause does not state that this must be free of charge, we note that charging is both an additional barrier and a cause for discontent. At the very least, it is not within the spirit of the law.

As regards adopting a more consumer-centred approach, the Ombudsman service can tell the sector that many of their customers strongly recommend offering a (free) telephone number where a report/complaint can be discussed in person with a firm employee. ombudsman poste wholly supports this, including from the perspective of the digital divide.




Our mission : Resolving Disputes Amicably

The mission of the Ombudsman service is to reach an amicable agreement between the parties. Asking the parties to set out their opinions, investigating the facts and acting as a contact between the customer and operator is the daily work of the case handlers. The impartiality of the Ombudsman is always central. If the parties fail to reach an agreement, the Ombudsman forms its own opinion. This is done on the basis of the facts of the case and the relevant regulations. Where appropriate, the Ombudsman is also entitled to base its decision on the principle of fairness.

Amicable Agreement as the Ultimate Goal

In every admissible case, an investigation is begun and ombudsman poste mediates between the parties in order to reach an amicable solution to the dispute. During 2023, we closed 2,268 disputes. An amicable solution was reached in 89% of cases, in the form of compensation, the retrieval of a lost letter or parcel, the taking of appropriate measures or the provision of information to the customer that settled the dispute.


Customer received information that settled the dispute


Cases closed with payment of compensation


Operator took steps to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future


Investigation resulted in receipt of the postal item


amicable solutions through provision of the accurate information to the customer

> Customer received information and documents that enabled them to make a claim against a third party

> Operator explained why a particular procedure was followed, and the customer accepted the result

A postal item always involves three parties: the sender, the addressee and the postal firm. The contractual relationships and duties between these parties are not always clear. Moreover, the postal sector is subject to its own specific legislation at both national and international level. As well as this, consumer law applies to packages sent between a professional retailer and a consumer.

A problem with a postal item, even a low-value item, can quickly lead to a complex web of rights and obligations regarding who should look into a problem and who is financially liable. A significant part of the Ombudsman’s work thus involves giving senders or addressees accurate information on their rights and duties and on how to go about resolving their particular problem.


The manager of an SME was expecting a parcel (B2B) from the UK. He received a notice to pay the customs charge, but disputed the invoice, as he wanted to use the VAT reverse charge procedure for this purchase. He received no further information from the parcel company’s import department and contacted the Ombudsman service. He was mainly upset about the delay caused to his parcel by the lack of customs clearance and the lack of communication about the issue.


After discussing the matter with both parties, the Ombudsman found that the complainant did not have an EORI number, without which the reverse charge procedure cannot be used. The Ombudsman informed the manager of the correct procedure. He decided to pay the customs invoice for the current parcel and deal with the EORI registration later. Once the customs charges were paid, he received his parcel.


cases resulted in the compensation from the operator to the customer

This means either compensation for the sender based on the contract or the general terms and conditions of the operator, or compensation for the addressee based on liability in tort or as a goodwill gesture for the sake of customer relations, out of fairness or to compensate for a clear error by the operator.


A private individual sent an Express parcel to Cuba. He paid a shipping charge of €212. One month later, the parcel was returned to the sender, who asked for a refund of the €212 shipping charge. The parcel firm refused on the grounds that the customer had not supplied the documents required for shipment to a country outside Europe.


In the course of the Ombudsman’s investigation, the customer proved that he had sent the required information to the carrier. This information was misfiled at the firm, presumably because the customer communicated with them from two different email addresses. The parcel firm was willing to refund the shipping cost of €212. The customer resent his package, this time successfully.


cases led to measures being taken by the operator

Such cases usually concern problems with the delivery of letters, parcels, newspapers and magazines. Following an investigation, the firm takes measures to prevent the problems from happening in the future.


A young man reported that since moving house, he had not received any letters and that all his parcels were returned to sender. He reported the problem to bpost several times and was told each time that they would investigate, but the postal firm failed to respond.


The investigation showed that the customer was indeed registered at the address in question. This new address, however, had not yet been added to bpost’s system. The cause was not made clear. bpost apologised to the customer and informed the postman and the parcel delivery driver serving the address.


investigations led to the receipt of the postal item

The most common complaint to ombudsman poste is the disappearance of a parcel – for instance, because the parcel can no longer be tracked, the postal firm declares it lost, or the parcel is recorded as delivered but the addressee has not received it.

