In banks across Britain millions of pounds are sitting dormant in lost accounts, waiting to be re-claimed by their rightful owners. We take you through how you could be reunited with yours.
Finding an unexpected windfall, no matter how big or small, can be a bonus. Instead of waiting for a lottery win, why not have a look to see if you have any money in dormant accounts? Millions of pounds are currently sitting in old accounts so there’s no harm in checking to see if you’re due any extra cash.
Lost accounts are simply accounts that have not been accessed for a long time; they are commonly marked as lost after:
being forgotten about by their owners
people moving home but forgetting to tell their bank or building society their new address
When people die without telling their beneficiaries that the account exists
Lost accounts cover everything from bank accounts and savings accounts, to premium bonds, pensions and life insurance.
Banks and Building Societies utilise whatever information they have about you to try to get in contact when there is no response from an address held on records, but to continue doing so after a period of time would pose a security risk.
Sending sensitive information such as account numbers to an address you clearly no longer occupy would be an unwelcome service on the part of the bank, but this is also how financial accounts become lost.
It depends on the account. On a current account, a 12-month period of inactivity would usually designate it as 'dormant'. Savings accounts will not be considered dormant until between three and five years of inactivity have passed.
Accounts are then classed as lost if they have seen no activity for 15 years or more and the funds are transferred into the Big Society Fund which is used to fund social enterprises.
Your money is still recoverable once it's been transferred to the Big Society Fund but you will have to prove that it belongs to you before you can get it back.
If you think you have money in a lost account, there are steps to follow to get it back.
If you suspect that you have a lost account somewhere, search your house for old cheque books and other paperwork connected to the bank you think an account may be held with. If you had an online account, it may be easier to locate so search through your email inboxes for anything from the account provider.
Any document that holds account numbers or details of that nature could be your first clue in the hunt for your forgotten savings.
If a relative has passed away, you may find details of an account in their belongings. Any information you find, even if you don't have account numbers, can be taken to that bank or building society in the next step of your search.
Give the bank as much information as you can relating to your lost account, such as previous names and addresses.
You can seek out forgotten accounts on free websites like mylostaccount.org. It combines tracing schemes set up by the BBA (British Bankers' Association), the BSA (Building Societies Association), and NS&I (National Savings & Investments).
You can perform a search using any details you have to hand. The more information you have about a possible lost account, the more your chances of locating forgotten money.
On Mylostaccount, when you are ready, click 'search' and enter details relating to the suspected account. These details will be sent on to the institutions that could be holding your money.
If your money was held with a bank or building society that no longer exists, you can search for them on the BBA website to find out what has happened to them (and more importantly, your money).
If you had an account frozen during WWII, or you think that one of your relatives could have, you can still get that money back.
During the war, the government froze UK assets and accounts of people residing in enemy countries.
You can now check a list of names of the account holders - surname and initial only for security reasons - and it will give you the chance to start your search, to get started visit the Restore UK website.
If your hunt for forgotten money so far has been in vain, another avenue you can try is the Unclaimed Assets Register.
It is owned by the credit reference agency Experian and holds information on unclaimed savings and investments in one searchable central database. You’ll be able to access companies associated with Experian - however, to use this service you will be charged a fee (currently £25).
The fee may be worth it if you suspect you could have a large amount waiting to be claimed. The site works in the same way as Mylostaccount, with forms to fill in either online or by post, and relevant information is then passed to the institutions in question.
If you are lucky enough to find your lost money, you'll be entitled to all the interest accrued since the account was opened.
Your money might be operating on a slow rate of interest, so after locating it you may want to switch to a new provider to make sure it starts to benefit from a better interest rate.
No matter how old the account is, and regardless of name changes, the money will still belong to you. You'll just need to provide identification, proving your current as well as previous names, and the money will be yours to claim.
Savings that are long forgotten will not usually not be earning much interest. So you should take a look at your new-found asset and see how you can make it work harder for you.
You can use our savings account comparison to find the best savings rates for your money today.
Of course, if you have debts, then you may want to use your windfall to pay some of them off, read our guide: Should I Use My Savings To Pay Off My Debts?
If you have emptied the account to move the money elsewhere, or you have other accounts with little or nothing in them, then you may want to consider closing them.
To close the account, you should get in touch with the bank or building society and tell them you no longer need it. They will send you any forms that need signing. You will need to return these, and specify where you want the money to be paid.
It is not only lost savings accounts that you may be able to reclaim:
You can find a lost pension for free via the Pension Tracing Service, then get financial advice about what to do with them. This is really important because your old pension savings could be degraded by high fees and poor investments.
You can contact the AIC for help finding Investment Trusts, Companies House for shares, and the IMA for Unit Trusts and OEICs. Policy Detective can be useful for finding old life insurance, but it's not exhaustive.
Make sure you don’t lose any accounts in the future by contacting financial organisations when you move.
A change of address is the most common cause of savings accounts becoming lost - you may forget about the account altogether, and because the bank can no longer contact you, your account is classed as dormant.