'To the Occupier' junk mail

Junk mail with a generic addressee, such as 'To the Occupier' or 'The Householder' is one of the most nasty types of junk mail.

If you've read the Guide this far there's no new information on this page. 'To the Occupier' junk mail has already mentioned several times. Still, it might be good to have all the information on a single page, given that this type of junk mail has become so widespread.

What is 'To the Occupier' junk mail?

'To the Occupier' junk mail is the common name for junk mail addressed to a generic addressee. The addressee doesn't have to be 'To the Occupier'; there are endless varieties. 'The Householder' and 'The Pizza Lover' are other names you've probably encountered.

Confusingly, 'To the Occupier' junk mail can be either addressed or unaddressed. That's confusing because all these mail items have an addressee – but that's not important. What's important is whether or not the items also have an address. To illustrate, this item would qualify as unaddressed 'To the Occupier' junk mail:

The Pizza Lover

And this item should be classed as addressed 'To the Occupier' junk mail:

The Pizza Lover
Buckingham Palace
LONDON
SW1A 1AA

Stopping unaddressed junk mail isn't any more complicated (or should I say any easier) than stopping other unaddressed mail. If you've registered with the two opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail and you've got an anti-junk mail sign on your letterbox then you shouldn't get many of these items, if any. All my ramblings about stopping unaddressed junk mail are in the section named, appropriately, Unaddressed junk mail.

It's the addressed variety that's the nasty one…

The problem with addressed 'To the Occupier' junk mail

The problem with addressed 'To the Occupier' junk mail is that it escapes all existing opt-out regimes for such adverts:

Mailing Preference Service

The Mailing Preference Service won't stop items sent to a generic addressee. The reason is that the scheme registers individuals – and by its very nature a generic addressee isn't an individual. It does seem odd, though. If you register your name with the Mailing Preference Service you're clearly not going to be interested in 'To the Occupier' junk mail. You would think that your registration with the service would automatically stop junk mail send to generic entities. Yet, the Direct Marketing Association, which is the junk mail lobby group which operates the scheme, argues that there might be other people at your address who aren't registered with the service and would like to receive 'To the Occupier' mailings. And you don't want to deprive other people at your address of 'To the Occupier' junk mail, do you now?

It's worth noting that the Mailing Preference Service is aware of the demand for a 'To the Occupier' opt-out. When you register with the service you're told (on the page where you enter your name):

Please note that 'The Occupier' is not a valid registration.

Given that there clearly is a demand it would be reasonable for the Direct Marketing Association to compromise. A practical solution would be to allow registrants to tick a box during the opt-out process to indicate that the entire household would like to stop mailings with a generic addressee. But as I said in the introduction of this guide, schemes such as the Mailing Preference Service don't exist because they want to provide an excellent service to the public.

Data protection notices

The Data Protection Act gives you the right to force any UK organisation to stop processing your personal data for "direct marketing" purposes. However… generic addressees aren't personal data and any data protection notice you send would be null and void.

Contacting the sender informally

If making formal / legal contact with a sender isn't feasible you could try to contact a sender informally. You could send them an e-mail or phone them up and ask them if they could please stop sending items addressed to non-existing entities. Your chance of success would be roughly equal to the number of households registered with the Your Choice opt-out scheme: about 0.006%.

To understand why we should look at what motivates companies to send items to generic addressees. There are three advantages compared with 'normal' addressed junk mail:

  1. The sender doesn't have to buy an up to date list with names and addresses – they only need a list with addresses, which are relative cheap.
  2. The sender doesn't have to check if people have registered with the Mailing Preference Service.
  3. The sender doesn't have to worry about data protection legislation.

The motivation, in other words, is that it's cheap & nasty. 'To the Occupier' junk mail is a way of 'carpet bombing' the nation for as little money as possible and without having to worry about the Direct Marketing Association's code of practice or the Data Protection Act. Senders who adopt such marketing campaigns are unlikely to add your address to an opt-out list when you ask them to stop. It's very unlikely they maintain such a list; they'd be under no obligation to respect your request and it wouldn't be 'cost-effective' for them. I'm not saying that you shouldn't ask them to stop and I'd encourage you to contact them – just don't expect they'll stop the mailings.

Return the stuff to the sender

Return junk mail to sender is another informal way of dealing with addressed junk mail. Again, I encourage you to do so – but don't expect the mailings to stop. In fact, it's even less likely to work than contacting the sender. When you contact a sender you're interacting with a human being who might be sympathetic to your request. When you return an item to a mail centre it might go straight in the bin.

Last updated: 
16th June 2015