Delays in the transport and delivery of a parcel also lead to a large number of disputes. In 298 such cases, an investigation carried out at the behest of ombudsman poste led to the parcel or registered mail item being retrieved and delivered to the addressee.


The tracking system informed a customer that his parcel (a purchase of stationery) had been successfully delivered. However, he did not find the parcel in his parcel mailbox. The courier firm told him to contact the sender, as a case could only be opened at the sender’s request. The complainant turned to the Ombudsman service.


In the context of the Ombudsman case, an investigation was launched by the courier firm. This revealed that the package was misdelivered to an address some distance away. The driver drove back to collect the parcel and delivered it to the correct delivery address.

When an Amicable Agreement Cannot Be Reached

When an amicable solution cannot be reached, the Ombudsman forms an opinion based on the facts of the investigation. This opinion results in either a recommendation to the operator or a notification to the customer.

In 2023, ombudsman poste submitted 10 recommendations to bpost. bpost did not follow the recommendation in one case but paid out the recommended compensation to the customer in the other nine.

8 recommendations addressed to bpost concerned the right of withdrawal. In these cases, the sender lodged a complaint because a shipping label that he had bought online, but which he had ultimately been unable or unwilling to use, had not been reimbursed by bpost. Following the investigations carried out by our department in this respect, the Ombudsman concluded that the customers were entitled to a refund based on their right of withdrawal. As bpost did not follow the Ombudsman's position in the mediation, a recommendation was made to them. Despite not adhering to the recommendation in its entirety, bpost nevertheless compensated its customers with a commercial gesture for the amount of the loss.

The other two recommendations concerned a parcel that had been lost, and the Ombudsman concluded that the reason for the loss was improper handling of the parcel along the postal circuit. In one of the cases, bpost compensated the customer with a commercial gesture equivalent to the loss. In the other case, bpost did not follow the recommendation.

A recommendation is a legal instrument enabling ombudsman poste, in cases where the mediation process threatens to stall, to issue a reasoned opinion to the company concerned, clearly listing the relevant facts, the applicable legislation and general conditions, and the Ombudsman's analysis and position, together with a proposal for an amicable solution.

"§ 3 The Mediation Service for the Postal Sector is entrusted with the following tasks :
4° to make a recommendation to the companies referred to in § 1 of this Article if no an amicable settlement can be reached. A copy of the recommendation shall be sent to the complainant;
§ 6. The company concerned shall have a period of 20 working days to justify its decision if it does not follow the recommendation referred to in § 3, 4° of this Article. The reasoned decision shall be sent to the complainant and to the mediation service.

After the period referred to in the previous paragraph has expired, the Office of the Ombudsman sends a reminder to the company concerned. The company has another twenty working days to justify its decision if it does not follow the recommendation referred to in § 3, 4° of this Article. The reasoned decision is sent to the complainant and to the mediation service.

By failing to comply with the aforementioned deadline, the company concerned undertakes to implement the recommendation as far as the specific and personal concession to the complainant concerned is concerned."

Article 43ter of the law of 21 March 1991 on the reform of certain economic public companies.


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mediation requests were concluded with a notification to the customer

If, after investigating a dispute and examining the views of both parties, the Ombudsman service finds that the company made no errors and acted in accordance with the law and its own general terms and conditions, the Ombudsman informs the customer in a notification.


On 19 December 2023, a caterer is sending food products to Great Britain. The shipment is insured. In mid-January, the sender received the shipment back: the contents were no longer usable. The customer service department of the shipping company refunded the customer €23 for the cost of shipping. But as the shipment had been insured, she insisted on receiving a reimbursement for the contents' worth and went to the Ombudsman.


According to the investigation, the shipment was refused by UK customs authorities because the necessary paperwork had not been completed. The sender was accountable for this. Furthermore, the general terms and conditions of the transport company did not authorize the contents of the shipment, i.e. perishable goods. The Ombudsman followed the postal operator's position and notified the complainant.


mediation requests were closed without a decision

In these cases, an amicable solution was not reached. Based on the facts of the case and the results of the investigation, the Ombudsman was unable to decide in favour of either party, because the evidence was contradictory, because proof was lacking or simply because too little factual information was available.


applicants withdrew the complaint

25 people or businesses asked to terminate the mediation process in 2023. This represented 1% of closed admissible cases.

