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Christmas is on the horizon, and with it comes an infinite number of deliveries arriving on door steps across the UK on a daily basis from now until sometime after the January sales have subsided.

With this influx of deliveries comes the mild inconvenience of returning home to find a handful of little red slips informing us of our absence when the Royal Mail man attempted to deliver the package, inconvenient because the collection depot is always 3 miles away and only open between 12pm – 2pm every second Wednesday.

Every now and again you may get a knock on your door from the delivery driver asking if you would be kind enough to sign for a package on your neighbour’s behalf, you decide to be a good Samaritan, save them an arduous round trip and take it, it’s the season of goodwill after all.

However, despite your helpful intentions, you may be inadvertently signing away your neighbour’s consumer rights…

It is important to mention that when you order something from a retailer, your agreement is with the retailer and not with the third party courier used during the delivery process. So if things go wrong, it’s usually up to the retailer rather than the delivery firm to rectify the issue.

What if the goods are damaged?

Your neighbour signs for your package and you head over to collect it, you return to your house and open it up only to find the contents are damaged, you return to your neighbour to check if they were responsible for the damage. Assuming they are in fact innocent in the matter (didn’t drop it from a great height/their family pet didn’t destroy it) they explain to you they have no idea and all they did was sign for it and leave it in their hallway and that it must have been damaged in transit.

The seller will argue that the item is their responsibility up to the point that it is signed for. If no issue with the item is raised at that point, how can one prove that the goods were damaged in transit and not by the neighbour?

The next step depends on whether or not you gave the retailer permission for your neighbour to sign for the delivery on your behalf…

If it was signed for with permission…

Retailers and couriers may argue that whoever signs for an item is signing to say all is in order and undamaged, so if your neighbour signs for it on your behalf and you nominated that particular neighbour to receive deliveries in your absence, as far as the seller is concerned, them signing for the package is no different to you signing for it yourself and may refuse to replace/refund the damaged item.

However, you or your neighbour simply signing to confirm the parcel was in good condition isn’t the be all and end all, you still have legal rights and should pursue a complaint for a replacement.

Signed for without permission

If the package turns out to be damaged and the delivery driver has asked your neighbour to sign for it without your permission, the argument is that by not delivering the package to your address the seller is in breach of contract and the package should be considered undelivered, meaning it is still the responsibility of the seller or courier.

What if the goods were purchased online?

If the goods were bought online, they will be covered under the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2014 (with certain notable exemptions) and able to return them within 14 days, regardless of who signed for them.

What if your neighbour denies ever signing for it?

This scenario is less common and certainly once you’d hope not to be faced with this Christmas. In an ideal world all neighbours would be friendly, familiar and trustworthy however this isn’t always the case.

If the seller/courier tells you your neighbour signed for the parcel but they are denying ever receiving the package, it will again come down to whether you gave instructions for the package to be left with them. If you did, then the seller may try to say they are no longer responsible, but if no permission was given to deliver to the neighbour no matter if they deny signing for the delivery or not, the retailer is obligated to send you a new item.

It may be your first thought to get the police involved, but the law is clear on this point, if you never gave permission for your delivery to be signed for by the specific neighbour then you are entitled to a replacement from the retailer.

Taking a parcel on behalf of your neighbour (and vice versa) is a nice, helpful gesture. Just bear in the potential liability before doing so. It’s a good idea to ask the delivery driver if he has your neighbour’s permission to let you sign for it, and if the package looks damaged, you can refuse to take it.

If you feel you have a consumer dispute and you would like more information on how to proceed, contact one of our specialist consumer rights lawyers today on 0343 507 5151, e-mail disputeresolutionteam@gorvins.com, or fill in the online form and one of our consumer dispute solicitors will call you straight back.

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