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Lost, found and uncollected goods

This advice applies to Scotland

This item explains rights in relation to goods when they are lost, found or uncollected.

Uncollected or abandoned goods

A person may leave their goods with someone else and it might seem as if they have abandoned them. Examples include:

  • unsolicited goods sent through the post.

If you want to dispose of uncollected or abandoned goods, you have the right to do this provided you follow a set procedure which involves trying to contact the trader first. If you don’t manage to contact the trader/owner of the goods they have five years within which they can take legal action to recover the goods. In practice this is only likely to happen if the goods are valuable.

Taking care of goods left behind  

While you are in possession of goods belonging to another person, you could be liable for loss, theft or damage to these goods. This liability arises only if you are been negligent, that is, if you haven’t taken reasonable care of them. The amount of care required depends on whether or not there is a binding contract between you and the owner of the goods.

If there is a contract

If there is a contract, the degree of care required is that which is considered reasonable. The person looking after the goods should therefore take sufficient care to ensure that the goods do not get lost, damaged or stolen.

The person looking after the goods should be responsible if something that could have been foreseen damages or loses the goods and reasonable safeguards were not taken. The owner of the goods could ask for compensation.

If there is no contract

If there is no contract, the person looking after the goods is still obliged to look after them as if they were her/his own. This means the standard of care is lower than if there had been a contract.

For example: Ben lends Joanna, a friend, his computer. It is stolen by burglars who break into Joanna's flat. Joanna does not have to compensate Ben unless he made it a condition of the loan that she take full responsibility for any loss. She might be able to make a claim for it against her insurance.

Goods someone has left with other people or traders

If you leave goods or possessions with another person, that other person has a duty to take reasonable care of them. This might arise, for example:

  • when goods have been left for repair or servicing, for example, a car in a garage or a radio in a shop or clothes at a dry cleaners
  • when goods have been left for safekeeping, for example, a coat in a cloakroom
  • when personal possessions have been left in a place of employment.

Liability for loss, theft or damage to goods left, arises only where the person looking after them has been negligent, that is, has not taken reasonable care of them. The amount of care required depends on whether or not there is a binding contract that contains terms setting out the level of care.

An employer may argue that s/he has no obligation to take care of an employee's possessions, unless s/he provides specific facilities for doing so.

As a general rule if a person who agrees to take responsibility for the goods of others can show that s/he has taken reasonable care of them, s/he will not be held liable for their being lost, stolen or damaged.

If there is a contract

If there is a contract, the degree of care required is that which is reasonable. A trader would not be responsible when all reasonable precautions had been taken, for example, if s/he had been on duty in the cloakroom and goods still got damaged.

The person looking after the goods would be responsible if something happens to damage or lose the goods that could have been foreseen and reasonable safeguards were not taken.

It is common for a trader looking after goods not to insure her/himself against loss, damage or theft. However, s/he is still responsible for the goods and must compensate the client if s/he has not taken reasonable care of them.

If there is no contract

If there is no contract, the person looking after the goods is still obliged to look after them as if they were her/his own. The standard of care is lower than if there had been a contract.

A trader refuses to return goods

A trader may refuse to return goods, for example, when you have left them for repair and a dispute arises over price but you refuse to pay the final bill or pay it in full. You must check what was agreed in the contract about the cost of the repair. You can complain if you are not happy with the service. There are special rules about car repairs.

You fail to collect goods you left with a trader

When you have a contract with the trader (even a small ticket can be a contract if it explains any terms) it should tell you what will happen and when it will happen if you don’t collect the goods. This notice or contract has to be reasonable and you must be given a ‘reasonable time’ to collect the goods before they are disposed of.

If there is nothing written down to form a contract between you and the trader then they would still be expected to make reasonable efforts to trace you. You should be told by the trader that the goods need to be collected and what will happen and when if you don’t collect them.

When you fail to collect the goods, after being informed that you have to, the trader can deal with them as if they have been abandoned. This means that the trader can let the police know the goods have been abandoned. The trader may be told to deliver the goods to the rightful owner or the police may get in touch with you to collect your goods.

The police have a responsibility to uplift abandoned goods and keep them for 2 months. If no one gets in touch with the police during this time, at the end of 2 months, they can:

  • return the goods to the finder (i.e. the trader who reported that they had been abandoned)
  • dispose of them at a sale.

If returned by the police to the finder the goods now belong to the finder. If the original owner comes to collect the goods within a year of abandoning them they still have to be returned to the original owner.

Unsolicited goods

Unsolicited goods are goods which a trader sends to a client without the client having ordered them. The client does not have to pay for them or send them back. It is a criminal offence for the trader to demand payment for unsolicited goods. Supplying products not ordered may also be an example of an unfair commercial practice.

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