Is it illegal to throw away someone’s mail in Australia?
In Australia, it is considered mail tampering or mail fraud if you throw someone else’s mail in the rubbish, regardless of the reason. Australia Post, the national postal service, is the only organisation or body that is legally allowed to dispose of mail.
This applies whether you’ve accidentally received mail incorrectly delivered to your address (with a different address on the envelope), or if you receive mail with the correct address but a different recipient.
Is it illegal to open another person’s mail?
You should never open any mail that isn’t addressed to you, unless you are authorised by the actual recipient. If you do it knowingly, then you could face hefty fines and harsh punishments.
However, if you accidentally open a piece of mail that belongs to someone else (i.e. if the recipient’s name wasn’t clearly labelled on the envelope, but the mail’s contents are addressed to someone else), it is not considered a criminal offence. But if you knowingly keep the mail after opening it and finding out that it isn’t yours, you can still be charged with mail tampering.
If you want to learn more about the postal law, read the Telecommunications and Postal Services Act of 1989. It details everything you’ll need to know, including what constitutes mail tampering and the penalties associated with it. You should also check out the letterbox laws in Australia, which dictate the acceptable measurements and positioning of your mailbox. If posties cannot reach your mailbox or if the mailbox isn’t built to handle standard-sized letters, they could stop delivering your mail.
How Australia’s laws differ from other countries
Australia’s laws about mail interception and tampering are actually not that different from the rest of the world. In the United States, throwing away someone else’s mail is considered a felony. As with all federal crimes, there are serious penalties – including a fine of up to $USD 250,000 ($AUD 363,900) and/or a jail sentence of up to three years for each act of tampering. You could also be charged separately by the state.
In the United Kingdom, the 2000 Postal Services Act punishes anyone who intentionally delays the mail delivery, opens mail that isn’t theirs, or otherwise tampers with the post.
Who enforces the law?
Commonwealth crimes are handled by the Australian Federal Police. If you suspect that your mail has been tampered with, you can report it to the AFP, Australia Post, or your local police force. Depending on the severity of the offence, you could be tried in either the higher district court or the lower local courts.
If you have mail tampering charges brought against you, you should immediately consult with an experienced criminal lawyer. It is still possible to have the charges withdrawn or the penalties reduced, especially if you did not do it intentionally or with malice.
Penalties for throwing away someone else’s mail
Accidentally opening someone else’s mail is a common occurrence, so the law does not punish people who unintentionally tampered with mail that isn’t addressed to them. But you must take the right steps immediately after, or else you could still be charged and penalised for mail fraud.
If you open or throw away someone else’s mail intentionally and without their permission, you could face two to five years in prison. A judge decides your sentence based on your intentions at the time – accidental or non-malicious tampering will result in shorter sentences, while dishonest intentions could earn you the maximum five-year sentence.
What to do with mail from a previous tenant
Ideally, when you move houses, you set up mail forwarding or inform the Post of your address change. This ensures that you get all of your mail without inconveniencing the new tenants at your old address. But if the previous tenant didn’t update their address before moving and you’re stuck with their mail, here’s what you should do instead of throwing it away:
If the address on the envelope is wrong: Place the mail in any letterbox or give it to Post Office staff.
If the address on the envelope is right, but the recipient is wrong: Write ‘return to sender - unknown at this address’ on the envelope, then drop it in a letterbox or give it to Post Office staff.
If you accidentally opened the mail, but it isn’t addressed to you: Place the contents of the mail back into the envelope, and take the letter to your local police station.
If the problem persists, inform the Australia Post. They cannot block or divert mail for a certain recipient, but they could take other steps to prevent it from happening in the future.
Throwing someone's mail away is against the law
Opening or throwing away mail that isn’t yours is a Commonwealth offence, and it can land you in hot water. To avoid getting charged and serving jail time, always double check who your mail is addressed to and return misaddressed mail.