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 move home but forget to tell their bank or building society their new address
people die without telling their beneficiaries that the account exists
Lost accounts cover everything from bank accounts, savings accounts, to premium bonds, pensions, and life insurance.
Banks and Building Societies will 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 clumsy service on the part of the bank. It is in this way that savings accounts become lost.
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 has 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 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.
Anything 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 your bank or building society in the next step of your search.
Inform your bank of as much information as you can that might relate to your lost account, such as previous names and addresses.
You can use to seek out forgotten accounts on 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 will increase.
On Mylostaccount, When you are ready, click 'Search' and you will be asked to enter your 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 savings).
If you had an account frozen during WWII, or you think that one of your relatives may have done, you can still get that money back.
The Government froze the assets and accounts of those residing in enemy countries but with accounts in the UK, so they could not benefit from any assets being held here.
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.
This amasses information on unclaimed savings and investments in one searchable central database - 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 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 in the time 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 benefits 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.
If your account became dormant due to a house-move, try to keep your bank informed about new addresses in the future.
Changes of address are the most common cause of savings accounts becoming lost, because you may forget about the account altogether, and banks can no longer contact you, your money passes into dormancy.
Savings that are long forgotten will not usually be in the best paying interest accounts or funds. 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 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.
New bank accounts are launched all the time, so compare all of the best options to make sure you get the right one for your circumstances.