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HMRC internal manual

Capital Gains Manual

From
HM Revenue & Customs
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Found objects: ownership: objects not treasure or treasure trove

The person with the best title to a found object is its original owner or the heirs of the original owner. The owner or heirs may pay a reward to the finder but this is an ex gratia payment and not taxable.

In the great majority of these cases the original owner will have died a long time ago and will no longer be traceable. In the absence of the original owner or heirs the object will either belong to the finder or to the person on whose land the object was found.

Whether the finder or the landowner owns the object commonly depends on whether the object was

  • attached to or under the land, or
  • lying on the surface of the land.

If the object was found lying on the surface it will belong to the lawful finder. If it was beneath the surface it will belong to the landowner.

This distinction can be demonstrated in a series of cases dealing with the ownership of found objects which were not treasure trove. For example, the following objects were held to belong to the landowner

  • A prehistoric boat lying six feet under the surface, Elwes v Brigg Gas CO(1886) 33 Ch D 562.
  • Two gold rings at the bottom of a pool, South Staffordshire Water Co v Sharman (1896) 2 QB 44.

By way of contrast the following were found to belong to the finder

  • some bank notes found on the floor of a shop, Bridges v Hawksworth (1851) 15 Jur. 1079.
  • a bracelet found in an airport departure lounge, Parker v British Airways Board (1982) 1 QB 1004.