Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Britain's unclaimed assets

By Cat Whiteaway
Producer, The Fortune Hunters, BBC Radio 4

More than 20 years after she last saw her father, Wendy Pentelow was tracked down and told she was entitled to his estate.

National Savings Certificate
Savings can be claimed even after 15 years

He had died just a few miles away from where she now lives, and she was first in line to inherit.

Ms Pentelow found the news of her father's death and her subsequent inheritance "very sad, quite emotional and very odd".

But for those who have simply forgotten about funds they have put aside for a rainy day, Parliament introduced the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act recently.

This means that after a minimum of 15 years of dormancy money left in unclaimed accounts can be removed and used for charitable purposes.

In North Staffordshire, one building society turned detective and found 10,000 in lost funds for a local charity.

Big deal

More than 15bn worth of assets remain unclaimed in the UK.

Old National Lottery ticket
Many fail to claim after winning the lottery

Some of the funds are lost, but the majority are simply unknown to those entitled.

The lost billions include 31m in premium bonds, 500m in dormant accounts, and 452m in National Savings & Investments (NS&I).

But also pensions, life insurance, dividends, tax rebates, shares, wayleaves, windfalls and other bequests all lie untouched.

People dying without leaving a will in England and Wales alone account for 18m a year.

The Treasury handles around 2,500 of these cases annually by advertising the estate and making enquiries to locate beneficiaries.

If no blood relatives come forward then the estate passes to the Crown, except in the Duchies of Cornwall or Lancaster where chosen benevolent funds and charities benefit.

Tracing the winners

Across the UK, banks and building societies are working hard to reunite customers with their accounts.

Some soldiers feel badly treated after years of service

So far, Nationwide has reunited 9.5m with its customers, whilst Lloyds TSB has announced an ambitious drive to reunite the 69m held in more than 120,000 dormant savings accounts.

The key thing to remember in the new Act is that money can always be claimed back, even after 15 years.

NS&I tackles the problem of reuniting more than 31m of unclaimed premium bond prizes without revealing any personal details to the press.

They are able to do this with the assistance of a tracing agency.

But National Lottery operator Camelot do not even know the names of their winning ticket holders so it is much harder for them to track down the people owed millions before the 180-day deadline passes.

Money owed

In Derbyshire, one woman forgot a Lotto ticket worth thousands of pounds and was very surprised to find her winning ticket at the bottom of her handbag.

Listen to the first of five programmes in The Fortune Hunters series on Radio 4

While one man was just days away from losing out on 5m when he came forward following an appeal in the newspaper.

Other people unwittingly missing out on money entitled to them are authors, illustrators and editors when their books are borrowed from local lending libraries.

Each time a book was borrowed in 2008, it was worth 5.9 pence to the author, according to the Public Lending Rights Society.

There is potentially more money owed to musicians, but it is virtually impossible to keep track of all the session musicians who have ever performed on all the recordings in the past 50 years.

A lack of knowledge of the system means that even experienced performers can be caught out.

Musician David Knopfler believes he is still owed royalties for the first two Dire Straits albums.

Military matters

Former soldiers are also fighting to have their money returned to them.

They claim to have wrongly had tax deducted from their pensions by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The 1952 Income and Corporation Taxes Act made pensions tax-free, if granted on account of medical unfitness attributable to service.

Retired Major John Perry in 1998 discovered that the MoD had been taxing him unlawfully.

He estimates that more than 3,000 ex-soldiers have been reunited with 75m following his incredible discovery.

However, despite being re-paid his tax rebate, 91-year-old Major Richard Perkins is still waiting to be compensated for the loss of interest, amounting to almost 100,000.

Retired Major Perkins is marching on Parliament soon to try to get a result before it is too late for him to use the money he is owed.

But he is also conscious this might apply to others, and believes very strongly that "it's a howling disgrace that this is going on this country".

His MP, John Greenway, supports him and says it is "shameful" and "wrong" what the MoD is doing.

The MoD say they have contacted all the ex-soldiers affected by the incorrect deductions, and consider the matter now resolved.

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