The law on qualified entities for the alternative resolution of consumer disputes states that a consumer can decide to halt mediation at any time during the procedure.

Case Processing Time


of cases were closed by 31 December 2023


working days is the average time taken to handle a case



Recommendations to the Sector

Number of Lost Parcels Needs to Drop

The Ombudsman recommends that postal operators optimise their internal processes so that the number of parcels that are registered as permanently missing decreases.

Lost parcels were again the number one cause of complaints to ombudsman poste in 2023. In an ombudsman case, the firm concerned is asked to carry out additional investigative steps: questioning the last employee who handled the parcel, conducting a physical search at the place where the parcel was last scanned, inquiring at the warehouse where undeliverable items are sent, and so on. Such searches would yield much better results if firms conducted them as part of their original investigations (ombudsman cases, as appeal cases, are not usually lodged until weeks after a parcel disappears).

Postal and courier firms handle a large number of calls about late or lost parcels every day. In some cases, it is not obvious whether the customer simply needs to be a little more patient or whether there is more to it. Especially with international shipments, which pass through many more processing points and may have to undergo customs clearance, it is likely that the operator will wait for a certain period before treating a shipment as lost and accepting liability. However, this does not diminish the right of any postal service user to inquire about a shipment or lodge a complaint. All too often, firms use these wait times to avoid investigating at all, or make no inquiries beyond checking the online tracking.

As well as paying more attention to individual lost parcels, we recommend that firms carry out an in-depth investigation after identifying the disappearance of multiple parcels at a particular location or at a particular point in the process.

Finally, ombudsman poste points out that parcels still vanish without trace, despite firms having an internal department where undeliverable parcels should be stored for one reason or another (contents fell out of parcel, wrong address, shipping label came off, etc.). We recommend that firms optimise this procedure. In theory, any parcel that cannot continue its intended journey should end up in an ‘undeliverable items’ department. In practice, the conclusion of many investigations is: parcel vanished without trace.

Do Not Leave Parcels Unattended

The Ombudsman recommends that the sector ensures not to leave parcels, in the absence of the recipient, in an unattended place near the delivery address unless the recipient has given explicit permission to do so.

Given the increasing number of complaints in this regard, the Ombudsman service argues that a parcel should not be left unattended if an addressee has not given explicit permission to do so. Indeed, the recipient has no recourse if it turns out that the goods are damaged, that the box has been opened and left empty or that there is no trace of delivery to the correct address.

Open a Complaint Investigation at the Addressee’s Request

The Ombudsman recommends that the sector uphold the rights of addressees by accepting and investigating their complaints, providing proper information to customers and granting compensation when the case justifies it.

Three out of four of the mediation requests to ombudsman poste are submitted by addressees and 20% of these addressees explicitly state that the carrier refused to start an investigation at their request and told them to contact the sender.

When they look up information on how to file a complaint or while filling in the online form, these users are often already fobbed off with the message that, as the addressee of a parcel, they cannot file a complaint themselves and should contact the seller if they have any problems.

It is true that the sender is the firm’s contractual customer and liability in the event of problems will usually be settled between those parties. However, the legislation explicitly states that any user, including the addressee, can submit a complaint. Day-to-day mediation practice also shows that this legal protection is needed. This is because it is the addressee who is the first victim of a problem with a shipment and, in many cases, addressees need the result of the courier’s investigation to enforce their claim against the sender.

Common disputes:

  • Tracking wrongly states that a parcel has reached its destination. Sender relies on this information to reject a claim by its customer.
  • The courier’s customer service team relies on the erroneous tracking status and tells the sender that the parcel was properly delivered. No investigation is performed.
  • The package is ‘stuck’ in the postal firm’s import procedure. Sender rightly informs the addressee that it is unable to help with this.
  • The complaint concerns a dispute that requires action by the postal firm in respect of the addressee: e.g. a chauffeur takes parcels straight to a collection point instead of delivering to the customer’s home.

