Personal Finance: There's money out there

Harvey Jones explains how to get your hands on forgotten savings
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TENS of billions of pounds have gone missing from the UK economy and some may belong to you. But take a deep breath before you blame the usual suspects as you may be responsible for at least part of this.

The money, which could amount to more than pounds 70bn, has been left hanging around in forgotten bank and building society accounts, stocks and shares, insurance policy payouts, pension entitlements, National Savings and Premium Bonds. And there it sits, the equivalent of more than pounds 1,000 for every person in the UK, gathering dust but not always interest, waiting for the rightful owners to collect.

So how do you lay your hands on your tiny chunk?

Much of the money is discovered when a relative dies and forgotten savings books, share certificates and so on are discovered. People also forget their own pension entitlement from jobs held many years ago, or money left in bank accounts they have stopped paying into. Money left on deposit could be earning interest for a number of years, so you could be in for a pleasant surprise.

If the relevant bank, building society or whatever is still trading under the same name then the process is simple, you find a contact number or address and get in touch. No matter how long the money has been forgotten, it cannot be confiscated.

The trouble starts when the company has either changed its name, merged or been wound up. There are, however, a number of agencies who will help you trace the company, if there is one. If the missing money is in a bank or building society account you need to get your hands on a dormant bank account claim form, which you can get from a local branch or order on 0171-216 8801.

This should help trace the account. You may need identification and proof that you owned the account, for example an old statement. If the owner is dead, you will have to show proof that you are the legal heir. Brian Capon, spokesman for the British Bankers' Association, says problems with dormant accounts often occur when people move but forget to tell their bank. But, he warns, many account books pre-dating the 1970s computerisation of banking records are no longer valid.

If you discover an old building society savings book belonging to you or a relative, deceased or otherwise, your first enquiry should be to the society itself. If it no longer exists you will need to know which society or bank took over the business, and the Building Societies Association should point you in the right direction. When societies merge or are taken over they will try and contact all account holders but many people are difficult to track down. Most enquiries to the BSA are for sums of around pounds 20.

For forgotten pension entitlements, say from a job early in your career, first contact the employer. If that is not possible you will need to contact the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority for a PR4 form, which will help you trace the occupational or personal pension scheme.

Help is also available for people with missing investments in stocks and shares. If you have invested in a unit trust, and are having difficulty tracing it, the Association of Unit Trusts and Investment Funds (Autif) should help you find out whether it has changed its name, merged or been wound up. If the fund is still listed, Autif should provide details of the manager. Similarly, if you are having trouble tracing money in an investment trust, you can approach the Association of Investment Trust Companies. If you invested in an individual company and it still exists as a separate entity, you should find its shares listed on newspaper investment pages and you can then contact its share registrar. Companies House in Cardiff can help you trace a company that has been taken over or dissolved.

For information about defunct insurance companies you could contact the Association of British Insurers, which should be able to tell you what has happened. You could also find out through the Insurance Directory, which should be available in a good library.

There are billions of unclaimed pounds in National Savings and Premium Bonds, including pounds 1.2bn in fixed-interest savings certificates alone, earning 3.51 per cent interest tax free. More than pounds 16m in Premium Bond prizes has still to be paid. Winners are automatically contacted but this is often tricky if they have moved and not passed on their new address. You will need your holder's identifying number when checking your claim.

Contact addresses: Building Societies Association, 3 Savile Row, London W1X 1AF (0171-437 0655); Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority, PO Box 1NN, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE99 1NN; Association of Unit Trusts and Investment Funds, 65 Kingsway, London WC2B 6TD (0171-831 08980); Association of Investment Trust Companies, Durrant House, 8-13 Chiswell Street, London EC1Y 4YY (0171-282 5555); Companies House, Archive Section, Crown Way, Cardiff CF4 3UZ (01222 380928); Association of British Insurers, 51 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7HQ (0171-600 3333); National Savings certificates: National Savings, Durham DH99 1NS; investment account/ordinary account: National Savings, Glasgow G58 1SB; premium bonds: National Savings, Blackpool FY3 9YP. Unpaid prizes can be checked on