The Universal Service Obligation

With the Universal Service Obligation (USO), the Dutch government aims to keep sending and receiving mail accessible to all citizens. By separate decree PostNL is the designated provider of the USO in the Netherlands.

The Dutch Universal Service Obligation (USO) includes addressed and non-express domestic and cross-border services and comprises the following: 

  • All letters of correspondence with a maximum individual weight of two 2 kilogrammes
  • Postal parcels with a maximum individual weight of 10 kilogrammes (outbound maximum 20 kilogrammes)
  • Registered and insured postal items

The Dutch Postal Act 2009 limits the domestic USO to single piece addressed items as described above. International outbound bulk mail and parcels are also part of the USO. The meaning of ‘bulk’ in this context can be explained as ‘mass quantities’. For international inbound and outbound mail, the rules of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) apply to PostNL.

Regulatory conditions for the provisions of the Universal Service Obligation

The Dutch Postal Act 2009 requires PostNL as the USO provider to provide nationwide services and to perform a daily delivery round from Tuesday till Saturday, except on public holidays. There is also a requirement do deliver urgent medical items and funeral notifications on Mondays. At least 95 percent of all standard single rated domestic letters under the USO posted the day before must be delivered in 24 hours. Furthermore, PostNL is required to maintain a network of post boxes and post offices for access by the general public. The Postal Regulation 2009 covers detailed tariff regulation, cost and revenue accounting, financial administration and reporting.

Accounting and other financial obligations

PostNL’s reporting obligations include a system for allocating costs and revenues to the USO. A financial report on the annual performance of the USO must be submitted to the Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM), accompanied by an assurance report by an independent auditor, to certify that PostNL’s financial accounting system complies with these obligations and is applied properly. 

Pursuant to the Postal Act 2009, a price cap applies to both USO letters and parcels meant to limit the return on sales (RoS) to 10%. For these purposes, the ACM first defined basic tariff headroom, based on the costs of the USO in 2014. Second, the ACM has to define additional tariff headroom each year, taking into account the development of the general Consumer Price Index, the development of USO volumes and, if applicable, an earlier exceeding of the RoS limit. 

Following the tariff headroom by the ACM, PostNL is allowed to set tariffs (within this headroom). In September the ACM usually determines the tariff headroom for the following year. PostNL then publishes the new tariffs in October.

Read more about the most recent tariff adjustments

Modernisation of the Universal Postal Service

On 1 January 2016, the amendments to the Dutch Postal Act 2009 and the Postal Decree 2009 came into effect. The Decree is an underlying regulation that eleborates on specific subjects in accordance with the Postal Act 2009. These amendments relaxed the requirements for mandatory letterboxes and post offices, based on the understanding that, given the fact that mail volumes are declining, changes are required to keep the USO accessible and reliable to all. These changes in the law enable PostNL to adapt its retail network, matching it to relevant market developments and changing customers’s needs and making it fit for the future.

  • In residential areas with more than 5,000 inhabitants, a post box for public use has to be available within a range of 1,000 meters. Before 1 January 2016, the range was 500 meter. Outside residential areas with more than 5,000 inhabitants, a post box has to be available within a range of 2,500 meters.
  • Under the Postal Decree, there is no required number of postal locations anymore, while the requirements considering accessibility have remained intact. This means that at least 95 percent of Dutch residents must have a retail location available that includes our full range of services within a five kilometer distance. For citizens living outside residential areas with more than 5,000 inhabitants, at least 85 percent must have such a retail location available.
  • We are required by law to let community organisations have a say in planned changes to the retail network.

Statement PostNL: A retail network fit for the future


Fewer post offices, more parcel pick-up point 

Post offices offer a range of services for mail and parcels, as well as specialised services like vehicle registration transfers. A parcel pick-up point allows customers to send, pick up or return a parcel. Retailers with a parcel pick-up point in their store can choose to sell stamps as well. We are currently converting a number of post offices into parcel pick-up points and adding even more parcel pick-up points to our network. As a result, customers all over the Netherlands will have greater access to locations where they can take care of their mail and parcels. The exact number of retail locations will depend on market developments and local situations.

Letterboxes 

When compared to other European countries, the network of letterboxes in the Netherlands is particularly dense. We are currently removing or transferring letterboxes that are frequently used, based on local market developments and local consumer needs. Those we transfer, we relocate to more regularly visited and busy locations, such as supermarkets, train stations and suburbs. Letterboxes near health institutions, which are part of the independent healthcare comparison website ‘Zorgkaart Nederland’, will not be removed.

Advisory processes 

We recognise the importance of the postal service for customers and organise advisory processes with a (local) representatives’ panels to give interest groups a voice in the changes that concern them. In 2015, we formed a consultation group that was formed with representatives of interest groups for elderly people, disabled people, inhabitants of rural parts of the country, the Dutch Association of Municipalities (VNG) and the National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM). This initiative resulted in collective consent for the plans we have for our retail network, as well as a protocol for involving (local) interest groups for future changes to post offices and letterboxes. In 2016, PostNL has started consulting (local) interest groups about its relocation policy for post offices and local changes in its network of letterboxes.