In a small number of cases, it is clear that the sender disregards its responsibility to the consumer and refers them to the courier without taking any action.

The Ombudsman service informs every consumer of an online purchase that they should also contact the merchant, as it is usually the merchant who legally owes compensation to the end customer. Most complainants follow this liability rule and have already contacted the merchant.

ombudsman poste concludes that the sector is missing an opportunity by not paying sufficient attention to the complaints of addressees/consumers. Such complaints can give rise to actions and improvement measures, leading to higher customer satisfaction and trust in the sector. Ultimately, it is satisfied consumers who keep e-commerce and parcel shipping in business.


A recipient waiting for a shipment from Switzerland did not receive his parcel. The company in charge of the shipment refuses to open an investigation at the recipient's request and sends the recipient back to the sender to settle the dispute. "Legal and contractual conditions or not, I'm still the one who paid for the parcel. ... I've also raised this issue with my sender (a craftsman who makes alphorns in Switzerland), but I still feel I must receive the parcel I ordered and paid for, and here I have to rely on the goodwill of my sender, who sent it but hasn't received it back either ...".


An inquiry was opened to the postal operator at the mediation service's request. This revealed that the parcel was stopped in Germany due to an unclear return address. The postal operators in Belgium and Germany notified the complainant that they were unable to deliver the parcel to either the addressee or the sender. Through German friends, the complainant was able to find a solution and was able to receive his shipment.
I'm delighted to finally be able to turn this story around after 5 months 😉. And above all, thank you so much for your contribution in finding the parcel and reaching a satisfactory solution!

Optimise the Proper Follow-Up of Registered Items

The ombudsman recommends that bpost ensures strict compliance with the procedure concerning the delivery of registered items, in compliance with Article 9 of the Royal Decree of March 14, 2022, on postal services, with a focus on clear evidence of identity verification.

The Ombudsman service made the same recommendation to bpost in 2022 and also held a structural discussion of the issue with the firm. bpost announced that improvement processes had been initiated and were being followed up. Given that registered mail still accounts for one in every three complaints about letter post in 2023, the Ombudsman service repeats this recommendation.
Registered mail also forms part of the universal postal service. Such mail is crucial in formal, administrative or judicial proceedings, where date and proof of dispatch and/or delivery are essential. Although electronic versions of registered mail are now available, they are not yet as socially entrenched as the paper version.
Reliable delivery data can be of great importance in the context of e.g. disputes, fines, lease terminations, the timely sending of redundancy notices, and court proceedings. Important information includes the dates and status shown in the online tracking system, the identity check of the addressee receiving the item, the signature for receipt of the item, the reason for the return of a registered mail item and the details entered on the reply card sent back to the sender (also called the acknowledgement of receipt). If one or more of these details is wrongly recorded, false conclusions may be drawn with consequences for the sender, the addressee, or both.
The retention period for storing the details of a registered mail item is also important. Conducting a thorough investigation is problematic if the registered mail was sent 13 months before the complaint was made. bpost only keeps a record of the route of a registered mail item for 13 months, which it justifies by pointing to the periods laid down in the legislation. Given that administrative and judicial proceedings can drag on, we find in such mediation investigations that there is no longer any record of the registered item. When neither party has a burden of proof, this obviously makes it harder to reach an amicable solution. The Ombudsman service advocates extending the retention period for registered mail records and is consulting with bpost on this subject. A legal basis and GDPR compliance should be discussed in this regard.

Appeals to the authorities

Need for Legal Framework for Compensation in Relation to Universal Postal Service

In addition to the commercial parcels market, the universal postal service provides every citizen with the ability to send parcels. In Belgium, bpost is the only firm offering parcel delivery in the context of the universal postal service. Where such parcels are sent internationally, the terms and conditions are based on the UPU rules.

Compensation levels for domestic parcels are not based on regulations.

