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[Articles Home]  [Add Article]  

The War Against The IRC

from Reg Beck, VE7IG on November 2, 2015
View comments about this article!

The War Against The IRC
by Reg, VE7IG

A couple of years ago a W DXer contacted me by email and told me he was unable to buy IRCs anymore and asked me to buy some for him here in Canada where they are still sold in the post office. I had been on several IOTA island trips and had plenty of IRCs at that point and was used to buying them from QSL managers so had not asked anyone at Canada Post about them and was surprised to find the cost was $5.00 per IRC, I'm not sure if this price has increased since then but wouldn't be surprised if it has. When I passed this information on the DXer must have thought I was trying to rip him off because I never heard from him again. $5.00 is almost twice the cost of Canadian international postage. What is going on here?

I emailed the officer at the Universal Postal Union who is in charge of IRCs and asked him about them. He told me every country signatory to the UPU must redeem an IRC as per the statement found on the back of the IRC -- "This coupon is exchangeable in any country of the Universal Postal Union for the minimum postage for an unregistered priority item or an unregistered letter sent by air to a foreign country." Signatory countries are not required to sell IRCs but are required to exchange them as members of the UPU.

I have not contacted any governments asking them about their stand on IRCs but have had several discussions with other amateurs about their experiences with them in their countries. Recently some countries, including the USA and Great Britain have stopped selling IRCs. Some amateurs in those countries have been told by clerks in their post offices that they do not handle IRCs any longer when the amateur tried to exchange the IRC for postage and the amateur was unable to make the exchange. You can understand the reluctance of amateurs towards accepting IRCs when they have this experience in their post offices. A VK amateur told me the clerks at his post office would not handle them and he had to wait for the manager who was often not there when he tried to exchange IRCs for postage. The manager, when present, would make the exchange but not in a friendly manner, grumbling and complaining the whole time. That would turn anyone against IRCs. In fact, I feel this experience is quite common. Are the postal authorities purposely not training their clerks to redeem IRCs?

I've had to train the postal clerks in the local post office and the sub-post office myself.
Canadian post offices have computerized tills that have a button that lets them redeem IRCs. Few of them knew how to do it but most of them have learned when I pointed out the procedure. They never took my word for it however, but found a more senior clerk who knew how and they figured it out together. What a reluctance there is to accept a never-seen-before slip of paper in place of real money.

On one Saudi Arabian amateur's QRZ.com page there was a statement that he would not accept IRCs because they were illegal in his country. I'm not sure where he received this information but the UPU agent told me that Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the UPU agreement and therefore must exchange IRCs for postage.

I was told by a German amateur that his post office HATED IRCs and he would not try to redeem them and at any rate one IRC would only purchase a flimsy letter form with no possibility of adding a QSL card. Again I am not sure if this is correct but that was his impression when dealing with his post office clerks. Some amateurs in various countries ask for 2 or more IRCs per QSL so maybe their situation is similar.

Many DXpeditions and foreign amateurs are now using OQRS -- online QSL request-- using PayPal individually or through Club Log. But there are many others who still request QSLs via mail, direct or bureau. IRCs have been a good way to fight postal theft when using direct mail to obtain QSLs. Putting green stamps (US dollars) in envelopes often ensures the envelope does not reach its destination or if it does there are no green stamps inside when it arrives.

I have a mental cartoon that has three postal clerks in uniform with peaked caps standing around looking at an envelope on a sorting table that has several green stamps sticking out. One of them reaches for it but another one says, "Hey, its my turn, you got that one last week!"

It is my personal feeling that postal and other government officials in various countries have taken an unofficial stand against IRCs, either from the idea they are directly losing money on them or that the bureaucratic processes necessary to handle them takes up too much time also costing money. So they are making it as difficult as possible for people to exchange them. Possible methods:

1. Refusing to sell them (which they can do legally as signatories of the UPU agreements) on the basis they are no longer used so the clerks will not accept them either.
2. Simply not training clerks to redeem them.
3. Raising the price to unreasonable amounts where if anyone is stupid enough to buy one they take in double the cost of ordinary postage.
4. Amateurs are possibly, or have been, the majority of users of IRCs so redefining the minimum postage you get to make it difficult or impossible to send a QSL card with that amount.
5. Spreading the myth that the left hand box on an IRC must have a cancellation or impression from the country of origin and refusing to exchange those that do not when the message in that box (in French, the language of the UPU) says "(faculative)" meaning optional.
6. Telling their citizens that IRCs are illegal.

