Reader’s letter

I ordered a personalised print from a small seller online for my friend’s wedding gift and asked for it to be delivered to my home address. I was away for a couple of days when the delivery company messaged to say the parcel had been delivered – I live in a small building of three flats so assumed one of my neighbours had taken delivery of it.

But when I got home the parcel was nowhere to be found. I contacted the seller, who showed me a delivery confirmation with a photo of the parcel left outside of the front door. I live in central London and never request that deliveries are left outside of the house or in a “safe space” because there are none — more often than not parcels that are left outside are stolen by opportunist thieves passing by. I assume that is what has happened in this case.

I asked the seller if they could raise a case for a refund with the delivery company and in the meantime send out a replacement print. This time I gave my friend’s address to avoid a repeat of the same delivery issue.

But the seller said because the delivery company had marked the parcel as delivered, there was no option for her to raise a complaint on her account with the company. She said instead that I would need to make a compensation claim directly with the delivery company and order a new print and pay again if I wanted a replacement. This has left a bad taste in my mouth — the seller chose the delivery company and I don’t feel it should be up to me to chase them when the delivery has gone wrong. I know from experience these things are never straight forward. I will not be ordering a replacement print because, the way I see it, the seller will have received double payment and I risk being out of pocket if my compensation claim against the delivery company is unsuccessful. Am I in the right here?

Katherine, London 

You can always tell how ubiquitous a certain type of complaint is by asking friends and family members if they have experienced a similar problem. So I can say with considerable confidence that almost everyone you speak to will have experienced an issue with a rubbish package delivery company.

Package delivery complaints are endemic. Citizens Advice provides an annual league table on the performance of package delivery companies. Last year not one courier scored higher that 2.75 out of 5 – an abysmal result. Almost half of all customers reported problems with trying to sort out a dispute too.

As a consequence of the appalling state of the industry, businesses sending goods by post need to keep a tight rein on their couriers, so problems like this don’t happen. The good news is the law is on your side… when buying from a business. If the individual is a private citizen, then things get a little more complicated.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, the retailer is responsible for getting the goods to you intact and in your hands. That means they are responsible for refunding you if there’s a delivery failure or alternatively, arranging for a replacement delivery. This isn’t up for debate – you should be refunded. The only exception to this is if you’ve specified that the parcel should be left somewhere specifically, like outside your front door or with a neighbour.

So just to be crystal clear, this means you are entitled to a full refund if you parcel is:

  • Left somewhere you haven’t authorised.
  • Left in a communal or unsecured area
  • Left with an unauthorised neighbour.
  • Left outside a door (then pinched).
  • Broken or damaged. This doesn’t have to be when the delivery person is there (as long as you don’t leave it too late to open it)

A photograph of a parcel outside a door does not represent proof of delivery. It just means a parcel has been left there. I have lost many a parcel to light fingered people passing through the foyer of my building when certain businesses hire couriers that just dump them all just inside the front door. So push back and demand a refund.

With independent sellers, things are a bit more complicated. Many individuals and sole traders sell their wares through ‘online marketplaces’. These are sites like Etsy or Vinted where the website doesn’t produce the goods: it brings buyers and sellers together. These sites have ‘buyer/seller dispute resolution schemes’ which should look at your complaint fairly and impartially for free. These schemes are something of a mixed bag, but they are free and in cases like this they invariably tell the seller to pay out.

However, if this is a direct transaction between you and an individual then the rules aren’t as clearly defined. The law says that goods bought from a private seller must be ‘as they were described.’ In theory this includes getting the goods to you as promised too as this is the contract you have entered in to with the seller. But in the event of a dispute you’d have to threaten to take the seller to the small claims court.

I think the seller is being somewhat duplicitous here. When you contract a courier company then you are the one with the contract. So the seller certainly can take the matter up with the courier as they are the ones who have contracted them to deliver the item to you. As I said, unless you asked for the parcel to be left outside your door, then the courier has not honoured it’s part of the contract. And the seller hasn’t honoured theircontract with you too. So in this set of circumstances, the seller has to deal with the courier – and because they also haven’t delivered what they promised when you purchased the goods, they should refund you as soon as possible.

If you still aren’t getting anywhere, you can ask your card provider to ‘charge back’ the money as you haven’t received the goods. You’ll need to fill out a form explaining what’s occurred so provide proof that you’ve raised a dispute with the seller. Don’t delay though, there’s usually a timescale of 120 days from the pont-of-purchase to do this.

As an aside, package delivery companies are regulated by Ofcom, but for reasons that have never really been addressed, there is no free ombudsman for people to go to in the event of a dispute. This oversight is absolutely unacceptable, given that the industry is riddled with poor service and problems. Many package delivery companies are clearly flaunting Ofcom’s rules by failing to have phone lines for complaints, and by resolving disputes satisfactorily. Its time this discrepancy was rectified once and for all.

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