Invoices, assessments, penalties, fees and the Mailer Scorecard are pretty ominous words for the mailing community. The Postal Service has been talking about these topics for well over 18 months now, and they’ve drawn a line in the sand: July 2016. If you haven’t heard about these new invoices, or looked at your Mailer Scorecard, you have only a few months to plan.

All About the Assessments

So what are the assessments? Basically, they allow USPS to collect postage for mailings that were prepared incorrectly for the programs a mailer is participating in. For example, if a mailer isn’t meeting the barcode uniqueness requirement for Full-Service mail, the mailer would refund USPS their Full-Service discount. It’s important to note that not all mailers and not all programs will be subject to invoicing right away. For now, invoices will be tied to four mailing preparation options: Full-Service, eInduction, Seamless Acceptance, and the Move Update requirement. And within each of the programs, only specific requirements will be checked.

With these changes, USPS is using a new method to check the quality of mailings. Today, MERLIN machines randomly checked a portion of a mailing for quality. The new system checks every mail piece as it is scanned through mailing equipment and compares it to the submitted electronic documentation. This census method cuts down on the time spent verifying mailings, but it also opens mailers up for errors that won’t be caught until the mail is in the mail stream. To compensate, mailers will be measured for all their mailings across a calendar month. Mailers will only be assessed if the errors are over established thresholds.

Checking the Data

To avoid errors, mailers will need to keep track of their mail quality. The penalties for going over the error thresholds vary from fractions of a penny to re-paying postage for some pieces. Mail Service Providers should pay special attention, as their customers will expect them to submit compliant mailings. USPS posts each mailer’s quality details in the Mailer Scorecard, available in the Business Customer Gateway. There are separate views for Mail Owners and electronic documentation submitters, giving each a view into the quality of their mailings. Each of the programs and their requirements are available in the Scorecard, along with a rolling summary of the mailings performed each month. Mailers can check the scorecard at any time to see if any error thresholds have been exceeded.

When the Mailer Scorecard was first released, the data consistency and quality within the scorecard itself was spotty at best. The Postal Service, along with representatives from the mailing industry, painstakingly evaluated each data point in the Scorecard, making sure that the data was represented consistently in a useful way. Several rounds of programming and layout changes were performed, the last wave ending in January.

Documenting the Process

With the previous verifications, most of the rules and thresholds were documented in internal USPS publications. With the more rigorous testing of the census method, mailers wanted more detail about the policy surrounding assessments. How were the requirements measured? What penalties would be applied, and how? These policy questions have been collected in a proposed new USPS document, the Publication for Streamlined Mail Entry for Letters and Flats. At first this document was a mash-up of documents from the different programs, but after several rounds of feedback from the industry this document will help mailers navigate the assessment waters. Using this information, along with the data from the Mailer Scorecard and their own quality processes, mailers will be able to contest any assessments they deem inappropriate.

What’s the Timeline?

As stated above, USPS has stated that they will be activating this process in July, assessing any mailing errors for the month of June. Mailers had requested a full six months to review their data after the Scorecard modifications were complete and verified by the industry. With a late January deployment of the final changes, mailers will have only four months to review their data and make any necessary adjustments to avoid assessments. USPS has pushed the implementation date on this project back many times, so it’s quite possible that the date will slip again. We’ll likely hear more at the National Postal Forum in March.

Next Steps

In the near term, mailers who haven’t looked at their Mailer Scorecard should do so as soon as possible. Early identification of troublesome mailings will be key to avoiding assessments. Once they go live, it’s likely there will be a few months of churn where the bumps in the process are smoothed out. Then, we can likely expect that the verified requirements will be expanded and thresholds will be tightened. The July date is just the beginning.

Kim Mauch is a subject matter expert in mailing preparation and submission at Satori Software.