Fraud disruption work carried out by London Trading Standards (LTS) has revealed that a significant number of businesses have opted out of receiving certain types of mail – meaning that correspondence from consumers, including complaints, may never reach them.
LTS has issued a warning that widespread malpractice by companies which use mail forwarding services is in breach of trading standards rules.
It is a legal obligation for limited liability companies to have a registered office in the UK. However, the widespread use of ‘virtual’ registered offices has given birth to a thriving mail forwarding industry. Businesses using mail forwarding services often choose which types of mail are actually forwarded to them – some my only opt to receive mail from HMRC and Companies House, for example, with all other types of correspondence being ignored and discarded.
The problem came to light when mail from one LTS authority was returned to sender after being addressed to the legally registered office of a limited company.
LTS has obtained legal opinion on the issue which has national implications for the mail forwarding sector in the UK. The opinion states that businesses choosing to only be sent certain types of mail are in breach of professional diligence provisions in unfair trading regulations. Such a breach is a criminal offence for which Directors and other company officers could be fined or imprisoned. Any Trust and Company Service Providers facilitating this practice could also be committing offences.
Steve Playle, a spokesperson for London Trading Standards said: “In these days of increasing commercial activity, via websites and social media platforms, it is still vital that consumers can effectively communicate in writing with businesses. This is particularly crucial when there are complaints or problems that need to be resolved.
“We have found that some limited companies are happy to be in a position to be uncontactable in writing and thereby frustrate any attempts to deal with anyone who needs to engage with them.
“The ability to write to a company is a fundamental requirement in any thriving economy and we want to ensure that it continues.”
Trading standards authorities are now engaging with the mail forwarding sector across the UK to give them the opportunity to rectify their methods of operation. Limited companies are also being urged to ensure that they have proper arrangements in place to receive all mail that is addressed to their registered office.
Concerns about mail fowarding businesses can be reported via the London Trading Standards online consumer crime reporting tool.