Belgian law states that the UPU Convention does not apply to domestic mail carried as part of the universal postal service. However, while the law has determined which rules do not apply, it has failed to determine what minimum liability rules do apply. To some extent, therefore, a legal vacuum has been created. As a result, for some of its postal products – namely those that fall within the definition of the universal postal service – bpost itself decides in its general terms and conditions to what extent it is liable for errors or negligence on the part of its employees. In practice, for a number of commonly chosen mail types, the only compensation paid is the cost of postage. The Ombudsman service has been receiving complaints about this limited compensation rule for years. To liability complaints


“I sold my travel cot (price when new €180) in very good condition for €90 on Vinted. I drove to the post office in Izegem to send the parcel to make sure it would arrive safely with the buyer. However, the parcel never arrived... On 24 January 2024, bpost reported that after a thorough investigation they had not recovered my parcel and that I will get back my postage receipt of €5.45... Surely they can’t do that? Meanwhile, I lost my €90...”


Unfortunately, the parcel has not been located despite a thorough search. There was no evidence found in the investigation to support compensation that was greater than what was required by law. Notification was sent to the complainant on the operator's limited liability for the harm. The Ombudsman attests that the complainant was compensated in compliance with the company's general terms and conditions and the shipping option she selected.

ombudsman poste verifies in each case whether postal users are compensated in a legally proper and fair manner for mistakes made. Whether the compensation paid for domestic parcels carried under the universal postal service is consistent with the provisions of consumer law is a question the Ombudsman service has already raised in the past. The Belgian Code of Economic Law lays down a number of practices and provisions that conflict with consumer law. These regulations apply across all industries, and state, among other things, that a business cannot evade liability if it has not properly performed the main service owed in consideration for the purchase price – in this case; transporting a postal item the full distance from A to B, intact and on time. We are therefore pleased to refer, in support of this argument, to the valuable external opinion on the subject produced by the ’Commission des clauses abusives’.

An argument in favour of this exception is the universal postal service argument per se. As stated earlier, bpost – unlike its competitors, which mostly operate only in the parcels market – also has to provide an affordable service for letter post, registered mail and small parcels, and thus bears the burden of the universal postal service.

The Ombudsman service notes, however, that the minimum liability rules in case of the loss, delay or damage of a small parcel carried under the universal postal service have been prompting complaints to ombudsman poste for years. Moreover, the distinction between universal parcels and commercial parcels, with their accompanying compensation rules, is not transparent to the occasional sender who wishes to send a parcel via bpost.

For completeness, we should mention once again that there is also no legal framework for liability for domestic registered mail. Again, the universal postal service provider decides on its own liability.

The Ombudsman advices that a clear legal framework be established for the liability of the universal postal service provider in relation to the carriage of domestic parcels and registered mail item, as well as the compensation regime provided for in this regard.

Simplify Gift Reception Procedure for Private Individuals

Under the new European VAT rules, any parcel entering Belgium is treated as a commercial parcel. Only when it becomes clear that an exemption may apply (e.g. for a gift) is the package cleared without charge and sent on its way to the addressee.

Gifts between family members and friends may be exempt from VAT if they meet the following six conditions:

  • The shipment is sent between private individuals
  • The value of the contents is €45 or less (regardless of whether it comprises one item or several)
  • No payment is made by the addressee
  • It is for personal use with no commercial intent
  • The shipment is of an occasional nature
  • Limits apply for tobacco, alcohol, perfume and excise goods

The Ombudsman service notes that shipments of this type relate to friends or family members who send presents to private citizens in Belgium from non-EU countries. However, neither senders nor addressees usually know the six conditions that a gift has to meet. Moreover, they often do not know what details they must provide or how to obtain the exemption. In Belgium, some addressees dispute the payment demand. Others pay, because they fear that the parcel will be returned to the sender or simply because they do not realise that shipments that qualify as gifts are exempt. To complaints about gifts


A Belgian couple receive a Christmas present from the family of their future Canadian son-in-law. When the parcel landed in Belgium, customs clearance charges were levied and paid by the recipient. On receiving the parcel, the Belgian family noticed that it was a gift from Canada (a hand-knitted hat for the grandson). They took offence at having paid €22.39 for customs clearance fees for this gift and contacted the Ombudsman after failing to resolve the issue with the postal service.


The investigation revealed that the sender and recipient did not follow the correct procedure for presents to be exempt from customs clearing fees. They were unfamiliar with the (complex) regulations and did not understand the postal company's communication regarding the possibility of disputing the payment. The mediation service was able to demonstrate that all requirements had been satisfied in order for this item to qualify for the import VAT exemption that is granted for gifts. The postal company reimbursed the customer €22.39 as a commercial gesture.

