Your Money: On the trail of that old cash stash

You don't need to be Carol Vorderman to track down the whereabouts of long-forgotten savings accounts

WHEN AN elderly relative dies, family members are often left with the task of sorting out a tangle of half-forgotten savings accounts. The bank or building society whose name appears on the passbook may have long disappeared through merger or takeover. Even where the institution holding the money is clear, the account's brand name may no longer exist. The money in the account should still be safe, but may prove difficult to trace.

Cases like this are among those investigated by ITV's Find a Fortune series, as presenter Carol Vorderman and her team track down viewers' lost savings, legacies or pension policies. But you do not need all the resources of a television programme to be your own financial detective.

Halifax rationalised its own accounts at the end of 1995, in a process that switched many customers to new accounts with a different brand name and - in some cases - a new personal account number too. Alison Kellington, a Halifax spokeswoman, says: "When we got rid of all our obsolete accounts, we mailed all the people involved to tell them what we were doing. But it was an automatic transfer, because they were very much like-for-like accounts. If people find old passbooks, the best advice is to go to your local branch, and they'll be able to help you track them."

Where the bank whose name appears on the passbook has disappeared altogether, the process is not quite so simple. Bristol & West, for example, now holds money deposited by savers with the old Cheshunt Building Society, which Bristol & West took over in 1991. How are people who find an old Cheshunt passbook to know it is Bristol & West where they should pursue their claim?

Paul Vinnicombe, Bristol & West's savings product manager, says: "A lot of passbooks will have an address in them for the original branch and so on, and often there will be a link through. If you wrote to Cheshunt's head office, it would come to us."

Another route worth trying is your library, which may have a copy of the Bankers' Almanac, a book that lists name changes and liquidations. Where it is a vanished building society you want to find, the Building Societies Association may be able to help.

Even where problems with a dormant account are the customer's own fault, the situation can still be salvaged. "We have lots of accounts where people move and don't tell us," says Ms Kellington. "But those accounts still remain active."

Once you have placed money in a bank or building society account, that money and any interest it earns remains your property no matter how long the account is left dormant. Ms Kellington says colleagues tell of cases where Halifax accounts have been left untouched for as long as 40 years before the holder or one of his heirs has reclaimed the cash.

Sometimes, the problem is not that old accounts have been forgotten, but that money has been left languishing there when it could be earning a far better return somewhere else. Banks and other savings institutions tend to concentrate their competitive muscle on making sure accounts which can pull in new customers pay as high a rate as possible, leaving dormant accounts to drop far behind.

Here, finding out even what rate of return money in the original account is now earning could require some detective work. Bristol & West alone has more than 30 accounts which are closed to new investors, although still holding savers' money. All these accounts are now treated as if the money were in a Bristol & West Select current account, which pays interest at a paltry 0.1 per cent gross on even the largest balances. The bank's Postal Easy Access Plus account, its most popular product for new savers, pays a far more attractive 5.8 per cent gross.

Mr Vinnicombe says: "Most of the old accounts have a relatively small amount of money in them now, because people with large balances moved out some time ago."

For a free copy of the British Bankers Association's leaflet on dormant accounts and a standard claim form which can be used in any bank, call 0171-216 8801. For the Building Societies Association public information service: 0171-437 0655

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

    Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police