At any rate many QSL managers and individual amateurs in foreign countries are now refusing to accept IRCs and the amateur fraternity is losing one of the best ways we had to pay for return postage when applying for a direct QSL.

Unfortunately it is politicians and their representatives who sign international agreements but it is bureaucrats and ultimately citizens who have to deal with the results.

Member Comments:
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The War Against The IRC  
by VK3YE on November 2, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Of any staff in retail, I'd hazard a guess that post office staff need to know the most detail about the most products and services including ones that are rarely seen.

Also the smaller post office agencies are run by newsagents etc who have their own main business to operate.

Until very recently all but a few official post offices were open limited hours that made them pretty well inaccessible to full time workers except if on lunch which can see queues stretch out the door. Just in the last year or so they finally got Saturday morning opening.

Post offices are now largely retail shops and bill paying services for those who don't wish to do it online. There are numerous other tax, banking, licence, fee and identification services offered as well. The post office is the 'go to' agency for pretty much any organisation that doesn't want to open their own branch office network.

I'm not defending their refusal to handle IRCs, but if it's something that the average PO clerk never sees, then it's understandable that there will be some hesitation. In the real world customer demand trumps an obscure convention any day.

Paper QSLing is or will soon be pretty much finished, at least unless the contact is more than a 5/9 hello goodbye. For those small numbers of 'sentimental value' contacts most can afford to pay the postage out of your own pocket to the DX station anyway with no IRC required. Easy!
 
The War Against The IRC  
by OZ8AGB on November 2, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
We can still buy them here in Denmark (OZ) at approx $3 each. We just order them online.
 
The War Against The IRC  
by KS2G on November 2, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Current United States Postal Service policy regarding IRC's can be found here:
http://pe.usps.com/text/imm/immc3_020.htm

The redemption rate cited in the policy currently is $1.20 as shown here:
http://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/Notice123.htm#2933355
(Scroll down the page to "First Class International Mail - Letters"
 
The War Against The IRC  
by KE8G on November 2, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
I, too, marvel at how inadequately trained the U.S. Postal workers are regarding IRC's. My XYL (KD8CMB) and I had to "train" one of the Postal Clerks at our local Post Office. One he understood what was needed, he was very agreeable, as we would buy a hundred or so every month.

The hardest part was getting Post Offices to redeem them, for some reason, especially in the Houston, Texas area, they just could not catch on!

For us anyway, I think the Post Office did us a favor by no longer selling them, as EVERYONE seems to understand 2 or 3 greenstamps!

73 de Jim - KE8G
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by K4PIH on November 2, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Every time I went to the Bundespost to mail something or pay my phone bill I felt like taking a bath when I finished. It was just the most unpleasant thing of anything I did in Germany.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by KG4NEL on November 2, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
I really, really hope paper QSLing isn't done. Yes, it's not worth it for every contact, but there's a tangible experience in flipping through a binder of paper cards that looking at a logbook database will never be able to match, just like LPs provide a completely different experience than letting Itunes shuffle a few GB of music.

No matter what the radios look like on our end, paper QSLing is something that Maxim would recognize instantly in its current form - I don't think we should discount that so quickly :)
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by WO7R on November 2, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
I don't think paper QSLing is done, but I do think IRCs are.

My life has taken me to three states over the last several years and the hassles of dealing with them are ridiculous. It's clear the average postal clerk never sees one. It's even clearer that the local postmasters that have seen one are worried about getting their money back. And, it's pitifully low volumes to start with. Credit cards and PayPal have probably destroyed the whole IRC business model.

Couple that with the large number of DX stations who apparently have the same problem ("no IRCs" is a common notation in QRZ.com) and we have a treaty that has been repealed by the masses. . .of postal workers who never see one and do not want to see one.

Myself, I almost never send them now. They are hard to buy and I worry that the DX won't be able to redeem them. Unless the DX says, explicitly, that they want IRCs, I never send them now. I don't see much green stamp theft (under 5 per cent of my mailings) and compared to IRCs, even dealing with that is better.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by K8QV on November 2, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Everyone from your bank to the ARRL wants you to go all electronic. Real QSL cards will go the way of album cover art. Postage is already prohibitive for a lot of cheap hams. Such is progress.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by WO7R on November 2, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Even if we presume that paper cards go away, I'm not so sure that QSL _art_ will go away.

