Britons have £50bn festering in 'lost' accounts: Here's how to trace forgotten money in pensions, investments and at banks

As the cost of living crisis goes from bad to worse, new research has revealed that Britons may have as much as £50billion sitting in inactive or dormant accounts.

There are roughly 20million people with unclaimed money festering in forgotten pensions, bank accounts, savings, and investments, according to Gretel, a website that searches for peoples’ lost money.

If correct, that £50billion figure could equate to an average of £2,500 for every Briton who has lost track of an old account.

Forgotten something? Up to £50billion of Britons’ money is thought to be sat inactive in lost or dormant accounts

Gretel estimates there to be between £19billion and £37billion in missing or unclaimed pensions, £4.5 billion in lost bank accounts, £2.8 billion in forgotten investments and £2 billion in unclaimed life insurance policies.

It is estimated that one in four pensions are currently missing or unclaimed, according to Gretel.

There are many reasons behind why someone can lose track of a pension. This can typically happen when someone changes jobs and forgets about a pension plan with an old employer.

The average person changes jobs 11 times. These movements, combined with a lack of financial experience in someone’s early years, can mean people lose track of what they were given and when.

Major life changes, such as house moves, marriage, divorce and losing a loved one can also lead to people losing track of pensions.

Forgotten bank accounts are also a major source of lost money in the UK.  

With more than 150 million bank and building society accounts, it may not be surprising to some that there is £4.5 billion stashed away in forgotten accounts.

Moved on: There are many reasons why people lose touch with their savings accounts, but the most typical cause is a change of address

There are many reasons why people lose touch with their bank or savings accounts, but the most typical cause is a change of address.

Banks, building societies and NS&I seek to keep in touch with their customers and will contact a customer if an account has been inactive for an extended period.

If no response is received, the bank, building society or NS&I will stop sending correspondence and will class the account as ‘lost’.

However, sometimes it can be because someone changed their bank account without closing their old account – which then continued to accrue interest.

Secondary bank accounts can also be forgotten about during major life events whilst there are also cases in which someone else – such as a parent or spouse – have opened an account on another’s behalf and this has ultimately led to it becoming lost.

How can you find your lost money?

Organisations that hold lost money are often impeded by not having the correct information on how to contact the owner.

This could be because of a house move they forgot to notify them of, or a name change, or any other number of reasons that make finding someone harder.

Experian’s unclaimed assets register was often the first port of call for many people hunting for lost or unclaimed accounts. However, the service is closing as of 31 August.

With only three weeks to go until the service is decommissioned it is unclear what the banks, pension providers, insurers and investment firms that have partnered with it will do to help their customers going forward.

Duncan Stevens, chief executive of Gretel said: ‘We’re at a point in time where consumers face a cost-of-living crisis and the number who are considered vulnerable, continues to rise.

‘Coupled with this, one of the primary vehicles for them finding their lost assets – valued at £50billion – is set to close its doors in a matter of weeks, with no alternative provision put in place, seemingly, from the providers previously using the service.

‘The need to get the billions in lost and unclaimed money from savings, investments and pensions back into the hands of the consumer, where it belongs, is more important than ever before.’ 

Money finding services you can use

Gretel

Gretel offers a new route for Britons to recover lost or unclaimed assets, having set its dashboard live as of April this year.

Gretel searches with companies and administrators, using its technology to query their records and retrieve any matches on behalf of its users.

Once someone has signed up with Gretel, the service will continue working with them to look for lost money and flag any new accounts as and when they are identified.

Gretel claims to be the only service that will cover the entire financial services industry, however, as it is still in its early stages it is still developing its coverage.

It continues to add new financial organisations to its search database and every time it does this, Gretel will notify customers of any results.

Uncovered: My Lost Account can help people track down forgotten savings

My Lost Account

For anyone who may have lost touch with their bank, building society or National Savings & Investments account, this could be a good option.

This service covers over 30 banks, all 43 UK building societies and the full range of National Savings & Investments (NS&I) products.

It is a free service bringing together the three tracing schemes of UK Finance, the Building Societies Association and NS&I into a single website.

This means that anyone with a lost account with a bank, a building society, NS&I – or all three – can initiate a search simply by visiting this website and completing one application form.

Information provided via the application form is passed to the institutions that may be holding the lost account.

The institutions contacted will then carry out a search of their lost accounts and the applicant will be informed whether any account they hold matches the details submitted online.

The Government pension service

This service enables people to find contact details to search for a lost pension.

It can reveal contact details of someone’s workplace or personal pension scheme, or someone else’s scheme if they have their permission.

However, it cannot inform someone whether or not they have a pension, or what its value is.

They will need the name of an employer or a pension provider to use this service, so some memory is required.

Finding a Child Trust fund 

British teenagers and their parents left £374million in matured Child Trust Funds in the seven months after the first young people were allowed to withdraw their cash, according to the latest figures from HMRC.

More than six million Child Trust Funds were set up for children born between 1 September 2002 and 2 January 2011, with children able to access the cash from aged 18.

Between September 2020 when the first accounts matured and April 2021, £393million was withdrawn, leaving £374million unclaimed.

You do not necessarily need to know your provider to trace where a Child Trust Fund is held.

You will need to fill in an online form to ask HMRC where the account was originally opened – although you’ll need to create a Government Gateway User ID and password if you don’t already have one.

Any parent looking for a CTF they set up will need the child’s Unique Reference Number, which can be found on the annual CTF statement, or their child’s national insurance number.

If you’re looking for your own trust fund, you’ll need your National Insurance number to hand.

An easier way for those aged 16 to 18 to potentially find their account is through charity the Share Foundation.

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