Track down your lost assets
We’ve all wished our savings balance was a bit healthier. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have a small windfall to boost it? Well, there is a chance you don’t need one.
Up to £15 million is sitting unclaimed in a variety of financial accounts across the UK. Most of that money is in old bank accounts that people have forgotten about, or pensions left behind when we moved jobs.
“Millions of pounds worth of financial assets sit in limbo each year waiting to be claimed by their rightful owners,” says consumer finance expert Andrew Hagger. “In some instances, there are huge sums of money sitting in accounts that nobody is aware of, so it’s worth spending a little time trying to track down any potential funds.”
So the good news is there’s a chance you have some long-forgotten cash out there – and it shouldn’t be that hard to find.
Buried bank accounts
Low interest rates have meant increasing numbers of us are moving our money regularly in a bid to get the best return. But this constant shifting of our savings and current accounts could mean we have left money behind. As banks encourage us to go “paper-free”, it is far easier to lose track of old accounts as there are no letters coming in the post to remind you.
However, hunting down old accounts is relatively simple. The British Bankers’ Association, the Building Societies Association and National Savings & Investments (NS&I) got together in 2008 to create Mylostaccount.org.uk, where you can search for old accounts for free.
In its first five years of existence, the service reunited 315,000 people with £615 million in forgotten cash.
“This free and easy-to-use service has helped hundreds of thousands of customers reclaim lost savings,” says a spokesperson for the British Bankers’ Association. “It takes the hassle out of tracing savings and anyone who thinks they might have an account, but can’t find it, should contact Mylostaccount right away.”
Using the service is easy. You simply fill out a form listing as much information about yourself and your past accounts as you can. Then Mylostaccount goes on the hunt for your forgotten cash.
Have you missed out on an inheritance?
Is there a chance a long-lost relative might have left you money? It seems unlikely but there is an awful lot of money sat in unclaimed estates. If someone dies without a will, their estate is handed out according to intestacy rules.
If no relatives are found, the money goes to the Treasury. In 2013/14, the government banked more than £14 million from unclaimed estates.
But even after the Treasury has taken the money, relatives have up to 30 years to claim it. If you successfully claim an estate within 12 years, the Treasury will pay you interest on what you inherit. From 13 years to 30 years after the person died, you can still claim your inheritance but you may not be paid interest.
You can find out if you are due an inheritance by searching the Unclaimed Estates List provided by the government – though you’ll need to know the name of the relative.
If there is a match, you’ll then have to prove to the government how you are related to the person by showing birth, marriage and death certificates and a family tree.
Premium bond prizes
Almost a third of us hold Premium Bonds, but there are millions of pounds worth of unclaimed prizes. NS&I, which operates Premium Bonds, reported last year that more than 926,000 prizes have never been claimed, dating back decades. These prizes add up to a whopping £41 million.
There are two prizes worth £100,000 waiting to be claimed and several £50,000 prizes. The oldest unclaimed prize is for £100 that was won in June 1960.
“It is likely that the two winners of the unclaimed £100,000 prizes are unaware or have forgotten that they have Premium Bonds – the lucky winners have just £25 and £280 respectively invested,” says Jill Waters, the NS&I’s assistant director of retail experience.
“Prizes often become unclaimed as a result of people moving house, or forgetting that bonds have been bought for them as a child, or executors are unaware the bonds are held when someone dies.”
There are two ways you can check if you are due an unclaimed prize. If you know your Premium Bond numbers, you can enter them at Nsandi.com to see if you have won.
Alternatively, you can write to Premium Bonds, National Savings & Investments, Glasgow G58 1SB. Include your name and address, any former names and addresses and your date of birth, and it will check if there are any bonds held in your name.
Once you’ve found any lost bonds, change your settings with NS&I so any prizes are automatically paid into your bank account. That way, you’re far less likely to miss out on a windfall.
These days many of us move jobs frequently, and as a result there are a huge number of lost pensions. It is estimated that almost £3 billion is sitting in unclaimed pensions. The number of people trying to hunt down lost pensions has tripled in the past 10 years, according to research by LV= Retirement Solutions.
“With today’s workers likely to take up roles at numerous employers throughout their lives, many could find themselves missing out on a substantial amount of pension savings if they lose track of their pots,” says John Perks, managing director of LV= Retirement Solutions.
