Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)

TUESDAY 5 JUNE 2007

MS ANGELA KNIGHT CBE, MR PAUL CHISNALL, MR IAIN CORNISH AND MR ADRIAN COLES

  Q140  John Thurso: Does this come back to the point that you were making that that person clearly knows where they were, and presumably was receiving statements, et cetera, and therefore it was not actually a dormant account at all?

  Ms Knight: No, that is entirely the point. That is an extreme case, it is quite an interesting case, but the very fact that people do not do a transaction on the account does not mean they have lost it, it does not mean they do not know it is there, it means they have decided not to do a transaction on that account. Clearly, in the run up to this legislation taking effect, there will be a lot of reunification type actions taking place. Writing letters to places where you know people are not does not strike us as the most relevant one, and the more, if I may say, that we get articles such as that, whether one believes it or not, the more people will be coming forward for their money. So, there are lots of different ways of getting people to take some action about money they have left behind and they are not sure where they have left it.

  Q141  John Thurso: The Government proposals specifically do not propose that letters should be sent to people at their last known address. Do you think that is a lacuna in the proposals? Do you think that should be in there?

  Ms Knight: I do not think it is a lacuna necessarily in the proposals, because for a number of years with accounts where banks are trying to get in touch with their customer they will have been writing to the last known addresses anyway. So, having a mandatory requirement to write to that last known address which they have already written to and already received no reply to, and no doubt on more than one occasion, does not seem to be the most appropriate way forward. Therefore, we do not think it is an omission in the legislation, we think it is a commonsense approach to the variety of different ways in which all our banks will be trying to recontact people who had banked with them some time ago and from whom they have not heard.

  Q142  John Thurso: A variety of schemes have been set up by the BBA, the BSA and some individual institutions to trace dormant account holders, and I know that in February the Halifax announced a fairly comprehensive scheme. What are the other institutions doing to match what the Halifax has done?

  Mr Coles: It is important to bear in mind, again, another statistic from the National Consumer Council Research, only 9% of those with inactive accounts say in that market research that they do not know how to get in touch with the institution or do not know how to make contact with their account. So, that means that 91%, broadly speaking, are aware of the account, know how to make contact with it and are able to access it. What we are doing is ensuring that we get good press coverage for our scheme. We have improved our scheme so that you can fill in our lost accounts claim form directly on the website now, you do not need to print it out and post it off any more; we have electronified the arrangements for sending it off to societies, there is no paper involved at our end any more; so it is done much more efficiently than used to be the case. Individual building societies are upping their effort, despite the example I gave you, to use tracing agents in the case of large accounts and to publicise the existence of lost amounts from small accounts so that we can reunify as many people as possible with their money.

  Q143  John Thurso: I was interested in that case you gave because it has been stated that the banks and the institutions are a bit reactive in their tracing process, whereas that seems to me to be fairly proactive?

  Mr Coles: Building societies are both. If you have got large accounts, then you want to be proactive, but you cannot spend huge amounts of money on reuniting someone with a five pound account that they last transacted on in 1983.

  Q144  John Thurso: Is there anything proactive that can be done for those small accounts?

  Ms Knight: Yes, I think there is, and once we know the legislation is going through, that is the point at which there will be very considerable and well publicised effort put into getting individuals aware of the issue and trying to get in touch with them. Also, of course, one of the important things about the publicity is that it will bring people forward. I brought with me some numbers of what has happened in our own area over the last few years, because since we started the service we have dealt with 40,000 claims we have fielded twice that number of telephone inquiries, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. The website, which has got general guidance, took 149,000 serious visits last year and we are running at a much higher rate this year. So, what that is saying is that people are starting to look actively at the money they have lost. If you go on to Google and put in "dormant accounts", right at the top of the first page comes the BBA's free tracing service. I think an important point, a point that Adrian has also made, is that actually we have been offering this service free, and when one matches that up with the sorts of average amounts that we know of, or are expecting. in these accounts, we do think that it is important that there is this free service available from the two associations. It is easy to get in touch with us in all sorts of different ways, and certainly, once the greater amount of publicity comes out following the passage of the legislation, we are expecting many more people getting in touch and a much bigger ability to try and get people back together with their money.

  Q145  Chairman: Do you have a percentage figure for reunification with accounts based on your website?

