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Research into lost packages and letters

Table of contents: choose your case

  1. Inner German shipment lost
    1. 1.1 Who commissioned the investigation: sender or recipient?
    2. 1.2 What to do if the sender refuses to investigate?
    3. 1.3 Package lost
    4. 1.4 Lost letter or registered mail
    5. 1.5 Parcel service defends itself against full compensation
  2. Parcel lost abroad
    1. 2.1 Parcel or letter from Germany abroad
    2. 2.2 Shipments from abroad to Germany
    3. 2.3 Legal situation: EU or non-EU? From private or from the online shop?


Links to inquiry forms



1) Mail within Germany lost

The following sections deal with letters, registered mail, small packages and parcels for which the sender and recipient are in Germany.


1.1 Who commissioned the investigation: sender or recipient?

If you, as the recipient, call the parcel service about a missing parcel, you often get to hear that you should complain to the sender. Allegedly, only the sender can report the loss of the package and start an investigation (search order).

The argumentation of the parcel services is understandable because the sender has paid the parcel postage and is therefore the contract partner of the parcel service. The sender also has the delivery receipt for the parcel. This receipt must be presented in order to commission an investigation or claim compensation for a lost package.

Now the peculiarity: § 421 HGB also guarantees recipients the right to assert claims against a parcel service (carrier). Parcel services sometimes try to exclude this in their own terms and conditions, but the HGB law cannot be undermined by terms and conditions.

If the going gets tough, a recipient can also commission an investigation in accordance with Section 421 of the German Commercial Code (HGB) or claim compensation for damaged or lost parcels.

This legal situation is sometimes unknown to employees in parcel service call centers. If, as a recipient, you hear that you cannot commission an investigation, ask to be put through to a supervisor. Or complain in writing by registered mail. That's better anyway, because you shouldn't trust promises made over the phone. Sample letter: request compensation for lost parcel.

Important to know: If the sender receives compensation for a lost parcel from the parcel service, he must then forward the money to the recipient. This is regulated by the Deputy Commodum; a term from the law of obligations.

► When sending parcels between two private individuals (e.g. eBay sales), the recipient must wait for the money until the parcel service has paid the sender compensation.

► If a private person buys something from a professional mail order company, the seller bears the transport risk (details: it-recht-kanzlei.de) and consumer protection applies: the customer has the right to repayment of the purchase price from the seller or a replacement delivery is agreed. Incidentally, the seller must not delay the repayment of the purchase price until the parcel service has processed the inquiry or complaint; it can take months. If a private customer cancels an order, a repayment period of 14 days applies to the online shop (details: Attorney S. Hofauer).

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1.2 What to do if the sender refuses to investigate?

If a sender refuses to take care of a lost package, he is violating his so-called secondary contractual obligations. See also § 241 BGB. This legal situation is particularly important for private-to-private parcels (e.g. sales on eBay).

The sender is always liable for lost parcels that were sent by a commercial company (e.g. online shop) to a private customer. Provided that the sender is based in Germany or the EU. You can read tips from a lawyer for lost parcels from online shops here at arag.de. In a nutshell: Exercise your right of withdrawal for the order that has not been delivered and request the seller to refund the purchase price immediately.

► Ask a lawyer

Back to the situation where a package from a private sender went missing. The recipient (e.g. an eBay buyer) wonders about the non-delivery and asks the seller to submit an inquiry to the parcel service. If the eBay seller does not respond to the request or expressly refuses to commission the investigation, and the complaint period expires with the parcel service, the seller is responsible for the unpaid damages.

With his behavior, the seller prevented, so to speak, the parcel service from being liable for the lost package. In this case, the recipient is the injured party. The recipient can then claim damages from the sender for breach of duty (Section 282 in conjunction with Section 280 (1) BGB).

Before this situation arises, the recipient should try to ask the parcel service to investigate himself. The customer service staff may say that only the sender can request an investigation, but according to Section 421 of the German Commercial Code, this is not the case. The recipient of a parcel can also assert claims against the parcel service (carrier); for example in the event of packet loss. See previous section.

