Unclaimed Funds Could Provide Needed Financial Relief for British Columbians Impacted By COVID-19

According to the most recent financial statements released by the BC Unclaimed Property Society (BCUPS) (Annual Report 2019) there is now more than $164 million in forgotten funds from orphaned accounts in the province looking for the rightful owners. This missing money could be a welcome source of financial relief for many BC residents impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

BCUPS, which serves as the administrator of the province’s unclaimed property program, serves as a “lost and found” for forgotten funds in B.C. The not-for-profit Society’s mission is to put unclaimed money from dormant accounts back in the hands of the rightful owners. BCUPS also works with companies and organizations to help get dormant assets off their books.

In 2019, BCUPS successfully returned $2,744,595 from dormant accounts to verified claimants who were unaware they had forgotten assets. The Society received $10,949,801 last year in unclaimed funds from the courts, credit unions, insurance companies, and the Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia, among other organizations, to be reunited with the rightful owners.

BCUPS holds unclaimed property as the custodian for rightful owners under the Unclaimed Property Act.  The Society maintains a free online database (Search) where people can search to see if they have any forgotten money. Individuals can claim the funds by completing a verification process that firmly establishes their identities as rightful owners. There is no limitation period to claim funds from BCUPS and no cost for their services.

Most unclaimed accounts in BCUPS’s database amount to between $300 to $500. The single largest unclaimed property payout by BCUPS was $357,262 made in 2011. The largest dormant account in B.C. is an unclaimed estate worth $1.9 million.

Dormant accounts under the purview of BCUPS apply only to provincially-regulated financial institutions, companies and organizations, which includes inactive credit union accounts, as well as unpaid wages, outstanding insurance payments, overpayments to debt collectors, proceeds from courts, pension funds, estates and real estate deposits. They do not include dormant bank accounts, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Bank of Canada. Across Canada, three provinces have unclaimed property programs in place (Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec) covering provincially-regulated companies and financial institutions. Unclaimed property legislation was introduced in New Brunswick in November 2019 and could be implemented this year.

Technically, an account is deemed to be dormant in B.C. when a prescribed period of time has transpired with no activity, from a year to 10 years, depending on the type of account involved. Under B.C. law, credit unions, debt collection agencies, real estate agencies, companies in liquidation, municipal and provincial courts and municipalities, which are classified as mandatory holders, are required to make a “reasonable effort” to identify inactive account holders, before transferring these funds to BCUPS. Other organizations holding trust funds, insurance policies, brokerage accounts and closed pension plans are encouraged to voluntarily transfer their unclaimed property accounts to BCUPS if the rightful owners cannot be located.

BCUPS was established in 2003 by the Province of British Columbia and Vancouver Foundation to administer B.C.’s unclaimed property program. Since its inception, BCUPS has returned more than $17 million in forgotten funds to the rightful owners. 

British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in North America that has set up a not-for-profit society to administer its unclaimed property program where a segment of inactive funds is allocated to charity to address social issues. Under its philanthropic business model, a portion of BCUPS’s outstanding unclaimed funds are transferred each year to Vancouver Foundation for charitable purposes. Last year, the Society transferred $4.2 million to the Foundation to support community and social programs. Vancouver Foundation recently used some of the funds transferred by BCUPS to establish the Community Response Fund which provides grants to charities in BC impacted by COVID-19.

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