If you accept a neighbour’s parcel, could you be signing away their consumer rights and exposing yourself to litigation? ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks MILT, discusses if neighbours really should be there for one another.
As home shopping soars by 19% many of us find ourselves taking in neighbour’s parcels. But could being good Samaritans harm our neighbour’s chances of a refund on damaged goods; and could we find ourselves exposed to prosecution if things go wrong? Signing for someone else’s parcels might be a deal you’d not bargained for…
There’s little more annoying than getting a card saying you missed your delivery and you’ll have to travel miles to a depot that shuts at midday to pick up your parcel.
To avoid the hassle many of us sending parcels give delivery instructions to the courier stating that the item can be delivered to a designated neighbour if the receiver is not home. And, using the Royal Mail’s Delivery to Neighbour scheme, people can also nominate a chosen neighbour they want their post delivered to if they are unable to accept the delivery themselves.
So, it’s great that kindly neighbours sign for our parcels, right? Not necessarily… It could potentially damage your chances of compensation if there’s a claim needed; and put well-meaning neighbours in danger of being sued if something goes wrong while the parcel is in their care.
Sellers will argue that goods are their responsibility while they are in transit until signed for by the receiver. Ideally, therefore, we should always check parcels before signing to ensure the contents are intact. Because at this point, the shipper will claim responsibility for the delivery transfers from the seller and their courier to the customer.
In practice, we don’t always have the time to check the contents of every package; and with hundreds of deliveries to make in one day, couriers have only a small amount of time for each one. But, if the package looks in any way damaged, it really is best to look inside and refuse acceptance, or at the very least write ‘arrived damaged’ when you accept. Best practice is to take a photo of the damaged package and contents before refusing it.
But don’t forget that, even if you have signed for an item, you haven’t waved away all your consumer rights. The retailer can’t get you to waive your legal rights in this way. It may make any claim smoother to highlight a damaged package at the time; but it is not a legal necessity.
Conversely, signing for a parcel but writing ‘unchecked’ has little legal significance either – even if you can manage to write this on the tablets used for signatures; I can’t even write my own signature on them! But in fact, it will help smooth the process with the seller’s or courier’s claims manager if there is a problem.
Writing ‘damaged’ at the time of delivery will certainly help your case should you have used a parcel broker. Insurers will look for proof that the damage occurred prior to delivery taking place, and the best way to prove this is to make sure you inspect the goods prior to delivery and sign for them as damaged.
That’s the situation when we sign for our own parcels…
Love Thy Neighbour
What happens if a neighbour signs for the parcel on your behalf – and something is wrong?
In theory, retailers and couriers will argue that whoever signs for an item is signing to say all is in order and undamaged, so if someone else signs on your behalf, you might find yourself in difficulties…
This is particularly the case if your obliging neighbour has agreed to be named as a nominated neighbour to receive parcels. If you give instructions for your parcel to be left with a specific neighbour and the parcel is delivered to them, the seller and/or courier will argue it is not responsible if something goes wrong once the item is accepted – just as if you took delivery yourself. In this case if the seller is reluctant to replace a damaged item you might want to seek advice.
The shoe is on the other foot, however, if the courier has left an item with a neighbour without your permission. Even if signed for, you can argue that the contract said the goods were to be delivered to the address specified, and that by leaving them at a different address the company is in breach of contract. If a courier has given your parcel to a neighbour without instructions by you to do so, it could be considered as still undelivered, and the responsibility of the seller or courier.
For example, one recent case saw a lady on holiday in Spain buy an attractive dinner service. She carefully wrapped each item and sent it to her home in the UK using a courier she booked directly, rather than through a parcel broker. Inevitably, when the parcels were delivered the lady was not at home, so the driver asked her next-door neighbour if he would sign for them – though no instructions to deliver to this neighbour had been given.
When the buyer opened the boxes, she was horrified to find that out of 110 pieces in the set, 64 of them where broken. Of the three boxes, everything in one was broken. This was even though all the boxes where labelled Fragile in English and Spanish (frágil) in big letters.
Because the neighbour had signed for the items the courier claimed the packages had been signed for – albeit by a neighbour – as received in good condition. Even though the neighbour did not know what was inside, and therefore did not know the contents might be broken.
This story does have a smashing ending. The courier did in the end pay for the damaged service.
