Residents living in more rural towns may find that the U.S. Postal Service does not deliver mail to their homes. Instead, those residents must obtain a Post Office Box in order to receive mail. Unfortunately, I have heard about people in this situation, in nearby communities and beyond, being charged a yearly fee for the post office box. If the U.S.P.S. refuses to deliver mail to your home, it must provide a no-fee PO box.
Typically, post offices in rural areas do not provide home delivery to residences within a quarter-mile radius of the post office, unless a residence happens to be on a rural carrier route.* In order to get your PO box, you must go to the local post office and fill out Form 1093. It does not seem that those eligible for free boxes are able to submit this form online, as paid box customers are. Form 1093 itself makes no mention of free boxes, so people typically are unaware they may be entitled to a free box.
Form 1093 does refer to a “Group E” box. This is the Postal Service’s cryptic way of referring to the free post office box. The Domestic Mailing Manual, a publication of the Postal Service, describes Group E boxes. The Manual’s provisions are also incorporated into federal regulations, per the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 39, Section 111.1.
The relevant part of the Domestic Mailing Manual provides:
“4.6.2 Free Box Service (Group E)
Customers may qualify for free (Group E) Post Office box service if their physical address or business location meets all of the following criteria:
a. The physical address or business location is within the geographic delivery ZIP Code boundaries administered by a Post Office.
b. The physical address or business location constitutes a potential carrier delivery point of service.
c. The USPS chooses not to provide carrier delivery to the physical address or business location.
d. The customer does not receive carrier delivery via an out-of-bounds delivery receptacle.
4.6.3 Additional Standards for Free Box Service
Only one free (Group E) Post Office box may be obtained for each potential carrier delivery point of service. Group E customers are assigned the smallest available box that will reasonably accommodate their daily mail volume. Eligibility for Group E boxes does not extend to individual tenants, contractors, employees, or other individuals receiving or eligible to receive single-point delivery such as delivery to a hotel, college, military installation, or transient trailer park. A customer must pay the applicable fee for each additional box requested beyond the initial box obtained at the Group E fee. The online application tools described in 4.3.1b cannot be used for free Post Office box service.”
I have yet to see any notice posted within a rural postal facility mentioning possible eligibility for a free box. Nor does the Postal Service make this information easily found on its website, which is why it is posted here in as much detail as possible. If you live in a non-delivery area, do not allow the Postal Service to illegally charge a fee for your PO box! PO Boxes can cost upwards of $40 per year, and the financially-struggling Postal Service has no incentive to hand out free boxes. The only charge the post office may legally assess is a minor one-time key deposit, usually a dollar or two.
If you already have a paid PO box, and believe your box should be free, discuss it with your local postmaster (and certainly demand a refund for any paid prior years). You have the relevant information on free boxes above, straight from the Postal Service’s own regulations. By making customers fill out Form 1093, the Postal Service knows your residential address and certainly knows whether it delivers to your house and if you qualify for free box service. By charging a fee for qualified residents, the Postal Service is committing fraud. Don’t let the USPS get away with it.
(*The postal service does not seem to rationalize its distinction between rural residents and city dwellers living close to post offices. Surely city dwellers are just as capable of picking up mail from a nearby post office. And, since there is typically more than one post office in a city, the USPS could save more money in mail delivery by applying this odd rule to everyone living near a post office.).