Four ways to find a forgotten fortune

In tough times like these, most people need all the money they can get. But many of us are better off than we think. From forgotten lottery wins to dormant bank accounts, there are millions of pounds out there just waiting to be claimed. Ruth Jackson explains how to go about it.

What are you worth? It could be a lot more than you think. Thousands of us have money we've forgotten about. From winning lottery tickets, to dormant bank accounts and unused loyalty points, there are millions and millions of pounds out there waiting to be claimed.

Don't let David Cameron take your money

From the day we are born other people start worrying about our financial future. Parents, grandparents and godparents regularly start savings accounts for babies. Can you be sure that in the 18 years until you started handling your finances yourself, that one of these accounts wasn't forgotten about? And what about the savings account you opened with good intentions in your twenties? Did you dutifully save some money into it, then forget about it? There is between £250m and £300m lying in dormant bank accounts, according to the British Bankers' Association (BBA). Is some of that yours?

There is so much money lying out there in forgotten bank accounts that David Cameron announced in July that he was going to raid some of it to set up his 'big society' bank to fund charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups. At the end of this year, a central reclaim fund will be established which will accept transfers of dormant funds from banks and building societies. Only accounts that have had no customer activity no contact with the bank or transactions on the account for 15 years will be used by the fund. And if your money is used and you later realise, you can claim the money back. "Customers' money remains customers' money," says Brian White of the BBA.

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But save yourself the hassle of trying to reclaim the money after it's gone by checking you haven't got any dormant accounts now. You can check for free by entering your details at the BBA's Mylostaccount website. You will need to give them as much information as possible including all your previous addresses. If you are lucky, you will find a fortune.

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But even if you find you just have an old account with a few pennies in it, you can probably do yourself a favour by closing it. When a lender is considering any credit applications from you, they will check your credit file to see if you are a good person to lend to. One of the things they look at is how much credit you already have access to, which includes the limits on your current credit cards and any overdraft facilities you have. So if you have a current account of some kind with an overdraft left over from your teens, close the account it might be having a negative affect on your credit rating.

The Lottery it might have been you

The idea that you could have won the lottery and not know about it may seem far-fetched, but it does happen. Every year, Camelot, the company that runs the National Lottery, gives away millions of pounds in prizes left unclaimed. If your numbers come up, you have 180 days to claim your money otherwise it is added to the money Camelot gives to charity. In 2008/9 that came to £78.2m. You can check if your numbers have come up any time in the last 180 days at the National Lottery website.

There is also £31m in Premium Bond prizes left unclaimed. If you have Premium Bonds but haven't kept National Savings & Investments (NS&I) informed of address changes then you may not have been informed that you've won. If you have your Premium Bond customer number then you can check if you have won a prize on the NS&I website. Or, if you don't have your customer number, you can call their customer services on 0845 964 5000.

Make your loyalty pay

Open your wallet or purse and you'll probably see at least one loyalty card the average Brit has three. And while we dutifully shop in the right stores and remember to swipe these cards, a lot of us don't then go on to claim our reward. There is £5.2bn of unused loyalty points sitting on cards around the country, says Kara Gammell in The Daily Telegraph. So start using them. You can usually cash in the points at the checkout to get money off your shopping. Or some schemes, such as Tesco Clubcard or Nectar, offer you more money for your points on their websites, where you can exchange points for purchases including trees and English Heritage membership at knock-down prices.

Exchange your foreign currency

Every year 64% of tourists return to Britain with foreign currency worth about £30, says Visa Europe. But only 5% of tourists get the money exchanged back into pounds. It may be that the rest dutifully file the currency away ready for the next time they visit that region. But most of us don't. You can find out who is offering the best deals on buying back your currency at

And if you have some left over foreign coins, drop them in to your local Age Concern shop as they can convert them and then use the funds to help elderly people.

None of these things will take you long, but they could make you just a little richer.

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Ruth Jackson-Kirby

Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance. 

Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.

Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.