A word to the wise before we move on. Marking your package as ‘Fragile’ and expecting it to be handled with kid gloves is no guarantee of safe delivery. It’s in the nature of international deliveries that your parcel will inevitably be handled at multiple depots; loaded into vans and trucks, packed into aircraft, and placed onto busy conveyor belts. Packaging items as securely as possible is far more likely to ensure its safe arrival than a ‘Handle with Care’ label.
If a parcel has arrived damaged – whether at your neighbours or your own house – always be aware of the finer points of T&Cs. Some couriers will seek to claim that if a damaged shipment is moved from the delivery address (which could be defined as your neighbour) or removed from its packaging, it is no longer the carrier’s responsibility as it could have been damaged at this point.
And one more thing to keep in mind if you need to make a claim – whether your neighbour or you signed for the parcel. Ensure you follow the seller’s or courier’s claims procedure. They may well require images of the damaged goods and the packaging. Provide clear images of external and internal packaging showing all dents or tears. Don’t forget to show any damage to the items as well! In some cases, the carrier may need to do a physical damage inspection, so again please keep items in their original packaging – and ensure if possible your neighbour doesn’t remove the goods before they hand them over to you!
Know your rights!
If your delivery is of goods you bought online then you will probably be able to return them within 14 days, under the Consumer Contracts Regulations. Your right to cancel an order for goods starts the moment you place your order and ends 14 days from the day you receive your goods. You don’t need to have a specific reason for returning items; regardless of whether it was you or a neighbour who signed for the items.
The vast majority of new online purchases are covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations, which were introduced in 2014. The only significant exceptions are CDs, DVDs or software (if you’ve broken the seal), jewellery for piercings, perishable items and tailor-made or personalised items.
Note that these rules are more generous than if you had purchased an item in a shop, in which case the order would fall under the Consumer Rights Act.
Things are reasonably clear around responsibility when items are in transit; but what happens if the parcel is damaged or goes missing after your neighbour has signed for it?
Earlier this year an elderly gent signed for a neighbour’s delivery of dresses. He later went out and while he was out this kindly neighbour was burgled. One of the items stolen was, of course, the enticing package sat helpfully by the door.
In this case the seller argued it had been delivered, and that responsibility lay with the person who was looking after the parcel. However, the gent’s insurance argued the dresses were not his property and so not covered by his home contents insurance.
The final agreement has not been revealed; but the expert advice is that if the buyer agreed with the retailer that the item could be delivered to the neighbour, then it would be the buyer’s loss.
If the buyer did not agree that the retailer could deliver the item to their neighbour then it would be the retailer’s loss.
But could the neighbour really be held responsible too? The seller in this case tried to argue that the neighbour failed in their duty of care, because they signed for the parcel but then failed to keep it entirely secure. You know the saying: no good deed goes unpunished!
But experts say that, in law, looking after someone’s property for them is known as a “bailment”. When you accept a bailment, you are under a duty to take reasonable care of the property. But the risk of loss or damage to the property stays with the owner.
Providing the neighbour didn’t leave their door wide open it seems unlikely it could be proved they had failed to take reasonable care.
The Fine Print
What happens if there is no retailer involved? It could well be that in this case the carrier is responsible. Here we get into an interesting debate between Royal Mail and its former watchdog, Consumer Focus.
Following introduction of its Delivery to Neighbour/Nominate a Neighbour scheme Royal Mail says: ‘If any items are delivered to a neighbour and are subsequently lost or damaged, you as a consumer will still be able to make a compensation claim in the normal way. All claims will be investigated and assessed under the normal processes and in line with the terms and conditions of the service used.’
That’s not exactly a guarantee of a refund.
Consumer Focus noted: ‘Items delivered to a neighbour which are damaged by a neighbour are unlikely to be covered by the existing compensation provisions and a new section needs to be drafted to reflect the liability of Royal Mail in these circumstances. Consumer Focus is of the view that the provisions in the new scheme must reflect unambiguously that liability to pay compensation for lost and/or damaged items remains with Royal Mail notwithstanding that the item is delivered to a neighbour. We suggest that the compensation provisions are amended to make it clear that liability in these circumstances lies with Royal Mail. This should be expressly stated for the avoidance of doubt and so that it is clear to consumers when referring to the scheme that this is the stated intention.’
Royal Mail did not budge on its ambiguous statement however. And sellers are in an even stronger position to refuse responsibility. Which warns: ‘Be aware that if you give permission for your parcel to be left with a specific neighbour and the parcel goes missing after it has been delivered, the retailer is not responsible.’
