Paper post is standing firm against the rise of email, according to a report carried out at the University of Surrey.

This is no great surprise as the report was sponsored by the Royal Mail. But it does show some of the fundamental differences between the two forms of mail, and how we use them.

Email is used far more for office duties than for tasks performed at home.

“People use information differently at home,” said Dr Richard Harper, director of the Digital World Research Centre (DWRC) which compiled the report. “Letters and bills are left lying around to be bumped into by everyone. But emails are essentially private.”

Sorting mail for people's attention is the other major difference between letters and emails.

“Women skim and sort letters, then actively position them where their husband will see them,” said Harper. He says this is a task almost impossible with email.

But ISP BTinternet disagrees. “Email services are improving all the time,” said a BTinternet spokesperson. “Sorting email will soon be possible.”

British Gas has recently launched a facility on its BG website where customers can manage their accounts online. They receive bills via email, but people still want a hard copy.

“At our customers' request we are currently backing up the system with paper bills as well,” said a BG spokesperson. Once customers get used to the service, paper billing may end. British Telecom offers a similar service which it also backs up with paper mail.

“Email would have to become far more accessible in the home [before it poses a suitable alternative],” said Harper. At the moment Harper says email needs a paper backup.

“Email will never completely take over from post. You can’t email a package,” said a BTinternet spokesperson.