Collection times at thousands of post boxes are to be brought forward under plans that will see mail picked up by delivery staff during their rounds.

Royal Mail said the changes will ensure it is able to maintain its estate of 115,000 post boxes, despite a 33% drop in volumes since 2005.

Between 45,000 and 50,000 of its post boxes will move to the earlier collection time - typically 9am to 3pm - although the company has pledged there will still be a late posting box within half a mile.

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It has also said it will introduce 2,000 new boxes in areas of under-provision, particularly in rural parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Some of the new boxes will also be added in high footfall areas such as train stations and shopping centres.

Around 12,000 postboxes in rural areas are already emptied through collection on delivery, but the majority of those affected by today's changes will be in urban and suburban areas. An indicator tab on the post box will show if the collection has been made.

Royal Mail said the changes will unlock the opportunity for efficiency savings, while adding that many post boxes no longer cover their costs.

It said: "Rather than decommission uneconomic postboxes, while staying within the regulated density requirement, Royal Mail will ensure their viability by improving the efficiency of its collections arrangements."

The company said it has discussed its plans with Citizen's Advice and Consumer Council Northern Ireland and has also notified Ofcom.

The regulator requires that 98% of all households should be within half a mile of a post box. With the addition of around 2,000 new post boxes, the company said it will improve on its current rate of 98.32%.