Problems with the post and lost mail

You've waited ages for a parcel, but what do you do if it arrives in pieces or doesn't turn up at all?

hands holding stamps

Erm, you probably don't need all those stamps...

Lost mail

So how can you make sure you don’t end up with lost mail and that it reaches its destination? And what are your rights if things go missing between the postbox and the letterbox?

The most reliable way to make sure your items reach their destination is by sending them by recorded post or special delivery. Both require a signature from the recipient, so you know your expensive eBay purchase won’t be left to soak through on a wet doorstep. Special Delivery, meanwhile, delivers next-day with added compensation if your mail doesn’t arrive – offering up to £50 for the 9am service, and £500 for packages if you choose delivery by the next day at 1pm.

Compensation for lost mail

What you might not know is that you can even get compensation for lost mail sent by conventional first or second class delivery. If you’re worried something you’ve sent has gone missing, you should:

  • Wait 15 working days – before that amount of time has elapsed, the post office won’t acknowledge your mail as lost.
  • Fill in a claim form, which is available at the counter at all post offices, or online at Royal Mail’s website.

Royal Mail will request ‘Basic Evidence’, but beware – a simple receipt won’t fit the bill. “Evidence of posting for ordinary first and second class items can be obtained from all post office counters in the form of a free certificate of posting,” says a Royal Mail spokesperson. “These can be used for a single item or for multiple postings. Once completed, the items should be handed to the counter clerk who will stamp and verify the certificate of posting.”

Claiming for posted item value

As well as claiming for postage costs, you can also claim for the value of an item, so long as you’ve still got the receipt or “any documentation that can reasonably provide proof of purchase or value” – which includes:

  • Credit card statements
  • PayPal printouts
  • Anything similar

The top end of compensation is the equivalent of 100 first class stamps at the first weight step – currently about £46 – so if you’re sending something precious, don’t scrimp on the insurance.

Damaged mail

What about if your package arrived, but it took a knock or two along the way? If your mail arrives damaged, you should:

  • Keep the damaged item and packaging intact – you’ll need to send them to the Royal Mail for assessment
  • You’ll also need basic evidence of postage, as described above

Compensation for damaged letters or parcels is similar to the process for lost mail. Before you make a claim, though, try to assess if the damage is meaningful. Royal Mail states that compensation depends on items in a postal packet suffering “a degree of harm that reasonably impairs the material function or contents of the item, solely as a result of its transmission through the post,” – so you may struggle to persuade them of the importance of a cracked PS5 disc case.

The claim must be made within 12 months of the date of posting, and the claim itself can be made by the sender or the recipient – although only one will be paid compensation.

Find out more about compensation for damaged post here.

Post office delays

Surprisingly, it’s even possible to claim compensation for mail that didn’t arrive on time. With basic evidence of postage, you can claim the cost of six first class stamps if your first or second class post arrives three or more working days after the due date.

If you’ve posted something by special delivery, meanwhile, you get a full refund if the item arrives after the promised time due to post office delays, with added compensation if the item is delivered more than 24 hours late. Learn more here on the Royal Mail website.

How to complain

Think the Royal Mail have given you a raw deal? The first step is to lodge a complaint with them directly by calling their customer services on 03457 740 740 or lodging a complaint on the website.

If you’re not satisfied with the handling of your complaint, you can take it up with the Independent Postal Redress Scheme – their details are available on request from Royal Mail, but you will have to go through the complaints procedure first. For more information about complaining about any postal service, visit the Ofcom website.

Next Steps


money rights

By Holly Turner

Updated on 30-Jun-2021

Photo of stamps by volunteer photographer by Rebecca Hancock