In this regard, bpost is bound by strict rules under customs legislation which it is obliged to follow. Gifts cannot benefit from the exemption if they are not correctly notified as gifts or if the payment is not disputed. However, an amicable resolution is usually reached in mediation cases as the postal firm is willing to pay compensation as a goodwill gesture. Since only a fraction of all complaints reach the Ombudsman service, we call for action to be taken at the political level in this regard.

The Ombudsman service concludes that the application of the new European rules, which are aimed solely at e-commerce shipments, is having an unintended effect on non-commercial shipments. Given that these are, furthermore, often shipments made in connection with the universal postal service provision, we request that this matter be considered by policymakers.

The ombudsman asks to take measures regarding gifts sent from third countries, so that citizens can receive parcels from friends and family without administrative hassle and additional costs.

In other words, the necessary adjustments should be made to eliminate the unintended consequences of applying the new European VAT rules for e-commerce to shipments that qualify for the VAT exemption for gifts.

Advice to Postal Users

Non-Traceable Parcels: No Right to Investigation or Compensation

Following on from the point about lost shipments, we note that parcels sent via “low-cost” services are more likely to disappear and are ineligible for compensation. These services, which have little to no traceability, are often used for e-commerce sales.

ombudsman poste believes that every user can choose their preferred shipping method, and price is certainly an important criterion. However, we would caution that the lack of a clear tracking system inevitably makes low-cost parcels hard to trace, and this poses certain risks in the event that problems arise. Moreover, under the applicable regulations users have no right to an investigation or to compensation. Addressees cannot prove that the shipment disappeared within the postal circuit, and consequently cannot apply to the seller for the replacement shipment or refund of the purchase price to which, strictly speaking, they are entitled under consumer law. Senders whose parcels disappear likewise have no recourse against the carrier: no right to investigation or to compensation.

Customers choose the shipping method, but they should be aware of the possible consequences of their choice. Although no parcel should disappear, the Ombudsman service advises buyers and senders of valuable goods to choose a suitable postal product and always ensure that it is trackable, with appropriate insurance if required.

Make sure Goods Are Properly Packed

Shipments should be placed in sufficiently strong packaging to ensure that they arrive at their destination intact, and to enable compensation to be claimed if something does go wrong during carriage.

We advise senders to follow the parcel firm’s packing instructions and take photos of the inner and outer packaging. Since packaging should be appropriate to the type and shape of the product, it is difficult to give specific tips here. In general, however, we can say that a package should be packed in such a way that it can withstand a fall of approximately one metre. During automatic sorting, parcels fall from conveyor belts into bins and other, potentially heavy, parcels may fall on top of them. Such sorting takes does not take into account of labels such as ‘fragile’ or ‘handle with care’.

We advise addressees to report damage to the goods to both the sender and the postal firm as soon as possible and take photos of the damage. Addressees may refuse to accept a parcel if it is already obvious from the outside that the parcel is damaged.

Purchases Outside Europe: Harder to Enforce Consumer Law

The great advantage of online shopping is that consumers can choose from a wide range of products and compare prices more transparently. Customers can choose to make their purchases abroad, far beyond the European Union’s borders.

However, ombudsman poste notes that there is also a flipside to this coin. Although Belgian consumers are in principle protected by European consumer law wherever they make their online purchases, we find that Belgian and European sellers are generally much more inclined to support customers with their purchases and that complaint handling is much smoother when consumers choose to buy locally. It is true that non-European online retailers (which in ombudsman cases are often Chinese online retailers) often have very attractive offers at prices many Belgian companies cannot possibly compete with. Consumers do have a right to choose freely where to buy from. However, we would like to point out that in certain cases, when the purchase is not delivered to the customer or when the customer encounters a problem with their order, it is more difficult for them to assert their rights.


A consumer ordered a jumper worth €50 on a Chinese platform. When the parcel landed in Belgium, the complainant was asked to pay €33 in customs charges. When the parcel reached him, he discovered that it did not contain a jumper but cheap sunglasses.