  Ms Knight: Yes. We have handled 40,000 claims. So that is where individuals have got information one way or another, either directly from the website or they have filled in the form, and our people inside the BBA have then found the account and put the individual in touch with the relevant financial institution.

  Q146  Chairman: Of those 40,000 how many have been reunited with their accounts?

  Ms Knight: Those are the 40,000. That is what I am saying. That is 40,000.

  Q147  Chairman: The 40,000 is what?

  Ms Knight: It is 40,000 claims which we have ourselves personally handled. There is a range of other information provided. When an individual gets in touch, if they know their financial institution, we put them in touch, we hand out leaflets, all those sorts of things. We do not know the success rate of that because that is information provision, but this is where people have come to us and they have said, "We have an account but we do not know which financial institution." We have found the financial institution and we have put the two together.

  Q148  Chairman: On John's point about tracing customers, we have had evidence from the Commission on Unclaimed Assets who quote the Managing Director of Experian's unclaimed assets register, and he states that, drawing on data from a vast resource of active records managed, Experian can find someone's new address from a previous address with a 60-70% success rate. In reconciling this, will you be considering using someone like Experian?

  Mr Cornish: I speak for us as an institution. Precisely—that is exactly the sort of source—and there are other providers of similar searches that we would use. I think we should also say, they clearly charge for that service, so there will still be a cost benefit that applies.

  Q149  Chairman: Is anyone using it at the moment, any company?

  Mr Coles: I do not know if any building society is, I am afraid.

  Q150  Chairman: You are not using it.

  Mr Cornish: We do actually have access to Experian databases in-house and we are using some of the data for our in-house—

  Q151  Chairman: But you are not using it directly to get to people's unclaimed assets?

  Mr Cornish: Not at this stage, but we will be.

  Q152  Mr Mudie: Angela, about this reunification. You say it has been going for six years. Is this the result: 40,000 people reunited with their accounts? Is that what you have been doing?

  Ms Knight: That we know of, yes, that we have done ourselves. But, equally so, there has been a far wider provision of information to individuals as to how to go about reclaiming their money when they know which institution it was with. For example, you have got an individual who started life in Leeds, had a bank account in Leeds, then moved and ended up in London, perhaps in Westminster—I wonder why I chose Leeds and Westminster.

  Q153  Mr Mudie: When you need the brass you come back to Leeds!

  Ms Knight: They need the brass. The electorate spoke. Where do they go? You would know where to go, but individuals do not necessarily. They do not know, because they always went into one branch in Leeds, whether they can go into another bank here, or whatever. So, they can get the information from ourselves and, as I say, thousands and thousands of people are coming on to our website or are getting in touch with us or are picking up these leaflets which tell them how to go about it. So there is that very large range of individuals for whom the information will no doubt have brought them back together with their money where we have provided the information, but where we have done the searching for them, that is the 40,000.

  Q154  Mr Mudie: Is that the number of hits or the number of successful—

  Ms Knight: That is the claims that we have handled, not hits. The hits is 140,000 last year, 90,000 in the first four months of this year. The hit rate is high.

  Q155  Mr Mudie: You have given us two years. You said it is running for six years. I do not want you to give them to us, but have you got figures for six years?

  Ms Knight: Yes, we can provide you with the six-year figures, as I am sure the Building Societies can.

  Q156  Mr Mudie: One of the figures you gave in that piece of evidence was that there are only 42 new members participating?

  Ms Knight: Yes.

  Q157  Mr Mudie: Our records say you have got 253 members?

  Ms Knight: Because wholesale banks do not offer current accounts.

  Q158  Mr Mudie: So of the actual relevant institutions, how many are participating?

  Ms Knight: I was going to say, is it the lot, or is it not? It is 95%. There may well be one or two out there with current accounts that are not yet participating, but 42 represents the huge majority of current accounts.

  Q159  Mr Mudie: So there are only 50 institutions involved approximately? That is a straightforward question. If Angela says 42 represents 95%, you are the banker, I am just a layman, but it will be about 50 institutions. Is that all we are talking about?

  Mr Chisnall: That is all we are talking about in terms of banks.

  Ms Knight: Of course, of those, only a handful of the banks do you need, if you like, to cover the vast majority of the banking that individuals do.


 
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