We're entitled to £15bn... if only we knew

Are you one of the many holding long- forgotten assets? Jasmine Birtles sees how to find out
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The Independent Online

Finding a forgotten £20 note in a jacket pocket sparks a singular joy; the surprise makes it feel like a stroke of luck. Now magnify this feeling to imagine the excitement of unearthing thousands of pounds in a forgotten pension scheme, a long-lost savings account or shares you didn't realise you owned.

Finding a forgotten £20 note in a jacket pocket sparks a singular joy; the surprise makes it feel like a stroke of luck. Now magnify this feeling to imagine the excitement of unearthing thousands of pounds in a forgotten pension scheme, a long-lost savings account or shares you didn't realise you owned.

Think it's unlikely such sums could slip your mind? According to the Unclaimed Assets Register (UAR), a body run by credit reference agency Experian, some £15bn worth of assets lie neglected in UK accounts. This includes an estimated £5bn in dormant bank and building society accounts, £3bn in unclaimed shares and dividends, £3bn in personal pension plans and up to £1.2bn in windfall shares from demutualised building societies and insurers.

"It's amazing how much people can forget but it's not uncommon at all," says Meera Patel, a senior analyst at independent financial adviser (IFA) Hargreaves Lansdown.

"Older people investing for their grandchildren forget to tell their own children about their plans and then die, or people put money aside for others and die without making a will."

Research from National Savings & Investments (NS&I) suggests a more common problem: one in seven people omit to tell all their financial providers when they move house.

George Kennedy, 63, a retired hotelier from North Wales, says he had a vague memory of a personal pension taken out in 1970. "I lost the paperwork after moving house but knew it had the word 'sun' in it somewhere. I'd paid into it for a few years, then stopped because it seemed like rubbish. But I thought there must be something in it."

After contacting UAR, which searched records for 1970, he struck gold with a Royal & Sun- Alliance policy. "There was nearly £10,000 in it. It only took them a few weeks and I've cashed it in already."

Mr Kennedy paid UAR its standard £18 charge to trawl records of old bank accounts, life policies, share dividends, unit trusts and endowments.

UAR charges a separate £35 fee for finding any unclaimed occupational or personal pensions. Alternatively, you can do this yourself by contacting the Pension Schemes Registry at www.opra.gov.uk to use its free online service.

There are other ways to find out if you have neglected treasure. If, like many thousands of hopeful savers, you buy National Savings premium bonds in the hope of a prize but lose the numbers and regularly forget to check for an update, write to the organisation to check if you have won (see the address below).

"Since November 2001, we have traced £11.4m for more than 12,000 people - an average of £945 per person," says NS&I's spokesman, Jonathan Akerman.

For information on lost National Savings certificates or accounts, you need a different address (also listed below). However, if you know your holder number, you can search on www.nationalsavings.co.uk.

If you recall depositing a small sum in a long-closed bank branch, search for it using a special British Bankers' Association form available from any bank branch. The Building Societies Association also has information on how to trace lost or forgotten savings accounts; log on to its website at www.bsa.org.uk.

Shares and dividends often go unclaimed too. This is usually down to a home seller failing to notify the share registrar of a change of address, or an investor dying without leaving any record of the holding.

If you think you might own some shares or be entitled to dividends, contact the registrar for that company. The registrar is likely to be Lloyds TSB, Computershare or Capita IRG; you may find it has your shares.

If you have lost the stock's certificate but find you own some shares, ask the registrar to issue you with a new share certificate. This is free of charge but you will also need to pay for a letter of indemnity to insure the share-issuing company against any claim made with the original certificate. Registrars usually charge an administration fee of £24 for processing the letter.

Although there is an undeniable pleasure in discovering forgotten money, it's far better to keep a close eye on your finances. Watch out for mistakes in all your accounts by keeping accurate records: hang on to all your receipts and cashpoint slips and check every bank statement carefully.

Fraud, missing deposits and incorrect debits happen all too often, so stay alert to any unusual transactions on your statements. Always query anything you don't understand.

Contacts: www.uar.co.uk; British Bankers' Association, www.bankfacts.org.uk; www.lloydstsb-registrars.co.uk; www.capita-irg.co.uk; www.computershare.com. For details of premium bonds, write to Premium Bonds, National Savings, Blackpool FY3 9YP. For National Savings certificates, write to the same company at Durham DH99 1NS. For all other National Savings accounts, write to Glasgow G58 1SB.


Sue Schwieso isn't sure of the exact date but thinks it might have been 1977 or 1980. No matter now.

Nearly quarter of a century after she first invested the money, Ms Schwieso discovered £3,000 in an old National Savings account.

"It was great. I had forgotten all about it," she says.

A spark came when a recent house move in Gravesend, Kent, prompted her to consider saving some money in premium bonds. "Looking at these bonds, it must have jogged my memory and I suddenly thought about the old account."

Determined to find out what had happened to her money, she logged on to the National Savings website for more information before making a telephone call to explain her predicament.

After checking its records, NS&I found her money: the original investment of £2,000 had swelled with interest to £3,000.

"At the time, I didn't actually need the money and didn't ever think about it," she adds.

Rather than spend the lot, Ms Schwieso has chosen to save her money instead - with National Savings premium bonds.

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