According to the investigation, the postal operator delivered the package without making any mistakes or failing to clear it through customs. The consumer may file a complaint with the FPS Economy as they were the victims of dishonest handling. The complaints are no longer being answered by the Chinese online retailer. The transaction cost of €83 was not recovered.

An ombudsman service can inform victims of their rights, but consumer law is difficult to enforce outside Europe and there is no mediation body that can effectively mediate with a non-European seller.

We therefore want to make sure that customers understand the potential dangers associated with making such a purchase.


ombudsman poste : Focus on the Organisation

Our Mission

ombudsman poste is an independent federal government service established by the Law of 21 March 1991 and authorised since February 2007 to deal with all firms operating in the Belgian postal market.

As an appeals body, the Ombudsman service is authorised to investigate all complaints from users in connection with:

The activities of bpost, except:
  • > Complaints within the remit of another independent sector disputes commission or other independent mediator
  • > Complaints in relation to products and services offered by bpost under contract from third parties

The postal activities of the undertakings referred to in §1, 2° and 3°, of the relevant article of that Law.

Anyone can make a request for mediation to the Ombudsman service, whether they are a private individual, a business, a club or association or another organisation, and whether they are an addressee or a sender, provided that their problem concerns a firm that operates in the Belgian postal market and that they have already complained to the firm concerned via its internal procedure.

The Ombudsman service is not a separate legal entity. For administration purposes, it is attached to the BIPT (Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications), with which it has concluded a cooperation agreement that guarantees the smooth running and independence of the mediation service.

The Ombudsman service is staffed by 17 case handlers and 2 ombudsmen.

Funding, Budget and Results

The Ombudsman service is funded by the postal sector. Funding follows a formula laid down by law, whereby each postal firm pays a contribution proportionate to the number of admissible mediation complaints per year in relation to its business. Firms are only required to make a contribution if they have more than 12 admissible complaints and an annual turnover in excess of €500,000.
With respect to the budget, the Law of 21 March 1991, Article 45ter §8, provides that: “The ombudsmen shall present the draft budget of the Office of the Ombudsman for the Postal Sector each year for information to the postal services advisory committee. The budget of the Office of the Ombudsman for the Postal Sector shall form a distinct part of the budget of the BIPT.”

The procedures, obligations and checks that are applicable to government services apply in full to the Ombudsman service. The same is true of its accounts.

BUDGET OVER TIME 2023 2022 2021
Total Budget € 2,940,575 € 2,752,680 € 2,599490
Personnel € 2,386,075 € 2,207,180 € 2,063,690
Operating expenditure € 484,500 € 475,000 € 445,800
Capital expenditure € 70,000 € 70,000 € 90,000
Total expenditure € 2,447,265 € 2,304,879 € 2,065,656
Personnel € 2,208,813 € 2,121,213 € 1,879,832
Operating expenditure € 238,452 € 177,190 € 169,169
Capital expenditure - € 6,476 € 16,655

The Ombudsman Network

The Consumer Mediation Service and Strong Mediation Work

Consumers and businesses seeking to resolve a dispute quickly, inexpensively and in an accessible manner can turn to 15 qualified out-of-court dispute resolution entities, including 10 ombudsmen. Each entity acts as an independent and impartial intermediary in its sector.

The Consumer Mediation Service (CMS) is the one-stop shop for those consumers who need information or cannot immediately find their way to the correct ombudsman. All requests for out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes are received by the CMS. After an in-depth analysis, the request is forwarded to the appropriate qualified entity, such as ombudsman poste. Ultimately, the CMS handles all consumer disputes received that could not be transferred to another qualified entity. These are known as residual disputes.

A consumer faced with a dispute arising from the transport of goods ordered online can, if he wishes, count on the continued collaboration of ombudsman poste, the Consumer Mediation Service, the European Consumer Centre and the Commercial Ombudsman, who can share the results of their respective investigations.

ombudsman poste is a member of, the Belgian network of ombudsmen. Each of these ombudsmen investigates complaints independently and objectively and mediates in order to resolve the dispute.

All ombudsmen in the network apply the same 10 principles for high-quality mediation, which includes referring complaints to each other if they fall within the remit of a fellow ombudsman.