| 15.1°C Dublin

Smart Consumer: There's €600m out there in unclaimed money...


Library Image

Library Image

Library Image

Between dormant accounts, abandoned insurance policies and forgotten winnings, there's more than €600m sitting around out there, waiting for its rightful owner to show up. Could any of this cash be yours?

Over the last nine years, more than €523m has been left forgotten in building society, bank and post office accounts. The total value of unclaimed insurance policies over that period comes to €68m.

Twelve lotto winners have failed to come forward and collect combined jackpots of over €11m in the last 20 odd years, including a €3.4m winner in 2001. The Prize Bond Company says that their unclaimed prizes are worth €1.9m.

Meanwhile, Dublin Bus says the same value in change receipts is left unclaimed by passengers every year. That's a grand total of €605m.

In 2001, when the Government did a sweep of financial institutions and learned how much money was sitting forgotten in accounts, they decided to do something about it.

The main aim of the Dormant Accounts Act 2001 was to reunite account holders or their next of kin with dormant funds. Any account is considered dormant if there's been no transaction across it in 15 years.

Once an account crosses that threshold, the credit institution must try and contact you, unless there's less than €100 in the account. If they can't locate you, the money is transferred to a fund in the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), which is used for a range of charitable purposes; to support projects aimed at easing poverty and social deprivation, supporting people with disabilities, or helping the educationally disadvantaged.

In the last nine years, building societies and banks have transferred more than €263m to the fund, while the post offices have contributed €259m. The interest earned by the state on those funds comes to more than €35m while well under half, €230m, has actually been reclaimed by its rightful owner.

But don't worry. If you wake up tomorrow and remember that you stashed 10 grand in a deposit account 20 years ago, that money is still yours, and will always be yours.

Get in touch with the bank and ask for a dormant account claim form. Fill it in and send it back. You take the same route if you believe you have a legal claim on funds in someone else's name, though of course, you will need to provide evidence to back up that claim.

If the financial institution no longer exists, go to the Irish Banking Federation at ibf.ie or call them at (01) 6715311. They'll point you in the right direction.

Though Credit Unions aren't covered by the dormant accounts legislation, they do have internal procedures for dealing with accounts that haven't seen any activity over a prolonged period.

If the credit union hasn't been able to contact the member for three years, he or she gets a letter by registered post. If there's no reply to that, the credit union shuts the account and transfers any cash to a 'reserve' account. That cash remains the property of the member, and they still get interest and dividends. But when you show up to claim your cash, you'll have to prove you are who you say you are.

Shortly after bringing in the dormant accounts legislation, the Government introduced a similar bill to tackle unclaimed insurance policies. Since it came into force in 2003, more than €68m worth of insurance products have been transferred to the NTMA's dormant accounts fund. If the policy has a specified term, it will be considered dormant if the customer has not been in contact with the insurance company for five years from the date the policy matured or the last company's last communication with the customer, whichever is later.

If the policy doesn't have a specified term, it will be considered dormant if there has been no communication between the company and the customer for 15 years. You can claim back funds that are rightfully yours at any time, just get in touch with the company.

Somebody out there walked into The Acorn newsagents in Coolock sometime in the week leading up to the Lotto draw held on June 30, 2001, and walked out with the winning ticket. For three months, that same ticket was worth €3,445,223, then, at midnight on September 28 that year, it silently became worthless. It's only one of 12 Lotto jackpots that were never claimed since the Lotto began 24 years ago, the most recent one all the way back in 2003.

Though no jackpot has been forgotten since then, total unclaimed winnings each year come to around 2pc of sales, which, based on 2010 figures, is a whopping €15.4 million. All of these winnings revert to the National Lottery after just 90 days. This cash goes to make the extra-big prize pots that are offered periodically. Remember too that Lotto tickets are a bearer instrument, like cash. No ticket, no prize.

The biggest unclaimed prize bond prize is €20,000, and it was won in 2004. This is part of a total pot of unclaimed cash worth €1.9m, made up of 18,275 separate prizes.

Most, as you can imagine, are pretty small, and if you consider that in March alone, more than 40,000 prizes worth a combined €4m were doled out, the value of unclaimed winnings is quite low. The Prize Bond Company says that when it comes to the higher value prizes, they simply send out written notification together with a claim form to the bond holder at their last registered address. If the form isn't returned, they send out another three months later, and if that never comes back, they send out another three months after that. If that doesn't work, the money just sits there, waiting for whoever holds the bond to show up.

If you've moved house since you received your bonds, now is the time to dig them out of that drawer and plug the numbers into the prizebonds.ie site to see if you've won anything. If your numbers are listed as "unclaimed", then write to State Savings, Prize Bonds (Unclaimed Prizes), FEXCO, Killorglin, County Kerry. Unlike the Lotto, winners can redeem their prizes at any time.

Since the day Dublin Bus brought in its change receipt regime, it was inevitable that a lot of that change was never going to be reclaimed. The only way to encash a change receipt is to take it to Dublin Bus Head Office.

You need to amass a number of those receipts to justify the trip to O'Connell Street, especially if you don't live in the capital. No surprise then that the average value of unclaimed receipts comes to €1.9m.

Rest assured however that those receipts never expire, so you can make the trip and collect that 55c any time.

Irish Independent