Can shippers block neighbour deliveries?
As we’ve seen, the whole issue of delivering to neighbours is a vexed one. Can senders make sure that it isn’t even an option, to avoid the grey areas surrounding such disputes?
If you are using a courier you can indeed stipulate not to leave the parcel with neighbours in the delivery instructions. Don’t forget, though, that most couriers will only perform three delivery attempts. Otherwise it’s a visit to a depot or drop off point for the receiver.
If you are using Royal Mail the situation gets more complex: Says Royal Mail: ‘Senders of mail are not able to opt out and request that their items are delivered to the intended recipient only. If the recipient is not at home for Royal Mail Signed For, or for packages that are too large for the letterbox, then these items will be delivered to their neighbour, unless the recipient or neighbour has opted out of Delivery to Neighbour.’
The only get-around for this is using the more expensive Royal Mail Special Delivery Guaranteed service, via Do Not Redirect.
Can neighbours opt out?
The pages of mumsnet etc are filled with complaints from people who have taken in large items for neighbours who then take days getting around to coming and collecting their packages. Add to this the threat of legal responsibility and it’s likely quite a few of us will be politely turning away couriers in the future. You are, of course, fully within your rights to refuse delivery of any parcel a driver tries to talk you into accepting for a neighbour.
But remember, what goes around, comes around; this makes it less likely that a neighbour will accept a package for you. And if they do, you are going to have to swallow a big piece of humble pie…
It is also possible to opt out of the Royal Mail’s Delivery to Neighbour scheme. If you have opted out of the scheme you will need to display a sticker in your window that says you don’t accept neighbours’ mail, and that also means your neighbours won’t be given your mail.
Again, though, that sticker in your window might not make you the most popular person in your street – and it is not possible to opt out without displaying the sticker prominently.
Get paid for accepting parcels!
But what if there was actually something to gain by taking in your neighbour’s deliveries? That could change a lot of peoples’ minds about signing for others’ parcels. Before its recent restructure Doddle, the parcel pick-up company originally based around railway station units, launched Doddle Neighbour in February 2016. Residents could opt for their homes to become pick-up points, in return for payment! People only need to go as far as a neighbour’s house to collect their parcels.
Neighbours could make 50p per parcel. For 20 hours’ availability per week handling lots of eBay parcels, this could add up to £6,000-7,000 a year, argued Doddle. The company trialled the service in Bromley, Haywards Heath, Epsom, Paddington, Richmond, Kingston, Ealing, Wimbledon and Surbiton. The service still remains on Doddle’s site, though the option to sign up to becoming a Doddle Neighbour has disappeared.
It remains an interesting idea; and one that we hope may get delivered on in a larger scale before long!
Not so nice neighbours?
Finally, we’ve looked at kindly neighbours welcoming parcels into their home, and not minding when you call round for them. What happens if, instead, your neighbour is far less saintly and flatly denies they ever received and signed for a parcel on your behalf – even though the courier has a signature?
In this case the answer is quite clear cut, providing no permission was given to deliver to this particular neighbour. No matter if the naughty neighbour who signed for the delivery flatly denies ever doing so, or claims they later left it on your doormat, the retailer must send you a new item.
Though the law is quite clear on this point, you might still need to stick to your guns to ensure compensation. In one recent case, when a less than perfect neighbour denied flatly taking in a parcel of beauty products, a Boots’ customer service representative recommended that the buyer should get the police involved! It’s not the first time this advice has been given by retailers, and it’s guaranteed to make relations with tricky neighbours even worse.
As mentioned, the law is firm on this point, if you didn’t agree to the parcel being to a specific neighbour and they deny having it, the retailer must send you a new item. In the end that is what the retail pharmacy chain in the example above did, ensuring the replacements arrived just in time for Christmas!
‘Neighbours should be there for one another’, to quote a well-known theme, but over the issue of parcel deliveries even good neighbours can fall out. If you value the fact your own neighbour signs for an occasional parcel for you, you may want to reciprocate; but remember that if you do, it is best to ensure, at the very least, that the package doesn’t look damaged before you sign for it; that you make a note if it is (even though this is not legally binding for the seller, it could still help any claim) and that you put the parcel in a safe place until they arrive to collect it. That way good neighbours become good friends.