Hidden treasure: Unearth your lost accounts

4 January 2018

Thousands of pounds could be lying in dormant accounts and lost pensions. Here’s how to track down your cash.

Many people will have lost a wallet in their lifetime. While it may be inconvenient, the monetary loss is likely to be small. But losing track of a financial account could potentially cost you thousands of pounds.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), there is more than £400 million in lost UK pensions alone, yet consumers routinely forget about old accounts.

There are many reasons people lose track of their bank accounts, pensions, Child Trust Funds and Premium Bonds, such as:

  • you have changed address and failed to inform your provider;
  • the provider you held the account with has closed;
  • you have switched banks and forgotten to transfer a rarely used savings account;
  • you’ve had multiple workplace pensions and lost track of them; or
  • you invested in a product when your child was born and forgot about it.

But hope is not lost, there are ways of hunting down these lost accounts and cashing in.

Start searching for savings

Start by checking your records to see if you have any old correspondence from your provider – if you have an account number, it may be as simple as making a call to your bank.

Even if you have no paperwork, your provider – if you can remember it – may be able to help if you contact it directly.

This is because unless your account has a very small sum deposited – less than £25 – the UK’s biggest banks should keep a record which allows you to claim your cash at a later point.

If you can’t find your account details, the My Lost Account service – jointly run by the Building Societies Association, National Savings & Investments (NS&I) and UK Finance – is a good place to turn. For information, go to Mylostaccount.org.uk or phone 020 3934 0329. 

Most of the UK’s biggest banks and building societies are signed up to My Lost Account. Even if your lost account provider has merged or closed, you can still be reunited with your cash as the responsibility for the account will have passed to a different provider.

To claim, you must enter some personal details and any account information you still hold. Applicants will receive a response within 12 weeks of making a claim.

NS&I also runs a service to hunt down missing Premium Bonds and other NS&I savings products. Many older bond holders may have been issued with paper certificates, which have been lost over time. Again, you do not need to have precise account numbers to be reunited.

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, says: “The scale of money in lost financial accounts is staggering,” she says.

“It’s not just the billions that have been lost overall, but the incredible sums mislaid by some individuals. Back in February 2004, someone using the NS&I tracing service was reunited with £278,835.”

Locating your pension Over a modern working lifetime, most people will work for several companies – each with its own pension scheme.

Keeping track of these can be difficult. The DWP estimates the average person has 11 jobs in their lifetime, so you could have 11 pensions.

If you lose track, the independent Pension Tracing Service has details of more than 200,000 pension schemes. Go to Pensiontracingservice.com or phone 0800 1223 170.

Technological developments could also make it easier to keep track of your pensions in future.

The government has backed plans to launch a Pensions Dashboard in 2019, which would bring together all your   pensions – both state and private – and will be easily accessible online.

Calum Bennie, savings expert at Scottish Friendly, says: “The Pensions Dashboard will be a godsend for the younger generation as it means all their pensions accounts from all the employers they’ve worked for will be in one place and it will let them see how much they’ve built up.”

Lost Child Trust Funds

Child Trust Funds are another type of account that is frequently mislaid. Every child born between September 2002 and January 2011 was eligible for this account, which could be opened for cash savings or investments and is locked until the age of 18.

However, these accounts are no longer available and have been superseded by the Junior Isa. Steve Ferrari, managing director of OneFamily, says this means they have slipped out of public consciousness.

“The first Child Trust Funds will mature in 2020, but many accounts have been lost,” he warns. “However, with basic information such as the child’s name, date of birth and the address the account was registered to, providers can reconnect customers with their accounts.”

Mr Ferrari says even if you do not know the name of the provider, the HMRC keeps records for tax purposes.

 Keeping tabs

All the services we have recommended will not charge a fee. While some firms do offer fee-paying services, you should exhaust all other avenues before turning to these third-party companies.

The best way to ensure you don’t lose an account is to keep it safe in the first place. Mrs Coles says the most common ways accounts are lost is when people move to a new house and the provider loses touch.

“It’s worth paying Royal Mail to redirect your post for at least a year, to cover any company sending annual statements,” she recommends. “Then whenever you receive redirected post, make sure you contact the provider to change your address immediately.”

Keeping your accounts organised also makes it easier for family to close an estate after death. “Keeping on top of this information makes it a lot easier if you, or your family, ever have to discuss your finances with a financial adviser or a lawyer,” Mr Bennie says.

While spreadsheets can help you keep track of your accounts, he says for those who are less computer savvy traditional methods still work well.

“I like to keep my documents in an alphabetically sectioned box file and try to file all the paperwork as soon as I’ve read it,” he says. “If you don’t use a digital platform, then the old-fashioned systems are still the best way to go.” 

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