If we lose out on physical cards, then I think eQSL's idea of having people supply "electronic cards" will be adopted, even by LOTW/ARRL and by anyone else in the electronic confirmation game.

Nobody save eQSL bothers today, but if physical cards vanish or greatly diminish, I could easily see it happening.

Most people supply a photo on QRZ, for instance, and many supply some kind of scan or their card.
 
The War Against The IRC  
by AK4YH on November 2, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
You might want to explain what an IRC actually is...

Gil.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by OZ8AGB on November 3, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
International Reply Coupon

http://www.upu.int/en/activities/international-reply-coupons/about-irc.html
 
The War Against The IRC  
by W4EXT on November 3, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Honestly, I think it's simply because the postal services of the world are flailing and thrashing about in their death throes. For better or worse, various electronic modes of communication (along with UPS and FedEx) are rapidly rendering them irrelevant. The concept of "service" is rapidly dwindling as cost cutting becomes the order of the day. IRC coupons aren't easy to deal with, so they don't want to deal with them, and they come up with ways to refuse to deal with them. In their eyes, problem solved.

If you think about it, it's much the same discussion that takes place here about ham radio vs. the Internet. Except we're holding our own and they aren't.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by VK6IS on November 4, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
the war against the IRC has been going for some time now,
and it's not just "training" the staff, that is the issue.
also that "green stamp theft" is more likely to be from the bank that charges to process them ..

it's now at the point, that when printed QSL cards are sent off, that no reply is expected, unless the OP also wants to sent one in return - and also at their cost. ..
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by AK4YH on November 4, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks!
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by KL7AJ on November 4, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
I would suggest that this isn't actually a war, which implies some intentional effort to kill it. It's merely succumbing to the economic times.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by WS4E on November 6, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
It is just a matter of time before the preferred method is to include a paper with the codes for the correct amount of bitcoins in the envelope.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by KG4INK on November 6, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you. I had never heard of an IRC until this article. I'll admit I'm not a very active ham.
 
The War Against The IRC  
by W3DCB on November 8, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
When you use abbreviations, please spell it out, i.e., International Reply Coupons(IRC) prominently in the beginning of an article. Several new hams asked me what they were and had difficulty finding the meaning of, "IRC."
Thanks, de W3DCB
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by WB4M on November 9, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
. Several new hams asked me what they were and had difficulty finding the meaning of, "IRC."

This shows how irrelevant IRCs have become, people don't even know what they are. Over the past 35+ years of being a ham, I rarely used them at all, few wanted them. The local post office had them in stock, but the clerk told me that I was the only person he ever knew who bought any. Apparently hams were the main users of them. I don't care if they fade away, they are obsolete as far as I am concerned. I use LoTW and ClubLog QSL'ing for DX-peditions. I use Global QSL's for bureau cards and cannot remember the last time I got a QSL card in the mail, must be years ago.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by VE7IG on November 9, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
During my 55 or so years of DXing I've sent and received hundreds of IRCs. OQRS and LoTW are recent phenomena. I apologize to those who didn't know that IRC meant International Reply Coupon but have been so used to calling them IRCs for so many years that spelling out the whole thing never crossed my mind. There are still plenty of QSL managers and DXers who only QSL direct and IRCs certainly work for them if they accept them. IRCs work better than green stamps (US dollar bills) and are safer to use if accepted at the other end. I can't use green stamps directly at my local post office, have to exchange them first (a nuisance when mailing single envelopes) but I can hand one IRC over to the postal clerk with an envelope no problem. At least I still can and feel sorry for those who can't.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by WO7R on November 10, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
<<<< IRCs work better than green stamps (US dollar bills) and are safer to use if accepted at the other end. >>>>

Ah, but do they anymore?

My experience is different. Or, rather, it has changed over time. Twenty years ago, I would have agreed. Not now. They are now hard to get (in the US and other countries) and difficult to redeem here and elsewhere.

Moreover, if someone is willing to steal cash in the mail, I have found them just as willing to steal IRCs over the years. The usual problem is corrupt local postal officials on the DX end of it. I don't know how IRCs get turned into useful cash, though long ago and far away, I used to see paperchaser awards with lines like "or send 6 IRCs to get our handsome certificate for Working All Elbonians" which was far in excess of the postage, so there must have been a way to get cash in some countries.

