Are you one of the windfall wanderers?

700,000 have failed, or even refused, to claim their shares, writes Steve Lodge
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The Independent Online
A hard core of share haters and moral objectors could form part of a rump of as many as hundreds of thousands of people failing to claim windfall shares worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Latest figures compiled by the Independent on Sunday show that around 700,000 people have still to claim shares worth more than pounds 1bn from this year's rash of handouts by building societies and insurers.

A steady flow of claims for shares continues to turn up with the Halifax and other converted mutuals. Figures for those that remain unclaimed have in most cases already come down by more than a half since the handouts, in the case of the Halifax from a massive 700,000 people, nearly 10 per cent of those due the windfall. But with the peak of the windfall payout period now over, as time goes on claims will slow to a trickle, though converters still expect to end up with significant numbers of unclaimed windfalls worth serious amounts of money.

Some 280,000 people have still not claimed their free shares from the Abbey National's conversion into a bank in 1989 out of the 3 million entitled, although only 8,000 out of the 1.2 million customers of the National & Provincial building society due free shares as part of the N&P's takeover by the Abbey have yet to claim. By comparison, the proportion of people still to claim this year's windfalls is typically down to 5 per cent or less of those entitled.

People have three years to claim free windfall shares, after which they can then be sold, although the sale proceeds can still be claimed for a further nine years. The vast majority of people who fail to claim will be those who have moved - "goneaways" in building society speak. Having moved, in many cases they will not have received personal notification of their right to the shares. Many of these will have forgotten they have an account and/or lost the details. In some cases the individual entitled to the shares will have died without heirs or the heirs may have assumed (wrongly, in most cases) that they are not entitled to the shares of the deceased. And in some cases, people may want to have nothing to do with the shares, feeling they are getting money to which they are not entitled or because they did not want their society to convert into a bank.

"You will always get some people who morally object," says a spokesman for the Halifax, although other converters said they had no evidence that people were so against the idea that they refused to claim their shares. It should be noted that windfall shares can be put in the name of other family members for minimal cost, while some charities are happy to accept gifts of shares, and all will take the cash if you go to the trouble of selling them yourself.

Former societies say they will continue to try to contact people who have not claimed their shares. The Halifax, for example, says it is doing a mailing in November. But with most people who have not claimed being "goneaways", such postal trawls are expected to be less and less successful. "It's hard to contact people you don't have the address of," says an Abbey National spokesman.

Norwich Union, by contrast, says it has "marked" all its policies on which shares are due, so that when next there is contact with the policyholder the individual will be reminded of the outstanding bounty. Those due additional windfall bonuses will have them automatically added to maturing policies.

Abbey National sold all the shares from its 1989 handout in 1992. The cash that can be claimed is pounds 385.50 a head, compared with around pounds 1,000 the free shares and dividends would have been worth had they been claimed up until 1992 and held to date. N&P customers who have yet to claim their shares may be pleasantly surprised to hear that the value of their windfall shares has already risen by more than 60 per cent since their handout took place just over a year ago.

If the windfalls remain unclaimed, it is unlikely that people who have already taken the handouts will directly benefit, through a further handout for example. The original windfall distributions were calculated on the basis of actual records of customer accounts and so the case for suggesting that people were short-changed is a slight one. Instead, the former mutuals are more likely to follow the Abbey's example in setting up a charitable foundation to look after the money.

Compared with the extraordinary numbers of people who have failed to claim windfalls, the converters claim the numbers of people who are still querying or complaining about windfalls is relatively small. The Woolwich, which is believed to have had the biggest administrative problems in relation to the scale of its handout, still has 7,000 "queries" outstanding, a figure that includes a number of people complaining that they were sent share certificates late and so were not able to take advantage of the opportunity to sell when the shares first joined the stock market. The shares subsequently fell in value and are still more than 10 per cent below their highest price. One disgruntled Woolwich saver has set up an action group (Geoffrey Waldren, 01202 382032) and the former society says it has paid compensation for cases of maladministration, although it is reluctant to give details of amounts.

If you do think you are due a windfall you have not claimed, contact a branch or the head office. For Abbey National, call 0990 785163.

UNCLAIMED WINDFALLS

Number of people Total value

Halifax 250,000 pounds 400m

Norwich Union 200,000 pounds 210m

Alliance & Leicester 90,000 pounds 150m

Woolwich 132,000 pounds 260m

Bristol & West 25,000 pounds 6m

Abbey National* 288,000 pounds 115m

pounds 280,000 from Abbey flotation in 1989, pounds 8,000 from takeover of National & Provincial in 1996.

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