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How to deal with wrongly delivered post

28 September 2016 ( 30 March 2020 )

What should you do if you receive post that isn’t meant for you? Read our essential tips:

A woman signs for wrongly delivered post

It’s happened to us all. You’re sifting through the day’s post at the kitchen table when you come across a letter that isn’t for you. Receiving someone else’s post is at best mildly annoying but could, at worst, signify the start of an identity theft scam.

Of course, the chances are that it has been posted through your door or letter box as a result of human error, so what should you do in the event that someone has simply made an innocent mistake? The answer depends on the specifics of the situation.

Post that's delivered to the right address but that person doesn’t live there now

This generally happens when someone has moved and either hasn’t bothered to redirect their post or the redirection has expired. In this case, the course of action is simple and straightforward.

If you know their new address:

* First cross out the address but not the name.

* Write “No longer living at this address, please forward to” and then write in the person’s new address

* Finally, pop it in the nearest post box and Royal Mail will redeliver it to the new address at no extra cost.

If you don’t know their new address.

Then the process is equally straightforward.

* Cross out the address but not the name.

* Write “Not known at this address, please return to sender.

* Pop it in the post box for Royal Mail to deal with.

If there is a return address on the outside of the item Royal Mail will redeliver it to the sender free of charge. But if there is no return address visible they won’t be able to do this, and the item will be sent to the National Returns Centre in Belfast where the staff will open the package to try and establish the sender’s address.

If they can’t find out who sent it they will hold it for up to four months to allow time for the sender to query whether they are holding it. After that time the letter or package is almost certainly lost forever, which demonstrates why it is so important to put a return address on everything - preferably on the outside!

A letter or parcel delivered to the right address but the person never lived there

This generally happens because of human error on the part of the sender, or because that person lived there so long ago that you have never heard of them before.

Royal Mail, along with almost every other courier, deliver letters and parcels to an address rather than to a person, so they won’t take any action other than to deliver it even if they know you well and know very well that no one of that name lives with you.

Of course, post delivered under these circumstances might also signify the start of an identity theft scam. But don’t panic if this is the first letter or parcel that you’ve received with a name that you haven’t heard of. I would simply:

* Cross out the address but not the person’s name.

* Write “Not known at this address, please return to sender".

* Pop it in the post box or hand it over to the staff at the nearest Post Office and let Royal Mail return it to the sender.

Tips to help you know your consumer rights if your deliveries and purchases fail to arrive on time

Post with the right address but delivered to your house by mistake

This happens when the postie makes a mistake. All you need to do is to write ‘Misdelivered’ on the front, pop it back in the nearest post box and Royal Mail will deliver it to the correct address.

I’ve received a card saying that a parcel is being held for my address, but in someone else’s name

You might come home and find a card on the doormat telling you that the postman or woman has tried to deliver a parcel to your address but you weren’t in.

If the parcel isn’t intended for you then you don’t need to do anything; Royal Mail advises you to simply ignore the card and they (or the courier company) will automatically return the parcel to the sender after the retention period has expired.

Can’t I just throw the letter in the bin if it isn’t for me?

No, you can’t. In this case you might fall foul of the Postal Services Act 2000, which states that:

(1) A person commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, he - 

(a) intentionally delays or opens a postal packet in the course of its transmission by post.

So, if you throw a letter in the bin you might be committing an offence. If you are found guilty you could face a fine of up to £5,000 or even spend up to six months in jail. Throwing letters away is also morally questionable as well as illegal, so please do the right thing; after all, it won’t take you very long!

Can you keep goods delivered to you by mistake?

No, you can't. If it wasn't addressed to you, then even if it's delivered to your home, you're morally obliged to do your best to get it to the correct person, or at the very least, send it back from whence it came. Essentially, think about what you'd like someone else to do if they accidentally received your post, and do that.

Many households all over Britain from time to time receive goods they didn’t order in the post. The conundrum presents itself – what do you do? Can you keep them?

There are some specific rules worth following so you don’t end up in hot water.

Ordering goods on ebay? Read our scam guide

What are unsolicited goods?

Items that firms send to you, but you didn't actually order are called "unsolicited goods". You're well within your rights to keep them.

The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 state that you have a right to keep goods delivered to you that you didn’t ask for.

You have no obligation to send them back to the company or to pay for them. If you receive a demand for payment for unsolicited goods or services, you can ignore it – it’s a criminal offence.

If you would prefer to make some effort to give back the goods, you could write to the company and offer to return them.

Citizens Advice suggests writing a letter which includes specific wording to make reference to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

Your letter should be dated, and should first specify what you received, and when.

So for example, On 23/01/20 I received from you: A large ceramic plant pot 24" diameter.

Suggested wording includes: “I would like to make it clear to you that I did not order these goods and they are, therefore, unsolicited.

“I will make the goods available for you to collect at your expense in the next 14 days, but after this time I will treat the goods as my own.

“Please contact me to arrange collection.

What if it the delivery was sent by mistake?

It’s a different story altogether if items are sent to you by mistake. That is, if the order wasn't meant for you, if it was sent to you twice, or if there's extra stuff on top of what you ordered.

In all these scenarios, they are not classed as unsolicited goods, they still belong to the trader and you should try to give them back. 

Firms can take you to court to recover their goods, if you were to resist.

You will need to contact whoever sent the goods and ask them to collect them. This shouldn't cost you anything or inconvenience you in any way. You should also give the company a reasonable deadline to collect the items, of say, 14 days.

Make sure you keep written evidence of your contact with the supplier.

Bought fake goods? Find out what you can do

What if I have been sent something different from the item I ordered?

Substitute goods are not unsolicited goods. For example, where you're sent something else because what you ordered is out of stock or no longer available. You do not have to accept a substitute and the trader can only send you a substitute if you agree to it. 

If you do not want the substitute when it arrives, you can get a refund but you must also be prepared to return the goods.

If you are in doubt, you can ask  your local Citizens Advice.

Receiving unsolicited goods is sometimes an indication that your identity has been stolen by fraudsters that were hoping to intercept the package before you received it. Checking your bank statements and credit report can help you to identify identity fraud.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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