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What happens to lost letters and packages in the UK?


Letter-writing has boomed during the pandemic. (Picture: Getty)

The UK postal service has been under strain during the pandemic, as stranded loved ones turn to old-fashioned methods of staying in touch.

While the art of letter-writing is thriving, we’ve all had issues with messages getting lost along the way.

Many have wondered exactly where this missing mail ends up, and what we can do to try to get it back – or claim compensation.

So, what happens to lost letters and packages, and what can you do if an item gets stolen?

What happens to lost letters and packages in the UK?

If the Royal Mail isn’t able to deliver a letter to a recipient, the letter will be sent back to the return address.

However, that’s often not specified on the piece of post.

Always include a return address. (Picture: Getty)

If there’s no return address, letters and parcels get sent to the National Return Centre in Belfast.

This secretive depot might hold on to your mail, but that’s not guaranteed – and you can’t contact them directly to find out.

It attempts to return post using a combination of tracking numbers and local knowledge – and about a fifth of the lost items are successfully returned to the sender.

With so many missing missives kept in the office, it’s hard not to wonder whether there are lost love letters or important messages held within its walls.

However, the reality seems to be much more mundane, with representatives from the Northern Irish warehouse saying that it’s rare that valuable items end up in storage.

The centre gets 20 million packages a year. (Picture: Getty)

The centre does apparently get more than 20 million packages a year though, with ‘trinkets’ under £46 auctioned off to fund the centre.

This might seem cheeky, but unlike most other countries, the Royal Mail offers a free return service – if the sender includes that all-important return address.

What to do if your parcel goes missing or gets stolen

When sending parcels, it’s vital you check all the information – the name, address, and postcode – is completely correct. Include the return address on the reverse, too.

For extra clarity for the person delivering your mail, use reliable shipping labels that aren’t easily removable, and plain packaging.

Always use reliable shipping labels. (Picture: Getty)

It’s also recommended that you waterproof the address information by covering it with clear tape.

When sending the parcel or letter, choose an insured option, and ‘signed-for’, or tracked, postage. This means the delivery service will keep you updated on the parcel’s progress, and there’s a chain of locations to investigate if something does go wrong.

If it’s an item you’re receiving, you can request shipping information from a seller before you purchase, although you may have to pay more for the option.

Using a payment service like PayPal can also give you an extra layer of security, as some financial providers and banks have dedicated teams to solve buyer issues on your behalf.

Thieves caught stealing Amazon birthday parcel from doorstep

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Can you get compensation for lost or damaged post?

Royal Mail

The Citizens Advice Bureau advises that if your missing mail was sent by Royal Mail from within the UK, you could be eligible for compensation.

However, you cannot get a payout if any of the below applies:

  • It was posted to somewhere outside the UK
  • It was posted by special delivery and it had to be redirected
  • It was posted using the Tracked 24 or Tracked 48 service.

The amount of money you could potentially claim varies depending on whether an item was damaged or just lost – and you’ll need to compile evidence (and tracking information), too.

This may mean teaming up with the seller, as you’ll require information from them about where the item was sent from.

For more information, head to the Royal Mail Claims Centre website.

You could be eligible for compensation if your mail goes missing. (Picture: Getty)


For parcels sent by Hermes, it’s worth checking the items are not listed in their ‘no compensation’ document before lodging a complaint.

If your parcel contained any of the below, it’s not possible to claim for damage:

  • China
  • Glass items
  • TVs and monitors
  • Laptops
  • Furniture
  • Badly packed items (including two or more items strapped together)
  • Important documents
  • Tickets
  • Perishable goods
  • Jewellery
  • Money, including cash, cheques and credit cards
  • Memorabilia
  • Photographic equipment
  • Musical instruments.

Still think you’re due compensation? If so, you can call their customer service team on 0330 808 5456, or visit their website to log a claim.

Residents left laughing after postman leaves parcel 'under doormat'

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DHL has an even longer list of prohibited items which they will not accept, including live insects, flora, and precious stones or metals. Sellers should avoid using DHL to send these items, but if they do, it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to claim compensation.

The full list can be found in their Claims Policy guide.

It’s important to begin the claims process by contacting the company’s Customer Services team, rather than via the Claims portal directly.

Importantly, claims must be lodged quickly:

  • Within three working days if the goods have been signed for with clear proof of delivery, or
  • Within seven workings days of the due delivery date if the shipment has been lost.

To contact DHL, you can call 02476 937 770 or visit their website.


DPD promises to ‘make the process as painless as possible’ in the event of a claim being made.

Their enquiry system allows you to claim if a parcel is lost, damaged, or there are items missing.

Again, you may have to gather information from the sender of the item to fully complete the evidence process.

DPD promise to ‘make the process as painless as possible’. (Picture: Getty)


To make a claim for a Yodel parcel, you’ll need an account with the company, and the reference number for the sent item.

The Yodal online portal allows you to start the compensation process.

While there is a prohibited item list again, they apparently ‘often make a goodwill gesture for no compensation items’ – so it’s worth a try.


Claiming compensation for a missing item sent through Parcelforce is slightly more complicated.

You’ll need to work out whether the mail was sent through their online booking system, or via a Post Office.

You can submit a claim via their website within the below timescales:

  • 30 days of despatch for all UK services
  • 15 days of despatch for globalexpress
  • 30 days of despatch for irelandexpress and globalpriority
  • 120 days of despatch for globalvalue and HM Forces

While it’s not clear exactly how much compensation you can receive through Parcelforce, delayed parcels can be eligible for a ‘a whole or proportionate refund’.

Claiming compensation for a missing item sent through Parcelforce is slightly more complicated. (Picture: Getty)


At UPS, you can file a claim on a package if it has not been delivered 24 hours after the expected delivery date and time.

Both the sender and the receiver can request compensation for a lost item, but the postage company prefers the person who shipped the item to report damage issues.

To start the claims process at UPS, head to their online support centre.

MORE : Hundreds of ‘lost’ Royal Mail and Hermes parcels are being auctioned off on eBay

MORE : PrettyLittleThing denies claims fleas arrived in customer packages

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