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Cents & Sensibilty: Forgotten cash

Nine years ago, the Government passed legislation to facilitate the transfer of these funds to the exchequer.

Today, all banks are required to designate accounts that have seen no activity in 15 years as dormant. They then have to make "reasonable effort" to contact the holders of these accounts. If no owner emerges, this money then goes to the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA).

Since the fund was established in 2003, no less than €587m has been transferred to the agency from the banks, post offices and insurance companies. Last year alone, the NTMA collected €42m.

But don't worry. If you suddenly remember the wad you stashed 16 years ago, that money is still yours. All dormant funds can be reclaimed at any time, or the account simply reactivated, so long as you can prove the money is yours. Since the dormant account legislation was passed, around €193m has been returned to its rightful owners. But the stash of unclaimed cash keeps getting higher. In the year to May, less than a quarter of the €38m newly added to the dormant accounts fund was reclaimed.

Reclaiming dormant money is straightforward. Before a bank decides an account is dormant, they'll try to get in touch; that's unless the account has less than €100 in it, in which case they won't bother. But, if you figure the €23.42 from an old account is as good in your pocket as with the NTMA, just get in touch with the institution and they should facilitate you. If the branch or institution no longer exists, go see the Banking Federation at www.ibf.ie.

There are circumstances in which the bank will decide that the account is dormant before that 15-year period is up, such as if statements have been returned marked "gone away" or "not at this address".

To reclaim dormant money, either on your own behalf or on behalf of someone on whose funds you believe you have a legal claim, you need a Dormant Account Claim Form, available from all financial institutions. All claims, the Banking Federation says, are investigated fully. If your claim is rejected, you can appeal through the credit institution's complaints procedures, and if they still say the money's not yours, you can go to the financial services ombudsman.

Just like the banks, the insurance companies are also required by law to try and get in touch with the owners of unclaimed life insurance policies. If the policy has a specified term, it's considered dormant if the customer hasn't been in contact with the company for five years after the policy matures.

If the policy doesn't have a specified term, it's dormant if there has been no communication between the company and the customer for 15 years.

The dormant accounts legislation doesn't apply to credit unions. The Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) says that where the individual branch has been unable to contact a member for a period of three years and there is no reply to a notice sent by registered post within 30 days, the credit union may then transfer such share and deposit accounts to the "reserve account" within the branch. If you think you've an old account with a credit union, get in touch with the branch and they'll try to sort you out.

But you only get 90 days to collect lotto winnings. Remember, too, no ticket, no winnings. Last year alone, there was more than €20m in unclaimed prizes. The National Lottery says that all of this cash goes to make extra-big prize pots that are offered periodically by the company.

Since prize bonds began in 1957, nearly 10,000 prizes have been left unclaimed. When you consider that there are 1,500 prizes doled out every week, the figure is not that high. To see if any of this unclaimed loot is yours, you can write to the Prize Bond Company or check prizebonds.ie.