Luggage and belongings

Disclaimer:  Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the Pink Book of Legislation, we regret that we cannot be responsible for any errors. This guide is not intended to be a definitive statement of the law in England. If you require precise or detailed information on the legislation mentioned in this guide, or on the legal implications for you in particular, you should consult a professional legal adviser.

Key facts

  • If you run a hotel*, you are required by law to take responsibility for the safekeeping of all reasonable items of luggage brought in by guests.
  • Hotel* owners have the legal right to detain guests’ property until their bill is settled. 

 

Rights and responsibilities

If you operate a hotel* and you accept a guest into your accommodation for at least one night, you are required by law to take responsibility for the safekeeping of all reasonable items of luggage brought in by the guest.

  • *Note: The Hotel Proprietors’ Act 1956 defines a hotel as ‘an establishment held out by the proprietor as offering food, drink and, if so required, sleeping accommodation, without special contract, to any traveller presenting himself who appears able and willing to pay a reasonable sum for the services and facilities provided and who is in a fit state to be received.’  It is worth noting that this definition of a hotel is very old and the Courts are likely to apply the same rights and responsibilities to the operator of any serviced accommodation, even if it did not technically meet the definition.

If a guest's property is lost or damaged, the extent of your liability will vary as follows:

  • You may not be liable, where the loss or damage to the guest's property is caused by an act of negligence on the part of the guest or by an 'Act of God' (such as a flood).
  • You may be fully liable, where:
    • the loss or damage to the guest's property is caused solely by your negligence or wilful act (or that of your staff), or
    • the goods have been entrusted to you for your safekeeping, or
    • the goods have been offered to you for safekeeping but refused by you.
  • You may limit your liability to £50/£100, where the loss or damage to the guest's property does not fit into either of the above categories and you have displayed the statutory notice set out below in a prominent area of your establishment (near the main entrance or reception area). You may then be liable for a minimum amount of £50 per article and £100 maximum per person.

 

Since the maximum liability has not increased since 1956, many operators now choose to reimburse their clients to a higher level and claim the cost from their hotel insurance.

  • Note: Under the London Local Authorities Act 2004, the limits in Greater London are £750 and £1500 respectively.

 

The statutory notice is as follows (the second version of the notice is for Greater London only).

 

NOTICE: Loss of or damage to guests' property

Under the Hotel Proprietors' Act 1956, a hotel proprietor may in certain circumstances be liable to make good any loss of or damage to a guest's property even though it was not due to any fault of the proprietor or staff of the hotel. This liability however:

  • extends only to the property of guests who have engaged sleeping accommodation at the hotel
  • is limited to £50 for any one article and a total of £100 in the case of any one guest, except in the case of property which has been deposited, or offered for deposit, for safe custody
  • does not cover motor cars or other vehicles of any kind or property lost in them, or horses or other live animals.

 

This notice does not constitute an admission either that the Act applies to this hotel or that liability thereunder attaches to the proprietor of this hotel in any particular case.

 

NOTICE: Loss of or damage to guest's property (Greater London only)

Under the Hotel Proprietors' Act 1956 and the London Local Authorities Act 2004, a hotel proprietor may in certain circumstances be liable to make good any loss of or damage to a guest's property even though it was not due to any fault of the proprietor or staff of the hotel. This liability however:

  • extends only to the property of guests who have engaged sleeping accommodation at the hotel
  • is limited to £750 for any one article and a total of £1500 in the case of any one guest, except in the case of property which has been deposited, or offered for deposit, for safe custody
  • does not not cover motor cars or other vehicles of any kind or property lost in them, or horses or other live animals.

 

This notice does not constitute an admission either that the Act applies to this hotel or that liability thereunder attaches to the proprietor of this hotel in any particular case.

 

What if the guest did not stay overnight?

If you provide serviced accommodation of any kind and the guest did not stay overnight (e.g., they just visited the restaurant or bar), then you will usually be liable for the loss or damage to your guests' property only if you or your staff have been negligent or if the guest handed the property over to you for safekeeping.

It is difficult to be more specific regarding your liability for the loss of guests' property, as each case depends on the circumstances of the loss or damage. 

 

Returning guests' property

If a guest accidently leaves an item behind, you have both a duty to look after the item (you can be liable for any loss or damage that occurs while it is on your possession) and a duty to re-unite the owner with their property.  Therefore, you should make every effort to contact the guest to inform them that you have an item belonging to them.

If you are able to contact the owner, you can mutually agree what to do with the item (e.g., whether to post it to them, hold it for collection or to simply dispose of the item). You are within your rights to charge the guest for posting the item back, should you wish to do so, as this is an additional service outside the contract you have with them to provide accommodation. However, the charge should be limited to actual justifiable costs.

If it is not possible to contact the guest then your actions would depend on the nature of the item. For most relatively low value items (e.g. clothes) it is sufficient to retain the item for a reasonable period before disposing of it (usually around three months). However, items such as bank cards or driver licences should be handed to the appropriate issuing authority and high value items should be handed to the police.

Your right to retain a guest's luggage

Hotel owners

Hotel owners (see note above) have the legal right to detain guests’ property until they settle their bill. This right does not extend to the guest's car or property left in it, or to the clothes that the guest is wearing.

When the bill is paid, the property must be returned to the guest. No storage charge may be made and you must reimburse the guest accordingly if the property has been damaged while in your possession.

 

Selling guests' property

If the bill has not been paid in full after six weeks, you may then sell the guest's property. The sale must be by public auction and it must be advertised at least four weeks in advance in both a London and a local newspaper. The adverts must set out your intention to sell the property, give a full description of the goods, name the guest to whom they belonged and give full details of the forthcoming sale.

The proceeds of sale, less the amount owed to you and the costs of the advertisements and organising the auction, must then be returned to the guest on demand.

This right is in addition to any other right that you have, such as that of pursuing a claim for non-payment through the Small Claims Court.

  • Note: you cannot detain a guest except to await the arrival of the police.

 

Owners of self-catering accommodation

Operators of self-catering properties have no legal right to detain and sell a guest's property, nor does a proprietor of self-catering accommodation.

If a guest does not pay a bill and further contact or correspondence does not result in payment, then you have the option of pursuing a claim for non-payment through the small claims court (see the 'Cancellations and no-shows' section). 

 

Further guidance

  • For more detailed advice, or if a serious claim is made against you, you are advised to obtain professional legal advice.