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Could you be sitting on a fortune in forgotten shares?

Holly Thomas / 11 January 2016 ( 30 October 2018 )

Being forgetful can have its merits when you discover you hold shares that you had forgotten about – and find yourself in line for a windfall.

Pirate-style treasure chest on a beach, lid open and filled with gold, treasure and jewels
Could your forgotten shares be worth a fortune?

In 2015 Equiniti, one of the three main share registers, reunited more than 67,000 shareholders with a total of £61 million.

Death, emigration, or even just a change of address may mean investors are separated from their investments. Many are not even aware they have money due to them and some may be owed many thousands of pounds.

Seven signs that you need to get on top of your finances

Equiniti estimates it has £514 million worth of unclaimed shares on its register, and that there is £4 billion in unclaimed shares and dividends in the UK.

This can be because many people stash them away somewhere safe, and forget about them. 

One financial adviser recalled: “One client came across a share certificate at the bottom of an old dog basket.”

If you come across an old share certificate, check whether the company still exists. All limited companies in the UK are registered at Companies House. You can search for details, like previous company names and the registered office address free of charge. You should check with the respective registrar to ensure that your certificates are still valid. 

Think you may have some old pensions? Read our guide to tracing them.

Keep control of your finances, save money and avoid getting ripped off with Saga's extensive range of money articles.

There’s more…

It’s not just the shares themselves that people miss out on. There is around £400 million worth of unclaimed payments from shares waiting to be collected. These payments – called dividends - can be just a few pence, but some of the unclaimed funds run into thousands of pounds.

Payments may go uncollected because cheques are sent to shareholders who have moved house, or electronic payments are made after someone has switched bank accounts. Also, shareholders may have died and not left details about their holdings for their families. 

Trace your old shares with registrars Capita, Computershare and Equiniti, which will be able to search their records. If they locate unclaimed dividends, they will issue cheques to the value of the amount that is due.

Some companies impose a 12-year time limit on dividend claims.

Read Annie Shaw's guide to common investment mistakes

Lost your share certificate?

You might know you have shares, but mislaid the certificate and given up hope of finding it. Should you wish to sell your shares, you need to have the certificates. 

If you can’t find them, certificates can be replaced for a fee by Capita, Equiniti and Computershare. Investors are expected to pay for replacements if they are lost. 

New to investing? Read our guide to the basics.

Keep control of your finances, save money and avoid getting ripped off with Saga's extensive range of money articles.

Want to be more tax efficient?

Holding shares in an ISA is a smart move as it means less money is handed to the taxman. So if you discover you hold some shares and there’s room in your ISA – for the tax year 2018/2019, the current annual tax-free allowance is £20,000 – then it is worth considering moving them.

Savers are not allowed, under current ISA rules, to transfer existing holdings directly into the ISA. The shares need to be sold and bought back again, this time inside an ISA. 

The process has a rather quirky name: "Bed and Isa". It is widely used but there are some charges.

In undertaking this strategy, the sale of the shares should trigger a capital gain, which is taxable. Individuals each have a capital-gains tax allowance of £11,700 in the 2018/2019 tax year. If you are married, your spouse has the same allowance, which is worth bearing in mind if there is a large gain to consider.

Holding your shares with paper certificates can slow the process – and make it more expensive. The paper certificates may need to be transferred to electronic ones before the "Bed and Isa" can be actioned, depending on the broker. 

Informative, in-depth and in the know: get the latest money news with Saga Magazine. 

Next article: Should I invest in a stocks and shares ISA? >>>

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.