Header image source: Matt Brown. Unedited (CC by 2.0)

What do the government and police say about lost property laws in the United Kingdom?

There can be confusion about what to do with lost property as the position of the government, police, and lost property laws in England and Wales are difficult to determine.

However, businesses must still take ‘reasonable’ steps when something is found on their property. But what constitutes reasonable? Plus, what measures must these businesses take to adhere to the law?

To answer these burning questions, Notlost has compiled acomprehensive guide to lost property laws in the UK. Throughout this blog, we’ll explore the legal complexities and requirements for lost property and answer the most common questions.

A brief history of lost property laws in the UK

There’s little doubt humans have been losing things since our cave-dwelling days. However, lost property in the UK was not a common problem until the 18th century, when huge growth in consumerism and the rising use of public transport led to an epidemic of misplaced posessions.

In response, the first public LPOs (Lost Property Offices) were set up. Unfortunately, these didn’t start well and were often criminal enterprises who held missing items for ransom, using newspapers to advertise found items and claim fees for their safe return.

After a tumultuous period of confusion, The Metropolitan Police opened a ‘Central Repository for Lost Things’ in 1869. Consolidating lost property across London was seen as a pragmatic step to reduce loss rates and prise this crucial public service out of criminal hands.

This eventually moved under the remit of TFL, and in 1933, they opened a purpose-built location lost property office at 200 Baker Street to handle the ever-increasing volumes of lost property across London’s transport networks. Since then, it has moved twice, firstly to South Kensington in 2019, before moving settling in West Ham on its 90th birthday last year.

200 Baker Street TfL lost property office on NotLost lost property laws blog

Baker Street LPO, 1933. 

Do the police take lost property?

For 86 years, the police managed lost property across the UK. However, on February 1st 2019, following a national government review and consultation with 29 forces across the country, this all changed. With an eye on cost saving and efficiency, police forces across the UK stopped processing most lost property items and enquiries.


However, the police will still accept some specific items.


They will accept: firearms, ammunition and items suspected to have been involved in a crime and cash.


Furthermore, they will accept items containing personal data like identifiable wallets or personal documents.


However, they will generally not take items such as bicycles, clothing, keys, jewellery or anything unidentifiable. What local forces will accept varies from region to region, so it’s best to check before handing anything in. You can find your local police force here.


If I find something can I keep it?

This is where it gets complicated. The law states a ‘reasonable attempt’ must be made to return lost property to the owner. However, what is considered ‘reasonable’ is subjective.

If you find something, here’s what you should do:

1) Firstly, you should hand it in to the venue or transport provider where you found it.

2) Or, if you find something in a public place (and it’s not an item accepted by the police), you must make a reasonable attempt to return it. This might involve posting details on social media pages or putting a notice in a local shop or business.

If you have followed all of the above steps, the police have stated that you can then keep the property.

How long until you can claim lost property?

Some businesses operate a ‘return-to-finder’ policy, incentivising good samaritans to hand in found property. This policy means that after a period of time if an item is not claimed, ownership is returned to whoever found it.

You should check with the venue to see whether this is available and when to claim items, which can range from a month to a year. There is no legal requirement to offer this service.

What should I do with lost property found on my premises?

Official advice for businesses remains the same. Universities, shopping centres or any other venue where items are regularly lost, should hold on to the property themselves. If somebody has lost something at a shopping centre for example, they are more likely to enquire directly than approach a local police station.

The law states that you must take a series of ‘reasonable’ steps to register, secure, and respond to enquiries related to that item. This could involve using a digital lost property system to capture important details. Furthermore, an online form for people to fill out and report an item as lost would be beneficial.

How long do I legally have to hold someone’s property?

Unsurprisingly, the law states to be ‘reasonable’. One month is commonplace. However, many businesses with huge volumes will only keep items for 14 or 7 days. Providing they can prove the aforementioned reasonable steps were taken, this is deemed acceptable.

Different timings for the transport industry 

Despite this, the rules are different in the transport industry. Regulations state that items must be kept for at least three months. Tfl’s lost property policy is often viewed as an industry benchmark for this, and thanks to their partnership with Notlost, so is the process by which they return items to passengers.

Lost property pile of keys from venue lost property laws
Lost Keys. Source: Andreas Wieser.

In conclusion

Whilst the police position around lost property laws is somewhat hazy, individuals and businesses who find something must be seen to have taken ‘reasonable’ measures. We have outlined items still accepted by police forces and, on the other hand, some lost property that is no longer accepted.

For those items not accepted, ensure they are handed into local venues or posted on social media. Make sure you’re taking reasonable steps to return lost property to owners.

If you are a venue or location that handles a lot of lost property, you could benefit from Notlost’s digital lost property software. This will ensure you comply with the law and can return more lost items to owners at your organisation! Find out more about NotLost on our Solutions page and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to stay up to date with all things lost property.