Practical tip: If filling out the inquiry form is too time-consuming for the sender, you as the recipient can relieve them of this work. Ask the sender to send you a mobile phone photo of the parcel posting receipt. You can upload this photo receipt, for example, in the online investigation form at DHL and thus commission an investigation.

► Sample letter to ask the sender to investigate.

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1.3 Package lost

If a parcel does not reach the recipient, an inquiry is the first step in order to receive compensation from the parcel service in the event of loss.

► In the case of delays of less than 1 week, parcel services only accept a general complaint or a so-called runtime complaint. The Paketda editorial team considers the runtime complaint to be a paper tiger without any legal obligation. Delivery delays usually resolve themselves after a few days anyway. Regardless of whether you have a runtime complaint or not.

Tracking sometimes inaccurate
Please note that a package can be transported on without it being visible in the tracking system. Some intermediate stops are concealed in the tracking. For example, the regional delivery bases are missing in DHL tracking. In the DHL shipment tracking, for example, the processing in the destination parcel center appears as well as the information that the shipment will be transported to the delivery base. In reality, the package may have long since arrived at the delivery base. Because it is not displayed in the tracking, it cannot be recognized as a customer.

At Hermes there are similar phenomena with so-called subcontractor depots. Parcels are processed there before they are loaded into the delivery vehicle. Subcontractor depots are not displayed in Hermes tracking.

Rule of thumb: The shipment tracking always shows the last place where a package was processed. Just a few hours later, the status may be out of date and the package may be elsewhere. In modern sorting centers, parcels hardly stay longer than 2 to 3 hours. Because parcels are not scanned everywhere, or not all scans appear in the tracking, the shipment tracking is not a 100% reliable indicator to determine the location of a package loss.

If the shipment tracking does not change for 1 week, or if a package rotates in circles for 7 days without being delivered, an investigation is necessary. At the top of this page you will find the links to the contact and inquiry forms of all parcel services.

The Paketda editorial team recommends submitting the research in writing by email so that you have proof. At DHL you will receive a confirmation of receipt by email after submitting the online form. If this does not happen, call DHL one day later and inquire whether the investigation request is saved in the system.

► Affected customers tell us that parcel services need 3 to 4 weeks to process an inquiry. In our experience, the longer it takes, the higher the risk of loss.

Together with the investigation or loss report, parcel services usually require proof of the value of the package contents. If you don't have proof of purchase, estimate the value as realistically as possible. If necessary, use comparison prices of similar products from eBay. If it is an eBay sale, use screenshots of the auction and the PayPal payment confirmation (or from online banking) as proof of value.

If a parcel service does not respond to the inquiry within 3 to 4 weeks, please communicate in writing by registered mail from now on. Give the parcel service a period of approximately 14 days to pay for damages. It is important not to let the parcel service hold you up forever. A popular delaying tactic is to keep asking for receipts that you have already submitted. If this happens to you, read our guide with tips on how to enforce against parcel services.

► If an investigation takes months, take a screenshot of the shipment tracking to be on the safe side. Because after about 3 to 4 months, the data is deleted from the shipment tracking and is no longer publicly accessible.

The parcel service must also reimburse the postage.
In the DHL loss form there is the field "Reimbursement of charges in the amount of ...". The postage that you paid for shipping is entered there. In the other field "Request replacement in the amount of ..." enter the value of the lost package contents.

Parcel services do not replace the new price but only the used value of a product. Unless you have actually sent new goods and can provide evidence of the purchase price.

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1.4 Lost letter or registered mail

In contrast to registered mail and insured letters, standard letters and shipments of goods cannot be tracked and are not insured against loss. Nevertheless, it is in principle possible to research all letters. You can find the links at the top of this page.

Because the transport route can be traced more precisely with registered mail and insured letters, the probability of being found again is higher than with standard letters. If a registered mail or insured letter is not found, the sender will receive compensation. Here you can find information on the sums insured.

