Company: NeopostCustomer: BFPOSubmitted by: Strategic Alliance InternationalThe British Forces Post Office (BFPO) is a worldwide organisation which is part of the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The BFPO provides support to the three services – the Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force (RAF). It has been set up to ensure that all members of the British Armed Forces are able to receive and send mail wherever they are based, whether on active duty in a conflict area or on a ship. The majority of incoming and outgoing mail is to and from family and friends. Other mail is official or classified. The BFPO uses Neopost franking machines and postal scales to manage the high quantity of correspondence that passes through a BFPO on a daily basis.
There are 125 BFPOs worldwide, each one responsible for sorting and routing incoming and outgoing mail for the members of the British Armed Forces. BFPO premises can be anything from a tent in a field or a building within one of the forces bases. The BFPO acts similarly to a local post office, offering additional services such as floral deliveries or facilities to cash giro cheques. Even mobile naval ships have a BFPO number, making it possible for the British Armed Forces to receive and send mail wherever they are located in the world.Each BFPO receives thousands of pieces of mail a day to re-route to family/friends and internal MoD departments and vice versa.
However, before reaching its final destination, every piece of mail has to pass through the BFPO’s head office.The BFPO moved to its present location in 1962, into a converted World War II storage area in Mill Hill, London. Within this head office there is a sorting area with 150 staff that deal with the 36,000 letters and parcels that pass through on a daily basis.To manage such huge volumes of mail, the BFPO uses Neopost’s SE78 and 70-30 postal scales. Neopost 5460, part of the 5400 Series of franking machines, the Neopost 8000 and 7500 franking machine and Neopost’s new IJ65 franking machines.
“All British Forces operate on a tight budget. Cut backs in the military have meant that we have had to make important decisions regarding the organisation of funds,” said Andy Anderson, technical manager of the BFPO, Mill Hill. “Therefore, we required not only an efficient system but also one that is cost effective and reliable, and Neopost equipment definitely fits this description.
“Anderson continues, “The most recent addition to our postal equipment is the Neopost IJ65 franking machine. The IJ65 is perfect for our requirements as it ensures we remain in constant operation with minimal interruptions. Its digital re-crediting system, Credifon, means staff can top up postage remotely. By simply tapping in a phone number, entering a pin number and selecting a value of credit, funds are instantly allocated to the machine and business can continue as normal.”There are three types of mail that the BFPO handles – family and friends, official and classified, and each requires a different method for sorting and distributing.
Family ; Friends – Incoming Mail
Letters and parcels arrive at Mill Hill every morning from Royal Mail and from the MoD’s internal mail service, via the MoD’s own courier service. Family and friends send their mail from a civilian post office. British Armed Forces mail gets separated from ordinary post by Royal Mail and forwarded to Mill Hill for sorting before being sent on to a BFPO overseas.To ensure that correspondence is routed to the correct BFPO, each BFPO is issued a number that is clearly marked on the mail. For example, the number two on a letter would indicate that a letter is destined for the BFPO in Washington DC, USA. Parcels or packages forwarded from friends and family are x-rayed for security before being sorted and placed into sealable sacks for distribution with the rest of the post.
On leaving Mill Hill, mail is delivered via different means of transport, including the MoD courier service, commercial airlines, or the RAF depending on the location of the BFPO.
Outgoing Mail – Family ; Friends
Mail received by the BFPO from members of the British Armed Forces for friends and family are weighed and franked using Neopost equipment. At present there are fifty Neopost 70-30 postal scales in operation within BFPOs worldwide. Each scale has a special chip installed, designed by Neopost, so that it automatically registers the MoD’s special postal rates. The chip ensures that the postal equipment is simple to use without the need for any re-programming of the MoD rates.
Once mail has been weighed some is then franked using a Neopost 5460, 8000, 7500 or IJ65 franking machine. Then the post is put into delivery sacks and sent to either Mill Hill or Royal Mail for distribution.
Official & Classified
The official and classified mail can include anything from highly confidential documents to standard correspondence between MoD establishments and British Embassies. As this type of mail contains extremely important information, the MoD uses one of the MoD’s own 32 UK defence couriers to ensure mail is not lost or tampered with. The couriers ensure that official and classified mail is collected from military bases anywhere from Glasgow to Portsmouth, and is delivered safely to Mill Hill, or to MoD establishments overseas.
Once the MoD defence courier service delivers the mail to Mill Hill, it is then routed to a smaller sorting office, used especially for official and classified mail, where Neopost SE78 and 70-30 postal scales are used. Because official and classified MoD mail does not pass through Royal Mail it does not require postage stamps. Official mail being forwarded to a British Embassy is weighed using a Neopost SE78 or a 70-30 postal scale and then, using a hand stamp, the mail has a postage paid impression imposed onto it. The MoD courier service then transports this mail to either a commercial airline or to an RAF base for distribution.
MoD internal mail and classified mail is weighed at Mill Hill and stamped with a date mark using a Neopost 8000 series franking machine to record the date of its delivery. It is then picked up and delivered by the defence van service.Anderson explains, “It’s imperative that we have an efficient, fast-moving system within the BFPO organisation. At Mill Hill we receive 800 bags of mail daily, which we have to turn around within the day. The official and classified mail is particularly important and it is essential that this mail is distributed as quickly as possible.
“”We have been using Neopost for the past five years to supply our mailing equipment and we have been particularly impressed with its methods of handling our different requests and needs,” continues Anderson. “Because the BFPO service is such a widespread organisation, we require a very flexible servicing agreement. Neopost ensures that all machines are regularly serviced and checked for calibration. When a service is required, BFPOs worldwide send machines back to Mill Hill where Neopost collects and services the equipment. It is serviced as quickly as possible so that there is little disruption to our postal routine and then it is immediately returned to Mill Hill for us to send to the relevant BFPO.
Whenever a new franking machine or postal scale is required, Neopost offers a training programme to ensure that staff are fully qualified to use the equipment and we also have access to a help desk 24/7.”
The Future of BFPO
One of the most popular forms of communication for family and friends is the ‘bluey’, a blue air letter that allows free postage to members of the armed forces and their families in certain operational areas. There is now a system in place where family and friends can use a system called ‘e-Bluey,’ which allows the air letter to be filled in electronically and securely using, at present, Royal Mail’s Relay One website. However, it will be a long time before the whole of the BFPO turns digital particularly as security is paramount for the classified and official mail. Physical mail is, and will remain, invaluable to keep official and personal lines of communication open within the MoD and the BFPO will work closely with Neopost in the future to ensure that mail continues to be sorted and distributed with increased efficiency.