Moral Money: our reader wants to know who can legally claim the mislaid jewellery
Dear Moral Money,
About seven weeks ago, I found a ring in a gym in Oxford, where I’ve been a member for many years. I handed in the item to the gym manager. I saw the manager recently and asked if anyone had claimed it – he said no one had come forward.
As the owner has not claimed the ring, can I legally make a claim for it?
The gym manager has informed me that he is very happy to give the jewellery to me, but he’s not sure what the rules are. He briefly mentioned that the alternative might be to give this ring to a charity of his choice, but I’m not sure if that’s a feasible option either?
Lost property, where it is not clear who it belongs to, is no longer handled by the police. The law changed in 2019 and, unless an item is considered to have been used in a crime, is cash, or has an identifiable owner – like a wallet – then they don’t get involved.
You did exactly what is required of you as a finder of lost property, by handing the ring over to those in charge at the gym.
The law requires the gym manager to make all “reasonable efforts” to return the ring to the owner, but it isn’t very specific what amounts to reasonable.
I would assume the gym manager has been keeping the item safe, registered it as lost property and notified all staff so if the owner asked they would know how to respond.
Did you see any notices put up in the area at the gym where you found it? Maybe the gym circulated an email to members asking if anyone had lost an item of jewellery recently?
I would personally consider all these efforts to be part of a reasonable attempt to return it, but many venues would have a much simpler policy that may require only that they register and store for a week before considering their responsibility being discharged.
The length of time lost property should be kept available for reclaim by the owner is vague. I guess it is left vague because different venues would attract different visit frequencies and volumes of lost property.
You may use the same newsagent every day, the gym twice a week and go to the dentist twice a year, and so lost property policy may reflect this so that an enquiry could be made on the next visit.
There is also the point about when the owner would notice it is missing – with door keys it would be the same day when you couldn’t get into your home, but a ring?
It depends how often you wear it; if it’s not often, perhaps it would only be the next time you went to wear it with a favourite outfit, remember you haven’t seen for a while and start tracing your steps back.
I am not sure venue owners would necessarily have to take this into consideration when designing a policy, but maybe it should be thought about before discharging the property. It seems the gym is more than happy that seven weeks is long enough, and I have to say that I think it meets any reasonableness test.
However, there is no legal rule that says “finders keepers”, and there is an argument that it’s not for the gym to grant you ownership of the ring, as it’s not theirs to give away.
Giving it away to charity is a more reasonable option – but only if they demonstrably made all reasonable steps to reunite the owner with it, perhaps also giving a deadline to make it clear when the ring would be given away.
If the ring was given to you by the gym owner, I am just wondering whether you would feel brave enough to wear it to the gym, or would you always be wondering if someone might see it and challenge you for ownership?
Would you be happy to give it back at a later date if the original owner made themselves known and were able to verify it as theirs?
It doesn’t seem to have any legal bearing on the issue, but I think the value of the ring might further add to the dilemma, or ease it. For example if it turned out to be worth £30,000 it would be quite different than if it’s worth £30.
I guess you could get a rough estimate of value by asking a pawn broker, but it wouldn’t be a requirement of you or the gym manager to get a valuation before deciding what to do with it.
If it turned out to be exceptionally valuable, it increases the chance that the owner would put in considerable effort to track it down. If it turns out it’s been given to you, there’s a grey area about whether it could be argued as theft.
This wouldn’t be the case if the gym can prove it tried to give the lost property back before giving it to charity – a move which wouldn’t benefit any particular individual. Instead, the gym could then suggest the owner makes an insurance claim.