The Royal Mail has apologised to customers for severe postal delays in Alton and surrounding villages which it has blamed on an ongoing staffing crisis.

Many local postcode areas are having to wait up to a week between deliveries, with customers complaining they have missed important health appointments as a result.

Postal workers are reportedly being asked to cover around double the number of letterboxes as usual, and many rounds are still being missed.

This has put the Royal Mail at risk of breaching its universal service obligation to provide a six-day-a-week, one-price-goes-anywhere postal service to every address in the UK.

Pressed for answers, the Royal Mail confirmed it is struggling to fill multiple vacancies at the Alton delivery office, saying this has “caused difficulties” for the service.

A Royal Mail spokesman denied claims that recruitment efforts have been “blocked”. But they admitted staff retention is an issue, with two new employees recently joining the service but quickly deciding “the job is not for them”.

It is reported that of seven new recruits hired at Alton in the past two months, just one still remains – but the Herald has not yet verified this.

A postal worker being unexpectedly called up for jury duty has compounded the staffing crisis at Alton’s Royal Mail delivery office this summer, the company has said.

This, combined with long-term recruitment challenges, “has had an impact on balancing annual leave with resources required for the delivery office to operate smoothly”, a spokesman added.

They continued: “We will continue to try and recruit to fill these gaps and until then resources will be rotated to ensure no delivery route is left for to long a time.

“For reassurance, we have one new member of staff starting on August 29 and two new members of staff starting on September 4 and then another on September 11.”

But customers have been told they cannot collect urgent mail themselves from the High Street delivery office.

British postal workers voted overwhelmingly in favour of a three-year pay deal with the Royal Mail in July, ending a long dispute that has cost the company hundreds of millions of pounds and prompted the departure of its CEO Simon Thompson.

Mr Thompson, who the Communication Workers Union blames for the departure of thousands of postal staff from the company, is due to remain with the Royal Mail until the end of October.

The Royal Mail's new CEO will be Martin Seidenberg who has promised to "deliver benefits for customers, employees and shareholders alike”.