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Case details

Royal Mail Group Ltd (Appellant) v Test Claimants in the Royal Mail Group Litigation (Respondent)

Case ID: 2021/0187

Case summary


Does the usual six-year limitation period for tort claims apply to claims for an injunction based on breach of a statutory duty?


This appeal arises from group litigation brought by a large number of organisations (the "Claimants") who say that they have contracted and paid for various postal services from the Royal Mail Group Limited (and its predecessors "Royal Mail") in the period since May 1977.

During the period to which the claim relates European Union law required that public postal services be exempt from Value Added Tax. Until 23 April 2009 it was understood (and UK legislation provided) that this exemption applied to all of Royal Mail's postal services. Royal Mail therefore did not account to HMRC for output VAT, did not show any charge to VAT on invoices it issued, and its customers could not claim credit for input VAT.

In April 2009 a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union clarified that the exemption applied only to certain postal services supplied by Royal Mail as part of the universal public postal service. This litigation concerns services which, following that clarification, are now understood not to be exempt from VAT.

The Claimants allege that Royal Mail's failure to issue VAT invoices in respect of non-exempt services since 1977 was a breach of statutory duty. They say this has caused them loss on the basis that they have been unable to recover as input VAT from HMRC the amount now understood to have been paid to Royal Mail in respect of VAT. The Claimants sought declaratory relief and damages or an injunction directing Royal Mail to issue VAT invoices in respect of the services supplied. Royal Mail has argued (among other defences) that many of the claims are time-barred as they have been brought more than six years after the relevant services were supplied. They are therefore brought outside the usual limitation period for tort claims.

Following a trial of various preliminary issues the High Court held (among other things) that although the six-year limitation period applied to the Claimants' claims for damages and declaratory relief, no limitation period applied to the claims for an injunction - such claims were therefore not time-barred. Royal Mail appealed that issue to the Court of Appeal, which dismissed the appeal on the basis that it was bound by one of its previous decisions. Royal Mail now appeals to the UK Supreme Court, with the permission of the Court of Appeal.

Judgment appealed

[2021] EWCA Civ 1173



Royal Mail Group Ltd


Test Claimants in the Royal Mail Group Litigation



Lord Briggs, Lord Sales, Lord Burrows, Lord Stephens, Lady Rose

This case has been withdrawn by consent of the parties