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- Bah Humbug Royal Mail bosses warn staff not to accept gifts greater than £30 after introduction of Bribery Act
- Customers who tip more than £30 warned they could be drawn into an investigation if there is a complaint the payment is corrupt
Postmen who accept traditional Christmas tips have been warned they could face bribery charges.
Royal Mail bosses have posted guidance on an official website stating that even in the ‘season of goodwill’, staff should not accept gifts greater than £30.
The warnings follow the introduction earlier this year of the Bribery Act, widely described as the most stringent anti-corruption legislation in the world.
Bah Humbug! Postmen have been warned not to accept any gifts worth more than £30 without permission from their line manager
The law was initially designed to combat payment of illegal inducements in multi-million-pound business deals – and those who break it face unlimited fines or up to ten years in jail.
But the far-reaching law means that vast numbers of public servants and private sector workers could be open to prosecution after receiving even small gifts, commonplace in many businesses.
The My Royal Mail website, which is designed for staff, states under the headline Christmas And The Bribery Act: ‘It’s the season of goodwill. But it’s important to be careful about accepting gifts so you don’t fall foul of the Bribery Act.’
The website makes it clear that tips are still permitted but warns: ‘They should never be accepted in return for favours, for example, earlier delivery, enhanced collection etc.’
Keep it small: If your Christmas gift to your postman exceeds £30 you could land him in hot water with his bosses
This appears to suggest that postmen who have assisted a householder could be committing a crime by accepting a tip – implying that householders should only offer tips to postmen who have given no special service at all.
Yesterday, postmen at Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant sorting office in Clerkenwell, Central London, were angered by the warning.
One postman, who asked not to be named, said: ‘To say a normal hard-working postman is only taking a few quid at Christmas as a bribe for the rest of the year is crazy.There’s never any favouritism – I just do my job and that’s it.’
‘If I was to tell someone I couldn’t accept a tip, they’d think I was mad.’
Another said: ‘Some postmen get good tips at Christmas, but they’ve worked hard for years on the same rounds so I don’t think there would be many people who would begrudge them that. If I was to tell someone I couldn’t take a tip off of them for Christmas, because it could be a corrupt payment, they would probably think I was mad.’
The guidelines from the Royal Mail – which employs 170,000 postmen and postwomen who earn an average of £22,000 a year – state that gifts ‘may only be given or accepted up to a value of £30; any gifts over £30 must be politely declined’.
It adds that hospitality ‘may only be given or accepted where there is a business reason. Hospitality less than £25 per head in the course of business meetings is allowed and does not require pre-approval or registration. Hospitality greater than £25 per head requires line manager pre-approval and must be recorded in the Gifts and Hospitality register.’
Experts said the impact of the new bribery laws would be widespread as organisations have to demonstrate they have made every effort to prevent corruption. For the first time, companies or organisations can be prosecuted if they have failed to prevent anyone associated with them, including contractors and staff, offering or receiving bribes, even if they were unaware of the offence.
Tis the season to… turn down gifts: Royal Mail’s warning follows the introduction this year of the Bribery Act, which the company said it takes ‘very seriously’
Rose Parlane, a senior associate in the anti-corruption team at law firm McGuireWoods, said: ‘This is why organisations like the Royal Mail are taking such stringent steps.
‘In the past, if the Serious Fraud Office or another prosecutor wanted to prosecute a company, they would have to demonstrate that senior executives were aware of the offence. Now the company does not need to have any knowledge of the offence in order to be found liable.’
She said that if a postman was to receive money from a member of the public to ensure they received his post before others, the Royal Mail could be found liable even though it knew nothing about it.
Under the law, both those who pay bribes and those who receive them are liable. The amount of money that constitutes a bribe is not specified, so any transaction can theoretically be considered illegal if the intention is to gain an improper advantage.
Customers who give postal workers gifts of more than £30 could be drawn into an investigation if there is a complaint that the payment was corrupt. Legal experts say that Royal Mail staff who accept more than £30 could also face internal discipline.
Lawyers also said, however, there was a danger that the law could be interpreted too zealously. In one case, a Norfolk parish council asked members of its bowls club to stop giving Christmas gifts to the club’s ground staff over fears they could constitute bribery.
Although the Ministry of Justice later insisted that such Christmas tips were not bribes, and have said ‘reasonable and proportionate’ hospitality is allowable, experts said the example showed how much the new legislation could intrude into people’s private lives.
Lawyers have also raised the question of whether people who tip waiters could be open to charges of bribery. One commented: ‘When you tip a waiter generously at a restaurant, are you simply thanking them for the quality of their service? Or is there lurking behind this seemingly innocent everyday transaction a soupçon that future favours might be anticipated?’
Tory MP Philip Davies said: ‘I have heard lots of concerns about the Bribery Act and how it has unintended consequences. These things can’t be what Parliament intended when it passed this law.’
The Act follows high-profile cases such as the 2001 collapse of the American energy company Enron and the Serious Fraud Office probe into a £45 billion BAE Systems arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which was controversially dropped in 2006.
Multinationals have spent millions of pounds responding to the demands of the new law, but smaller organisations are also issuing advice.
Lambeth Council in South London has told staff that even small tokens of thanks from members of the public should be registered, even if the gift was declined.
A spokesman for the Royal Mail said: ‘As has been the case for many years, postmen and women are able to accept Christmas tips.
‘They cannot, however, be accepted in return for favours or preferential treatment. It is entirely up to customers if they wish to give a tip to postmen and women at Christmas and to what value.
‘Like all other major companies, we take the Bribery Act very seriously and have a duty to clearly communicate to all of our staff what it means for them.’
A spokesman for the Communication Workers Union, which represents postmen, said it appeared the Royal Mail was trying to cover itself by taking a cautious ‘belt and braces’ approach to the legislation.