Customer Support Ruling

Mailpieces Opened After Delivery

Updated February 2012

PS-177 (508.1.1.3)

This Customer Support Ruling discusses the procedures when refusing a piece of mail, endorsed "Return Service Requested" or when any unendorsed piece of mail is opened and the addressee wishes to return the item to the sender without affixing new postage.  

Many postal customers believe that they may accept, open and then refuse a parcel marked "Return Service Requested”. The placement of the return service endorsement on mailpieces constitutes, in part, a pledge by the sender that they will pay return postage if the pieces are refused by the addressee.  This pledge is only valid until delivery is made and becomes void when a piece is accepted and opened by the addressee.

The Domestic Mail Manual provides that after delivery, an addressee may mark a piece of mail "Refused" and return it, unopened, to the Postal Service except when mailpiece bears a Bulk Parcel Return Service (BPRS) endorsement. Otherwise, when a parcel has been delivered as addressed, once an addressee has opened either the parcel or an attachment and then "refused" the mailpiece, that item cannot be returned to the sender without the addressee paying the applicable return postage.

In this case, the addressee raised a question about the correct procedure when the front of the mailpiece contained the words (a) “free gift” (was) enclosed. A review of other mailings such as this example disclosed that similar statements are often preprinted on all outgoing mailpieces used for specific sender promotions. Such phrases as “Personal – Do Not Throw Away” or “Important – Open Immediately” appearing on the mailpieces are not personal information for the purpose of classifying mail.

The sender may include Handling, Content and Extra Service markings as permitted in the DMM. Other markings made by the sender that encourage the addressee to open the article but that do not interfere with any mailing standards, postal handling, processing and delivery of the pieces, do not circumvent the standards in the DMM.

Consequently, it is expected that postal employees will provide our customers the following explanation in this type of situation: (1) that the return service endorsement pertains to mail that cannot be delivered as addressed or that is refused by the addressee without being opened; and, (2) that mail that is accepted and opened cannot then be refused and given back to the Postal Service for return to sender unless new postage is affixed by the addressee. Note that there are some types of mailpieces that cannot be returned without new postage even if they are not opened by the addressee, such as Registered Mail.


Sherry Suggs
Mailing Standards
United States Postal Service
Washington DC  20260-3436