It could pay to trace forgotten bank accounts
It may sound stupid, but it’s not hard to forget about savings accounts or pensions from previous employers, particularly when you lock your money away for a year or two to get a better rate, when your building society merges with another, or you move home and forget to tell the bank your new address, or you get married and change your name.
How many of us have been clearing out a desk or trunk in the attic and uncovered an old passbook or savings certificate and wondered if there’s any money left in the account. Many people will come across old documents when a relative dies.
The good news is that, if the account holder left money in the account, that person – or their heirs - can still claim it no matter how much time has passed.
How to track down savings
If you find an old passbook, or you remember you once had an account with a certain bank or building society but can’t find any documentation, you can write to the lost accounts department of the bank or building society in question and ask them to have a look for your money for you. It helps to give as much information as possible, including an account number and any addresses you have lived at before your current one.
If your bank or building society has merged with another one, you can find a list of which took over which and where they are now by clicking here and here.
If you find an old Trustee Savings Bank passbook, any money left in the account will now be in the care of Lloyds Banking Group, as Lloyds merged with TSB in 1995. Take the book into any Lloyds TSB branch and ask them to put a trace on the account.
To track down a friendly society, you should be able to get more details from the Association of Financial Mutuals which has a list of closed and merged societies.
Lost National Savings accounts can be tracked through the National Savings and Investments tracing service.
A really good resource for tracing lost accounts is the website www.mylostaccount.org.uk. It is run by the banks, building societies and NS&I and can help you find dormant savings accounts. You simply fill in your details on the website and all three organisations will do a trawl for you for no charge.
The website also gives addresses to write to and phone numbers, if you prefer to start your search with a letter or phone call rather than using the internet.
Forgotten insurance policies
If you are looking for lost insurance policies, this task is a bit harder. You can write to the insurer, or its successor if its policies are being administered by another company, or you can use the services of the Unclaimed Assets Register. You have to pay £25 for each UAR search, so do as much research yourself as you can first.
If you think your insurer has been taken over it’s worth checking the websites of the insurance “consolidators” such as Phoenix Life, ReAssure and Guardian, which are now custodians of thousands of dormant policies and investments in so called “closed funds”.
The big, still-active insurers Friends Life and Aviva have also taken over many smaller insurers, so it’s worth looking at their websites to see if the name of your old insurer is among them.
Trace your old pension
If you want to track down a pension you can ask the Department of Work and Pensions’ Pensions Tracing Service to look for both company and personal pensions.
Once again, have as much detail to hand as you can, such as employee number, national insurance number, past addresses, any account number you are aware of and, of course, the name of the firm you worked for. If the firm has gone out of business, or been absorbed into another company, the first step towards uniting you with your money is to find out who is actually holding it.
How to find shares
If you find an old share certificate you are going to need the address of the current registrar to see if you still have shares. This is unlikely to be the address given on the share certificate itself, as share registration has all been computerised nowadays and the registrar is quite likely to be one of the big share registration companies, such as Equiniti, Capita Registrars or Computershare.
If you search online you will be able to find which one deals with the relevant company, or you can contact the London Stock Exchange. Computershare also operates the government’s scheme for tracing lost gilts.
If the name of the company on the share certificate doesn’t sound familiar and you can’t easily find any trace of it, a couple of things could have happened. The company could have stopped trading, so the shares have no value, or the company could have been taken over by another one (in which case you may be due an allocation of shares or cash if you missed out at the time of the takeover).
Another word of warning: trading companies often buy the right to use the brands of a company that has gone out of existence. This happened when Woolworths went into administration nearly three years ago. Shop Direct bought the rights to use the Woolworths brand online. If you have a share certificate for the old company, sadly, you aren’t due anything from the new one. This can be confusing and you need to be sure which company you are dealing with.
Unfortunately people often hang on to old certificates after a takeover for sentimental reasons, and it is quite likely that the new shares were issued or a cash payout was made long ago. While it’s always worth checking, be prepared for the certificate you have found to be void.
If the certificate no longer represents a shareholding but it’s of an attractive design you may be able to sell it to a scripophilist – or collector of certificates. Contact a dealer such as GKR Bonds for more details.
How do I prove the money is mine?
If you haven’t used an account for a while, it will probably have been declared “dormant” and you will be blocked for accessing it in the normal way. You may have to show identification and prove you are the rightful owner.
The money remains yours at all times, however, and if it is an interest-bearing account it will continue to gain interest.
In 2010 the government brought in new rules to force banks to put money in dormant accounts to good use rather than use it to stuff their own coffers. If you have a rightful claim on the money, either because it is yours or because you can show you inherited it from a family member who has died, you will always be able to access it no matter how much time has passed.
* Read Annie Shaw's money articles every month in Saga Magazine.