Govt to take Unclaimed Funds – if Depositors fail to Reclaim

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Do you have Unclaimed Funds?

Do you have a bank account you forgot you had? What about a bank account that is part of the estate of a deceased relative? Not sure you have unclaimed funds in a bank or deposit-taking institution? Take notice, the Government of Jamaica is about to take approximately $15 billion of your unclaimed money.

Note though, that the amount is approximately one-third of the estimated $45 billion that is sitting dormant in various bank accounts. Is your money in that pot?

By the way, a dormant account is one that has no customer activity (deposits or withdrawal) in two years (one year for chequing accounts).  After seven years of inactivity, the banks and deposit-taking institutions must report such accounts to the Bank of Jamaica. Within another eight years, the Minister of Finance must publish information on the funds that remain unclaimed.

Unless you make your claim first, the funds will go to the government. You have one year within which you may make your claim. Once that time passes, you won’t have that money again.

Check the Ministry of Finance Website

Millions in unclaimed funds sitting in commercial banks and deposit-taking institutions must be reclaimed before one year expires.

You can find the details on the Ministry of Finance’s website. As you can see, the list is pretty long.  It contains information on individual and business accounts. From it, you will know whether the unclaimed amounts are worth the effort to reclaim.

Indeed, the majority of the accounts contain less than one hundred dollars. So, the GOJ is welcome to these tiny amounts as it is hardly worth the time and effort to claim them.

It is the more substantial amounts, coming to more than fifty thousand dollars, that is worth reclaiming. Not to mention, those amounts that are between one hundred dollars and fifty thousand dollars. You might wish to pursue your claim on those unclaimed funds as well.

The Government Notice on Unclaimed Balances

The Banking Services Act, 2014 lays out the steps you need to take to reclaim your unclaimed funds. However, these steps do not include a simple withdrawal from your dormant bank account.

First of all, Section 126 of the Banking Services Act requires the Government of Jamaica to publish the list of unclaimed bank balances at least twice. The government must publish its notice in the Jamaica Gazette and daily newspapers during a one-year period. The publication gives owners of unclaimed funds the chance to reclaim their money. If they fail to claim after the end of the one-year period, the funds will become part of the government’s revenue.

But, in which unclaimed funds is the government interested?

According to Section 126, subsection (1) of the Banking Services Act, “any moneys have remained unclaimed in the possession or under the control of a deposit-taking institution for a period of fifteen or more years, the Minister shall cause a notice to be published in the Gazette and in a daily newspaper circulated in Jamaica.”  

In that notice, you will see the full information on the unclaimed money. You will also see the period during which the funds remained unclaimed.

How to Reclaim your Funds

But in claiming the money, you must satisfy the relevant deposit-taking institution. Failing that, your claim must satisfy a court of competent jurisdiction such as the Parish Court or the Civil Division of the Supreme Courts. The Accountant General must keep a record of the money that has remained unclaimed in the various banks and deposit-taking institutions in the case where a claim was made but not yet settled during the year.

Also, in the case where the claimant lodged a claim with the Accountant General before the year has expired, and a certificate to that effect was signed by the Judge, the government cannot take control of the funds until the claim is settled. Outside of these conditions, that is, when the depositor makes no claim, the sum concerned will be recovered by the Accountant General as a debt due to the government.

But even then, you have an opportunity to lodge a claim. This time, you must satisfy the Accountant General within 15 years of the funds becoming part of the government’s revenue that you have a legitimate claim to them. Once satisfied, the Accountant General must release the funds to you.

Fortunately for depositors in building societies, the Banking Services Act does not apply.

Who might have trouble making claims

Unfortunately, there are a few categories of individuals, and businesses, that might face trouble in reclaiming their funds. Such categories include the incarcerated person; persons affected by mental disorders including Alzheimer’s disease; representatives of estates that did not leave a will; and persons without power of attorney in cases where the owner of the unclaimed funds is either deceased or incapacitated.

The trouble is that without authorisation from the account holder or representatives, it is not possible to approach the bank or deposit-taking institution to make the claim. Also, if the unclaimed funds are disputed, such disputes must be settled before appropriate action can be taken.

Interestingly, a number of businesses with sizeable amounts are on the list of unclaimed bank balances. Apparently, in some instances, the businesses are defunct. Even community-based organisations are on the dormant account list. It is not certain, however, that such organisations are truly defunct or are simply in a state of hiatus.  So, without any legal standing, defunct businesses stand to lose to the government any funds that remain unclaimed.

GOJ Proposal for the $15 billion

The Government of Jamaica is eager to access the unclaimed funds in dormant accounts to plough into the development of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Sector. At least, that was the word coming from the Principal Director of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Unit in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Oral Shaw, in September 2018. The aim is to use these funds as affordable seed loans to  MSME business operators.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Audley Shaw, proposed that the waiting period of fifteen years for the government to assess dormant funds was too long.  He notes that the 15-year period is “out of sync” with the seven years it takes in other jurisdictions and the five years that the United States affords.

So, time is running out if you care to pursue a claim to regain access to your dormant bank balance. Alternatively, you can let the amount slide.  At least, it will go toward the development of a deserving sector – the MSME.

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