Yet, another little problem is that sometimes, 2 IRCs are needed. This is exactly contrary to what the treaty says. One should be enough, anywhere. But, it isn't.

All that said, I just sent off some IRCs to a guy in Indonesia because that ham explicitly asked for them. As I may have said, that's the only time I will send them these days. It cost me six bucks for three IRCs and is probably the correct postage for the situation.

Not ideal. Should have cost half that.

 
The War Against The IRC  
by VE6ND on November 12, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Each time i work someone via satellite or 6 meters I send a qsl card.
It cost me about $2.00 each time I send one but do not send IRC's or return postage.
If I get the card fine, if they choose not to, fine.

 
The War Against The IRC  
by STRAIGHTKEY on November 12, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
This isn't some vast, evil international conspiracy to deny radio amateurs the ability to send QSL cards. It's that demand for the IRC has plummeted as everyone other than radio amateurs have found better means of communicating not involving paper and the postal system. Why should postal services expend time, energy, and expenses supporting something that isn't in demand?
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by VE7IG on November 13, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
"Why should postal services expend time, energy, and expenses supporting something that isn't in demand?"

As far as redeeming IRCs is concerned almost all the nations of the world signed a treaty under the Universal Postal Union which requires them to redeem IRCs. This has nothing to do with how popular or unpopular they are. Postal services are required to expend time, energy and expenses supporting IRCs because their countries signed a treaty that they would do so. As far as I know IRCs were never popular but it is only in the last few years that it has become this difficult dealing with them. They are meant to be a service for those who would use them.

A conspiracy is not necessary for a war. This war consists of a lot of "skirmishes" all over the world. The UK stopped selling them one year and the USA the next-- perhaps someone got the idea from someone else?
 
The War Against The IRC  
by JOHNZ on November 13, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
StraightKey said: " Why should postal services expend time, energy, and expenses supporting something that isn't in demand"?

Because many ham operators believe the world revolves around amateur radio, and therefore, the world should pander to hams.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by WO7R on November 14, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
<<<<< Postal services are required to expend time, energy and expenses supporting IRCs because their countries signed a treaty that they would do so. >>>>>

This treaty has been honored in the breach for years, maybe decades.

How many times have I been asked for "2 IRCs"? Too many and over too many years. Why? Because contrary to what the treaty says, several countries do not give "one unit of first class international postage" for an IRC. Or, that unit now covers half an ounce or something. All I know, is that it doesn't really work the way it was intended. Never did.

Go ahead, hire an "international law lawyer" and file suit in the Hague or something. I truly wish you joy of it; but my expectations are low.

Postal services all over the world struggle to make money. The electronic world has drastically reduced mail volumes.

Heck, thanks to things like LOTW _our_ mail volume is down. So, we're no different than anyone else. And, how many of us use green stamps or OQRS? IRCs are now a minority of a minority function even for us.

Given that, and given their increasing rarity generally, is anyone surprised that this treaty gets implemented "creatively" or simply ignored?

Sometimes, treaties are repealed not by overt action, but one by one, official by official, country by country as things are obsoleted by events. That's what's happening here. Not nearly enough folks care about this, so it's an easy budget cut.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by STRAIGHTKEY on November 15, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Well, the treaty and $5 will get you a coffee at Starbucks. When you get down to it, the IRC is really just an international form of currency that's only valid for purchases at the local post office. It could be replaced by other international payment methods, like PayPay or Bitcoin. I'll admit that receiving and holding in your hand a paper QSL is neat, but the system of delivering it is archaic. It's really the content on the card that is important, the printing. That could be sent electronically without every having to go through the arcane and troublesome IRC and postal process. eQSL does something like this, however that website and service is a train wreck. We need something more professional. This is something ARRL should take on.... if they weren't so concerned with just awards and making LOTW as difficult as possible to use.
 
The War Against The IRC  
by JOHNZ on November 16, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
The Newington gang is interested only in what will keep cash flowing into their coffers.

 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by STRAIGHTKEY on November 17, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
I don't think that's a fair assessment. They do have an interest in keeping the organization viable into the future, and that requires revenue, but they're not rolling in dough. Even with the recent membership dues increase, they're still tracking below the rate of inflation.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by N5WD on November 17, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
>>by JOHNZ on November 16, 2015
>>The Newington gang is interested only in what will keep cash flowing into their coffers.