► In every Deutsche Post mail center, specially trained employees are busy clearing up undeliverable address data. According to a report by the Abendzeitung, around 3,000 items of 4.5 million letters a day are processed manually at the Munich letter center. The reasons for this can be missing house numbers, rotated numbers in postcodes or poor addressing such as "yellow house at the intersection".

In the so-called address management service point (SAM), the letters concerned are given a correction sticker and then transported on. If the correct recipient address cannot be determined, the letters are returned to the sender. If no sender can be identified on the envelope, the letter will be sent to the Service Center Brieferbildung in Marburg. Only the employees there are allowed to open letters for research purposes and thus violate postal secrecy in order to find out the sender or recipient of a shipment. The mail delivery center was put into operation in 1977 and employs more than 100 people.

If it is not possible to determine the sender or recipient (technical jargon: "unsuitable consignment"), the letter will initially be in the archive for 4 months. If no customer has reported missing the shipment by the end of the storage period, it is either shredded - as is the case with letters - or the contents are auctioned off. Therefore, do not wait too long if a letter is lost and submit an inquiry in good time.

► Online inquiry for registered mail and insured letters: here at www.deutschepost.de.

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1.5 Parcel service defends itself against full compensation

Parcel services like to advertise insured shipping and that compensation will be paid in the event of damage or loss. However, customers in the Paketda forum often complain that parcel services delay or refuse payments and demand clear evidence from customers to prove the value of the lost goods.

► Compensation is even completely refused if the damaged or lost goods exceed the insured sum of the package. Example: You sent an iPhone for 800 euros in a DHL standard package with 500 euros liability. If the package is stolen en route, DHL will probably not pay any compensation. So not even 500 euros but zero euros.

In their terms and conditions, DHL and other parcel services exclude the transport of products that exceed the limit of liability. With DHL, a higher insurance can at least be booked if necessary. But not afterwards. More on the subject:

Below are some media reports on how parcel services behave towards customers:

Incidentally, a completely lost package is easier to prove than a damaged package. Why? In the case of damaged parcels, parcel services often refer to inadequate packaging or inadequate interior padding. In this case, the sender would be responsible for the damage and the parcel service would not have to pay any compensation.

► As a customer, it is very difficult to prove that sufficiently stable packaging has been used. The parcel service can simply claim that the packaging was too bad. The Paketda editorial team therefore recommends paying attention to certified cardboard boxes when purchasing packaging. For example, google for "PTZ box". PTZ is an old term for the Central Postal Service and stands for tested packaging material that has been subjected to drop tests, for example.

In exceptional cases (e.g. in the case of very high transport damage) you can also consider calling in an external expert who will independently examine whether the package packaging used was adequately stable or not. Such reports are carried out, for example, by the BFSV packaging institute in Hamburg.

You can find more tips here in our packaging guide. It is particularly recommended to take photos of each parcel in the open and closed state before sending it and to note the shipping weight.

If necessary, also read: Parcel damaged, but parcel service does not pay any compensation.

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2) Adviser: lost parcel abroad

The following sections contain practical experience and tips on lost parcels abroad. The investigation is often more complicated than with national broadcasts.


2.1 Parcel or letter from Germany abroad

In the case of international parcels, it can happen that they remain without a new status for 1-2 weeks. You don't need to worry about that. First find out the average delivery time.

For DHL parcels, simply google: "DHL regular delivery time Italy" and replace Italy with the relevant destination country. Click on the first Google result that leads to dhl.de. The average delivery time is noted on the page. Please note that these are working days, i.e. excluding the weekend.

As soon as your shipment has exceeded the average delivery time by 7 to 14 days, request an investigation.
► Investigation of DHL Paket International and parcel with proof
► Investigation of Deutsche Post registered and international insured letters

Experience shows that researching parcels abroad takes longer because two postal companies are involved. The postal companies have to coordinate with each other where the shipment could have been lost, whether it was stored somewhere and who pays for the damage if it is lost. We have presented the internal processes at Swiss Post in a separate article: The IBIS system for complaining about international parcels.