If you think you may have an old pension that you set up with a previous employer, you can check by using the government’s Pension Tracing Service at Findpensioncontacts.dwp.gov.uk. The service can’t tell you what your pensions are worth, but it will search to see if you are registered with any pension schemes. You can then contact the scheme yourself in order to reconnect with your pension.
Tracking down shares is hard, but it can be done. If you think you have shares in a specific company, you can apply to the company registrars to check their records.
For a fee, they will issue a replacement share certificate. The main share registrars are Capita Registrars, Computershare and Equiniti. To find out which of the three deals with your company, call them or check with the London Stock Exchange.
If you’ve lost track of gilts, Computershare should be able to help, as it looks after the government’s scheme for tracing lost gilts.
Anyone who has lost track of investment trusts can speak to the Association of Investment Companies or the Investment Management Association, for unit trusts.
Unclaimed life insurance
One of the hardest assets to hunt down is life insurance. If you think you know the name of the company that held the policy, contact it directly. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay the Unclaimed Asset Register for help.
Paying for help
If you are convinced you have assets out there but can’t find them, you can use the Unclaimed Asset Register – Uar.co.uk. You have to pay £25 for it to search through more than three million unclaimed share dividends, unit trusts, pensions and life insurance policies.
You just need to provide your name, address and previous names and addresses.
The £25 fee may seem offputting but, according to Which?, successful searches turn up an average of £6,000 in lost assets.
Keep a closer eye on your accounts
Only a small amount of effort on your part could avoid you misplacing your assets. It is just a case of keeping your eye on the ball when your life changes.
“Usually the problems occur when people move house and don’t advise the bank, pension company, life insurer or stocks and shares registrar, or when they die and relatives/next of kin don’t realise the assets exist,” says consumer finance expert Andrew Hagger.
If you are moving, set up a postal redirection with Royal Mail for 12 months afterwards.
That way, any correspondence will find its way to you and you can make sure you don’t miss out on informing anyone of your new address. Also keep a list of your assets and accounts in a safe place so you don’t forget about them.
As for dealing with the problems of lost assets when someone dies, the simplest way around this is to make a will.
“Life would be so much easier and less wealth would go astray if we all made a will and kept with it a list of all our financial assets,”says Hagger.“There’s a website trying to promote and enable people to do this – Thelegacysafe.com.”
If you do find some money behind the sofa, why not try investing it?
An unexpected one-off financial gain in cash or shares, generally when mutual building societies convert to stock market-quoted banks. Also windfall tax, a one-off tax imposed by government. The UK government applied such a measure in the Budget of July 1997 on the profits of privatised utilities companies.
A form of National Savings Certificate, premium bonds are effectively gilt-edged securities: you loan your money to the government and, in return, it pays you for the privilege with a guarantee it will return your capital at a specified date. Where premium bonds differ is that the interest payments (currently 1.5%) are pooled and paid out as prize money and you can get your cash back within a fortnight, with no risk. Launched by Chancellor of the Exchequer Harold Macmillan in his 1956 Budget, every single £1 unit has the same chance of winning and in May 2011, 1,772,482 winners (from a total draw of 42,539,589,993 eligible bond numbers) shared £53,174,500. The odds of winning are 24,000 to 1 and the maximum holding is £30,000 per person but it remains the only punt in which you can perpetually recycle your stake money.
Generally thought of as being interchangeable with life assurance, but isn’t. Life insurance insures you for a specific period of time, at a premium fixed by your age, health and the amount the life is insured for. If you die while the policy is in force, the insurance company pays the claim. However, if you survive to the end of the term or cease paying the premiums, the policy is finished and has no remaining value whatsoever as it only has any value if you have a claim. For this reason, life insurance is much cheaper than life assurance (also called whole of life).
The familiar name given to securities issued by the British government and issued to raise money to bridge the gap between what the government spends and what it earns in tax revenue. Back in 1997, the entire stock of outstanding gilts was £275bn; by October 2010 it had surpassed £1,000bn. Gilts are issued throughout the year by the Debt Management Office and are essentially investment bonds backed by HM Treasury & Customs and considered a very safe investment because the British government has never defaulted on its debts and this security is reflected in the UK’s AAA-rating for its debt. Gilts work in a similar way to bonds and are another variant on fixed-income securities.
Everything you own: all your assets (property, cars, investments, savings, insurance payouts, artwork, furniture etc) minus any liabilities (debts, current bills, payments still owed on assets like cars and houses, credit card balances and other outstanding loans). When you’re alive this is called your wealth; when you’re dead, it becomes your estate.