Ah, yes. the obligatory stupid comment demeaning the ARRL and anyone who is a member. Couldn't have a thread about IRC's without someone digging at the ARRL, huh?
 
The War Against The IRC  
by JOHNZ on November 19, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
N5WD said: "Ah, yes. the obligatory stupid comment demeaning the ARRL and anyone who is a member. Couldn't have a thread about IRC's without someone digging at the ARRL, huh"?


And that is your standard response to an opinion which differs from yours, dismissing the other person as being stupid"? It would appear a well reasoned substantive response is far too much of a challenge for you?"




 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by W0FAA on November 20, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Meet JOHNZ!
Real Name:
John Zinc

Photo:
No photo available.

Email address:
Email address not available.

Non-Ham troll, 'Nuff said.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by W0FAA on November 20, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
From FCC ULS:

Name like John Zinc
No matches found To try again, you can perform a new search or refine your existing search.


Support for Non-Ham comment above.
 
The War Against The IRC  
by JOHNZ on November 20, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
@W0FAA

And your point is?

 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by KD8GTP on November 21, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Internet Relay Chat, and what it has to do with ham radio and the post office is beyond me.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by STRAIGHTKEY on November 22, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
I may not agree with JOHNZ's posts, but to say he's a non-ham troll defies logic. Why would a non-ham even care enough to post about an amateur radio issue as boring and mundane as IRCs? If you're going to dismiss someone, at least have a reason that makes sense.
 
The War Against The IRC  
by DWEISS on November 26, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
The logic of reduced postal volumes justifying elimination or failure to honor IRCs seems flawed to me.

Yes, electronic communications has reduced the demand for first class postal services. However, that just suggests that postal service organizations should be even more welcoming to those customers who still wish to use their services.

-Danny
 
The War Against The IRC  
by JOHNZ on November 29, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
@dweiss

What possible incentive do postal service employee have for being "nice" to patrons? They have union-protected jobs, with guaranteed pay raises and promotions, generous union-negotiated benefits, and lavish retirement plans.
 
RE: The War Against The IRC  
by M0URX on December 7, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
Hello Reg,
It has always been the case that the PO clerk needs to be trained up by us hams how to use the IRC's. I am lucky in that my local PO welcomes IRCs, at the end of the day it is "INCOME" for the PO, and any clerk that does not welcome work does not deserve a job IMO.

My own reason for not accepting IRCs any more is that they can only be exchanged for stamps. Stamps are the most expensive way of sending a letter. Not only do you pay over the odds to purchase the IRC but the exchange is only valid for the basic standard post service.
I use an International mailing account which can be between 30% - 70% CHEAPER than using stamps. I cannot use IRCs against this account.

I can however cash in out of date IRCs which are returned to the UPU. I use the money to pay for QSL printing and Bureau costs which can be quite considerable.

Many QSL managers still sell current IRC's and this s the most cost effective way that hams should purchase them.

As your article correctly reports, the OQRS & PayPal has largely eliminated the need for IRCs today. but there are still some hams that prefer to ask for IRCs, so for the time they will still be needed, but i wonder how long for?

Tim Beaumont M0URX
United Radio QSL Bureau
www.M0URX.com
 
The War Against The IRC  
by AA7LX on December 18, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
I checked with the U.S. Post Office and they finally suggested that I buy an International Money Order. They weren't interested at all in discussing IRC's and the USPS Clerk couldn't care less about the fact that First Class Postage rates are generally unknown by us here in the U.S. without checking that country's first class rate for the amount of the Money Order to send.
 
The War Against The IRC  
by YO3AAS on December 23, 2015 Mail this to a friend!
I use the services of the same Post Office for the last 20 something years, so I know the staff by their first name! Also, over the time, I had to learn the postal legislation (national and international) in order to protect my interests againts the clumziness or lazyness of the undertrained employees (some of them, not all). Now I know how to deal with them, I know my rights and they can't play me around with stories like I heard on this topic!
One funny story: I walked into a post office (not the usual one) and asked for IRCs...you can imagine the demeanor of the employee who replyed that there is no such thing; and next I pointed out a xerox copy of an IRC posted on the wall next to her desk! Of course, I asked to speak with the manager...
 
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