By Claire West

Royal Mail has recruited almost 20,000 people to help handle its festive mailbag of around two billion items, it revealed yesterday.

The recruits will work in mail and distribution centres across the UK helping to sort Christmas cards and packets before they go to more than 1,400 delivery offices for postmen and women to take out on their rounds.

More than 70,000 people applied to work with Royal Mail over the Christmas period. Royal Mail's Head of Resourcing, Maurice Harbottle, said: "We have seen a phenomenal response from people keen to earn extra money over the festive season and help Royal Mail deliver a great Christmas for its customers."

He added: "We are delighted with the number and quality of the applications and, as well as some new temporary recruits, many of the people we will be using are regulars who support our operation Christmas after Christmas."

Royal Mail expects to handle around 750 million Christmas cards this year as well as 165 million items ordered online - an increase of ten million on last year.