A staggering £78 billion of unclaimed assets is languishing in long-forgotten bank accounts, pension pots and investment accounts.
The amount has spiralled to an all-time high, according to exclusive research for The Mail on Sunday by Gretel, an online service which reconnects people with lost and dormant accounts.
Nearly three in ten UK adults admit they could have money collecting dust in an old account, a study run by the company reveals.
Have you got a stash of cash?: Gretel is an online service which reconnects people with lost and dormant accounts
Banks, building societies, wealth managers and insurers typically lose track of their customers when they are not informed of a change in address. It has created a mountain of lost money that experts now warn will only continue to grow, after a major service that helped people track their money down closed last year.
Credit checker Experian closed its Unclaimed Asset Register, a database of members of the public who have unclaimed assets, as it was unprofitable despite charging £25 a search.
But with just a spot of detective work it is easy to find out at no cost if you – or loved ones – have a hidden chest of treasure.
Consumer website Money Saving Expert says: ‘It is worth spending perhaps ten minutes checking to see if you have such a windfall. It is free and easy to check online.’
Bank accounts can be declared dormant if a bank, building society or wealth manager is getting letters that it sends out to you returned – with an explanation that you no longer live at this address.
This is usually accompanied by a period of inactivity – where you have not touched any funds – for between one and five years.
To find out if you fall into this category – for both current and savings accounts (including money held by National Savings & Investments) – you should visit the Government-backed website mylostaccount.org.uk.
The service is jointly funded by banking industry body UK Finance, the Building Societies Association and National Savings & Investments.
All that is required for a search are a few basic details, such as your name (including previous ones in the case of marriage), your address (list as many old addresses as possible) and your date of birth.
When it comes to tracking down old workplace pensions from previous jobs that you may have forgotten about, you need to use the Pension Tracing Service – at gov.uk/find-pension-contact-details. For investments, the Investment Association may be able to help you out at theia.org. Or for investment trusts go to the Association of Investment Companies at theaic.co.uk.
Insurance policies can also occasionally be forgotten and fall through the cracks. The trade body the Association of British Insurers can help with a list of insurers and tracking service at abi.org.uk/data-and-resources/tools-and-resources/tracing-an-insurance-policy.
All is not lost: You can track down investments, pensions and bank accounts using a free online service
Finally, if you have failed to get hold of money using your own detective work, a free service such as the one provided by Gretel is a great place to go – you have nothing to lose. The company makes its money by charging banks and other finance houses to agree to be on its database.
You can also use the Gretel service to hunt down family, friends and those who have died.
Duncan Stevens, chief executive of Gretel, says: ‘At a time when every penny counts these dormant accounts can be a lifeline. You should reclaim what is yours right now.’
According to Gretel, the majority of lost money is in pension pots – accounting for about £40 billion. As many as two million people are believed to have forgotten retirement plans that would typically pay out at least £20,000 each.
A further ten million people have bank and building society current and savings accounts that were opened many years ago but are now dormant – with £4.5 billion shared out among this large group of people, the average windfall that someone might expect is £450.
Some two million people are believed to have shares worth £1,250 that remain unclaimed and a further 2.5 million have life insurance policies that would on average pay out £800 if the policyholder manages to track them down.
Child Trust Funds is another major area where money has been forgotten over the years – and the children are now grown up. There are an estimated one million people with a total of £2.2 billion – so averaging £2,200 each – with such Child Trust Funds.
The amount of NS&I savings unclaimed is relatively small at £60 million but provides an average nest egg of £40.