I live in a shared house with other people.

Many other people used to live here before me (I know only a few of them, but not many).

But a lot of mail with their name on is sent here (e.g. from HMRC, grocery stores, ...).

Do I (well, we, the current tenants) have any legal obligation to keep them in a safe place, or I can just put them in the recyclable bin?

  • 1
    As a practical trick: UK mail says to label it "return to sender" and put into the next letterbox. Alternate labels like "No longer lives here" are also possible. Destroying mail is surely illegal, but I'm having difficulties navigating the maze of postal acts and their language. The Act of 1958 spells it out clearly, the current (2000) Act is much more subtle in that regard.
    – Polygnome
    Feb 13, 2021 at 14:33
  • There's a related question here: law.stackexchange.com/questions/3636/…
    – Rick
    Feb 13, 2021 at 15:06
  • I just cross through the address on the front, and either write "GONE AWAY" or "NOT KNOWN" in big letters and put it back in the post. Many business envelopes have an "if undelivered" address on the back, and you could also circle this. Feb 14, 2021 at 11:39

1 Answer 1


The Postal Services Act 2000 does not allow you to delay someone else's post:

Section 84:

84 Interfering with the mail: general.
(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 ...

Section 125(3)(a) defines "transmission by post":

a postal packet shall be taken to be in course of transmission by post from the time of its being delivered to any post office or post office letter box to the time of its being delivered to the addressee ...

In the case of a postal item put through your letterbox, it has not yet been delivered to the addressee, merely to an address.

You have an obligation not to delay the mail, so you can't simply put it in a safe place. You certainly can't cause its destruction (because that delays the mail permanently: it will never be delivered).

The best thing to do is to follow Royal Mail's advice:

If you’ve received mail which has your address, but not your name, this is because we deliver to addresses rather than names. If this does happen, you can put a cross through the address and write 'Not known at this address' or 'No longer lives here' and put it back in a letterbox. Where possible, we’ll return the item to the sender hopefully allowing them to update their records

That way, you have done everything you can not to delay its delivery, and you have alerted the sender that their records need updating.

  • You seem to have to ignored 125(3)(c): "the delivery of a postal packet— (i) at the premises to which it is addressed or redirected, unless they are a post office from which it is to be collected, (ii) to any box or receptacle to which the occupier of those premises has agreed that postal packets addressed to persons at those premises may be delivered, or (iii) to the addressee’s agent or to any other person considered to be authorised to receive the packet, shall be a delivery to the addressee."
    – Ross Ridge
    Feb 13, 2021 at 17:58
  • @RossRidge - (ii) - addressed to persons at those premises clearly does not apply if they have gone away. Feb 14, 2021 at 11:43
  • @MichaelHarvey (i) is what would normally apply "at the premises to which it is addressed or redirected". (ii) only covers cases when the mail box isn't physically located at the address given. In any case, (ii) would also apply to people who have gone way since the letter is still addressed to a person at the address even if the person no longer resides there.
    – Ross Ridge
    Feb 14, 2021 at 16:57
  • I was probably thinking of something related - physical delivery of a notice to the addressee’s home gives rise to a rebuttable presumption of receipt, rebuttable e.g. if they were absent on holiday, and clearly rebuttable if they didn't live there any more. Feb 14, 2021 at 19:15
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    I might be stretching things a little, but it is reasonable to impose a duty on someone to have to actively participate in fixing a 3rd party's postal issues? These may seem like minor things - but what if I don't have a working pen - this is the 21st century after all and maybe my last pen ran dry years ago. Am I required to go and buy one in order to be able to write 'Not known at this address' on the item? Then I'm required go out and find a post box to deposit the item - maybe I'm agoraphobic or simply COVID-cautious. I feel like someone else's misdelivered mail shouldn't be my problem...
    – brhans
    Feb 15, 2021 at 3:43

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