Several affected customers of lost parcels abroad told us that international postal companies sometimes shift responsibility to one another and as a customer you are, so to speak, crushed in the middle. From a purely legal point of view, something like this must not happen, because the post office in the sender country is liable to the sender for the entire transport route. In other words: If a DHL package from Germany is lost in the USA, DHL must not pass the blame on to the American post office USPS. USPS has to pay compensation to DHL internally, but the post office is solely liable to the sender in the sender country. The sender does not have to deal with the post in the destination country.

► Good to know: In accordance with Section 424 of the German Commercial Code (HGB), international parcels are considered lost if they have not been delivered 30 days after being sent. If the parcel service puts you off for more than 2 months, set a final payment deadline by registered mail and, if necessary, claim damages in court or with the help of a consumer center.

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2.2 Shipments from abroad to Germany

For parcels from a non-EU country to Germany, most delays occur in customs clearance. Waiting times of 2 to 4 weeks are not uncommon.We recommend the following guides:

► If, as the recipient of a missing international shipment, you complain to a parcel service in Germany, you may hear: "Please complain to the sender. He should submit a loss report to the postal company in his country."

With such a statement, the parcel services unfortunately make it very easy for themselves, and as a customer you literally stand in the rain. Sellers in the USA, China or Japan are sometimes accommodating in the event of a loss and will either refund the purchase price or send a replacement. If, on the other hand, the seller is not accommodating, "then you have a problem," admitted a DHL press spokesman to nordbayern.de.

As a German customer, you do not enjoy any statutory consumer protection in countries outside the EU. If the seller behaves uncooperatively, the goods and the purchase price are often lost. Unless the purchase price can be reversed with PayPal or credit card.

The Paketda editorial team is not aware of any customer who has successfully received compensation for a lost parcel from abroad from a German parcel service. At best, this may work out of goodwill, but not because of a legal claim. The complaint must always be made to the parcel service in the sender country.

► Tip: sample letters in English for communicating with sellers

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2.3 Legal situation: EU or non-EU? From private or from the online shop?

In order to assess the prospect of compensation for a lost parcel abroad, the sender country and the type of sender play a role: private person or company?

► Case A: As a private person, I expect a package from an EU country that I ordered from a company (online shop) there.
You enjoy EU consumer protection and the seller bears the entire transport risk. If necessary, inform the seller of this legal situation if he does not want to be liable for the lost or damaged delivery. See info page at europa.eu or the same page in German. If necessary, you can sue the online shop for repayment of the purchase price. More information at www.evz.de.

► Case B: As a private person, I am expecting a package from an EU country that I ordered from a private person there (e.g. via eBay).
As the recipient, you cannot pass the transport risk on to the sender. If the package gets lost on the way, you have to rely on the sender to complain to the parcel service in the sending country and hopefully receive compensation. Only if the sender receives compensation does he have to reimburse you for the purchase price. In order to increase the likelihood of success, as the recipient you should also register a claim for damages with the parcel service in Germany.

Exceptional case: If the buyer and seller have agreed to insured shipping, but the seller has used an uninsured shipping method, the seller is liable for the damage. If the seller does not voluntarily repay the purchase price, a European dunning procedure must be initiated, which unfortunately involves a cost risk.

► Case C: As a private person, I expect a package from a non-EU country that I ordered from a company (online shop) there.
There is no EU consumer protection. Contact the seller's customer service department via email and ask for a solution. For example: You wait another 2 weeks, and if no delivery arrives, the seller sends a replacement. You could offer to cover the postage costs. If the seller does not offer a goodwill solution, try to have the purchase price booked back via PayPal buyer protection or credit card.

► Case D: As a private person, I expect a package from a non-EU country that I ordered from a private person there (e.g. via eBay).
There is no EU consumer protection and experience has shown that PayPal buyer protection does not apply if the seller can prove the shipment of the package.

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Published on | Author: Steffen Persiel

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