BERLIN (dpa-AFX) - The reform of the Postal Act is on the home straight. On Thursday afternoon, the Bundestag will vote in plenary session, after which it will be the Bundesrat's turn. An overview of the amended law and its consequences for consumers.

What does the Postal Act regulate?

Following the privatization of the Federal Post Office in the 1990s, the state laid down rules to ensure that citizens could continue to receive letters reliably and buy stamps easily. Since then, the federal government has stipulated that every large village must have a post office, that letterboxes must be within easy reach and that letters must reach the recipient fairly quickly. In addition, letters must be delivered six days a week - including Mondays, although few letters are sent at the weekend and the letterbox is therefore often empty at the start of the week.

What is the problem?

The rules date back to a time when online commerce was still in its infancy and letters were part of everyday communication. A lot has changed since then: in the digital age, people rely on chats and emails instead of letters and when shopping, they are often on the Internet instead of in the city center. As a result, the volume of letters has been shrinking for a long time and the number of parcels is going through the roof. Unit costs have increased massively for Swiss Post, as it has to operate a letter network of the same size with fewer and fewer items. It has to deliver letters everywhere in Germany, even to lonely farmhouses. The Postal Act has not yet adapted to the change in demand - this is overdue and should now finally happen.

What is the most important change?

Deutsche Post will be under less time pressure than before. Currently, at least 80 percent of letters posted today must reach the recipient on the next working day and 95 percent on the day after next. The amendment to the law stipulates that there will only be a mandatory figure of 95% on the third working day after posting. On the fourth working day, it should be 99 percent. This will enable Swiss Post to reduce costs, and the domestic flights used for decades to collect letters have been eliminated - which also helps to protect the climate. For consumers, however, this also means that they will have to wait longer on average for a letter than before. However, if you are in a hurry, you can send a faster priority letter. This is more expensive than the standard letter.

What do consumers think of the foreseeable longer waiting times?

Letterboxes are no longer as full as they used to be - more and more people are even receiving account statements and insurance documents digitally instead of by post. In the Internet age, most letters are not urgent - for many people it is no longer so important whether a letter arrives today or tomorrow. The main thing is that it arrives reliably at some point. According to a YouGov survey conducted on June 11 among 2577 people, 50 percent of respondents were in favor of this central point of the reform, 37 percent were against it and the rest did not specify.

What else will be changed?

In future, vending machines are likely to be found more often in villages and on the outskirts of towns than before. This is because in certain cases they can be counted towards the obligation to have a strong branch network, which existed in the old law and is to be retained in the new law. However, the local authorities and the Federal Network Agency have a say in this. The advantage of vending machines is that they are available around the clock. Branches staffed by people - often kiosks or supermarkets with a post office counter - have opening hours. Other key points of the old law remain in place, such as the six-day delivery - so deliveries will still have to be made on Mondays.

Is this also about the parcel sector?

Although there are no state delivery time requirements for parcels, other parts of the law also affect this sector. It is about better working conditions: Parcels heavier than 20 kilos are to be delivered by two delivery staff as a rule, unless a suitable technical aid is available. In this case, one-person delivery is also permitted. In addition, subcontractors, whose use is viewed very critically by the trade union Verdi, are to be monitored more effectively: They will be obliged to keep information on working hours, among other things. Authorities could compare this information with the data recorded when parcels are delivered - and thus identify violations of the Working Hours Act.

Will postage be more expensive?

Every three years, the Federal Network Agency uses a calculation procedure to determine how much leeway Swiss Post has to increase postage. The Postal Act provides the framework for the procedure. In 2019, the cost of sending a standard letter within Germany rose by 10 cents to 80 cents, and in 2022 postage increased by 5 cents to 85 cents. The price of other types of mail - such as postcards and maxi letters - also went up. Postage is likely to become more expensive again from January 2025. How high is still unclear. However, the traffic light coalition wants to ensure that standard letter postage does not become more expensive than one euro.

How is Deutsche Post reacting to the reform plan?

As a "universal service provider", the market leader Deutsche Post is most strongly bound by the legal requirements. The Bonn-based company is moderately enthusiastic about the reform. On the one hand, they welcome the fact that the regulations have finally been dusted off and the time pressure for letter requests has been reduced, which has made it possible to cancel the letter planes. On the other hand, they are critical of the fact that competitors are being challenged and bureaucracy is being increased in the rapidly shrinking letter market. In future, small letter competitors will also be allowed to hand over consignments of goods to the post office for delivery.

What do politicians say?

The traffic light coalition, which has been at loggerheads in other policy areas, has reached a compromise on the reform without any loud background noise despite differing ideas. Politicians from the SPD, Greens and FDP see this as a success and an expression of their ability to act. Social Democrat Sebastian Roloff also sees the consumer as a winner: "We are ensuring nationwide postal services six days a week for a long time and in all regions of Germany and ensuring that the letter market continues to function despite falling volumes." The opposition CSU politician Hansjorg Durz, on the other hand, criticizes - like the Post - an increase in bureaucracy. This can already be seen in the length: the previous Postal Act was 19 pages long and the new one is 80 pages long./wdw/DP/zb