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Mail forwarding businesses

The London Local Authorities Act 2007 gives London Boroughs the power to require mail forwarding businesses to register as a consumer protection measure. Previously, there were provisions under the Official Secrets Act 1920 whereby mail forwarding businesses were required to register with the Police and keep records. However this Act was repealed in 2000.

According to readily available information, the legislation is in force in the following London Boroughs as at the date of writing:
* Bexley
* City of London
* City of Westminster
* Kingston upon Thames
* Newham
* Richmond Upon Thames
* Wandsworth
For other boroughs, enquire of the council.

If a Borough Council resolves to adopt the power under the London Local Authorities Act 2007 s.75, the requirement not to carry on a mail forwarding business without registration and the duty to keep records does not apply until four weeks after the “appointed day”. After that period, a person currently carrying on or proposing to carry on a mail forwarding business must register with the Council and keep a record of:

* the full name, address, and telephone number of all persons for whom post is received or who has requested postal packets received to be held or forwarded to them;
* the nature of the business carried out by that person;
* any instructions as to delivery and forwarding of postal packets;
* the name and address of person(s) to whom postal packets are to be forwarded;
* copies of originals of two documents approved by the Council for the purposes of identifying the person and verifying the address(es) required in a) above.

A mail forwarding business is required to keep records for at least a year after the end of an arrangement to hold or forward on postal packets and to keep them available for inspection by the police or any authorised officer at all reasonable times.

The requirement to register and keep records does not apply to holders of licences for postal services e.g. Royal Mail.

Meaning of “mail forwarding business”
A "mail forwarding business" means the business, carried out for reward, of making available to a person a postal address to which postal packets may be sent, and doing either or both of the following:
* holding postal packets so sent for collection by that person or his agent;
* forwarding, by whatever means, postal packets so sent to that person;
A "postal packet" is a letter, parcel, packet or other article transmissible by post (Postal Services Act 2000 s.125).

Application to register a mail forwarding business
An application for registration must be made to the Borough Council in writing stating:
* the applicant’s name and private address or, if the application is made by or on behalf of a body corporate or partnership, the registered or principal office of such body or partnership;
* the address of each place in the borough which is occupied by the applicant for the purposes of the business.
Any change in the particulars mentioned above must be notified to the council within 14 days.

A council may charge a “reasonable” fee for a registration, calculated by reference to the cost of dealing with applications for such registration. Fees vary; e,g, in the City of Westminster it is £150 and in the City of Westminster it is £100.
Applications forms should normally be available online for manual completion and submission by post. There appears to be no provision for online application but enquiry should be made of the relevant council.

Tacit consent: no provision for tacit consent is built into the legislation, except in the case where a Borough Council introduces the legislation in its area and an existing mail forwarding business applies to register within the four week grace period.

Civil enforcement: no provision.
Criminal enforcement: it is a criminal offence to: fail without reasonable excuse to comply with the legislation, or; to furnish false information for the purposes of either registration/alteration to the register. The maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding level 5 on summary conviction (£5,000).
Legaleze comment: strictly speaking, it is an offence to carry on a mail forwarding business until the relevant council has registered the business (except in the case where the owner has applied for registration in the four week grace period after the “appointed day” when a council; first adopts the legislation). However, we suggest that it would be a “reasonable excuse” and therefore a defence for an owner to prove he had submitted a proper and complete application for registration and has not been registered after four weeks, particularly as the legislation does not provide for for tacit consent.

[Page updated: 22/05/2013]

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