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PSNH checks are still in the mail

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 06. 2013 9:22PM

The Postal Service says a mix-up that appears to have held up as many as 10,000 payments to Public Service of New Hampshire was all the fault of the utility.

An unidentified postal worker who was contacted Wednesday when the Union Leader reported on the snafu said the problem originated with incorrect bar codes. A formal statement received from the Postal Service late Thursday afternoon expanded on that version of events.

"All the mail will be delivered," said Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the Northern New England District of the U.S. Postal Service, which encompasses Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. "But due to a mismatch of the mailer-applied bar code on the envelope to the printed address, a delay in receipt has been experienced."

Rizzo said a bar code on an envelope will override any printed addressing data, and that inconsistencies between the bar code on the envelopes and the printed address is at the heart of the problem.

"That's why mailers who provide payment envelopes as a courtesy for their customers make the effort to work with the Postal Service and their printers to place the proper bar code on these envelopes," he said.

Rizzo said the mail has not been lost, that it has only been delayed until it can be identified, removed by hand from what he called the "postal mailstream," and forwarded to the proper address.

Rizzo's statement contradicts the explanation provided by PSNH spokesperson Martin Murray, who on Wednesday said the company left the old Manchester address on the billing stubs for the first two weeks of the changeover, but put in a forwarding request to have the mail sent to a new billing processing center in Dallas, Texas.

Murray suggested the process should have worked just as it does for any mailbox holder who moves away and asks mail to be forwarded.

Rizzo said that PSNH changed the billing stubs to the new Dallas address, but neglected to change the pre-printed bar code.

The problem began on May 12, when postal officials noticed that large amounts of mail were unexpectedly being rejected. "The incorrect bar code on the envelope caused the mail to cycle back to the old address again and again," Rizzo said. "Our records indicate that many additional change of address forms were filed under commonly used alternative corporate names more than a week later."

To further complicate matters, he said, an inaccurate post office box number was submitted for the new destination in Texas.

"Accurate and consistent addressing and especially bar coding are what enable efficient mail processing at affordable rates," Rizzo said. "We have a number of tools in place to help us work closely with major mailers undertaking changes of address for their critical remittance or bill-payment mails. We are always ready to work with our mailers on a seamless transition whenever we are asked."

After reviewing the postal service's statement on Thursday, Murray offered the following response: "We sincerely appreciate the efforts of the postal service to resolve the situation. It appears that the majority of the mail has, over time, reached its proper destination, and we will continue to work with any customer who is concerned that a payment may not have been processed in a timely manner."

PSNH's 24-hour customer service line can be reached at 800-662-7764.

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