Billions of pounds that you fail to claim

By Kevin Peachey
Personal finance reporter

Image source, AFP/Getty
Image caption,
A bumper lottery draw was organised following Team GB's success in the Rio Olympics

A glorious summer of sunshine and sporting success should have been even better for more than a dozen lottery players.

Thirteen winning tickets in the National Lottery draw of 27 August remain unclaimed - five of them are £1m wins.

It was a bumper draw that day. There were 67 extra winners in addition to the normal 21 prizes owing to a raffle draw celebrating Team GB's success at the Rio Olympics.

It may have been that players failed to check those extra draw details. It may have been that they were away from home as it was a Bank Holiday weekend in much of the UK. Either way £5.6m is going to lottery good causes if those winners do not make a claim in the next couple of months.

Overall, only 3% of National Lottery prizes go unclaimed. That is a fraction of the sum that people miss out on through unclaimed benefits or compensation.

In today's automated world, why do many of these payouts still require people to make a complaint and a claim?

Image source, Thinkstock

Nearly £2bn in redress was paid to consumers of financial services in the first half of the year.

While the industry watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, holds data on the success of compensation schemes in reaching those entitled to payouts, it does not publish all of it.

One of the biggest unknowns is the number of people affected by mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI), and the amount they should receive. This loan insurance was sold on an industrial scale to people who did not want or need it, or who could not claim.

As a result banks have paid out £25bn in compensation in the past few years. Estimates suggest the total bill, were all sales paid back, could be £100bn. An estimated nine million people in the UK could still make a complaint.


So why not simply pay everyone back?

The reason is clear from consultation into a proposed deadline for PPI compensation claims.

"We remain of the view that not all PPI was mis-sold and that, properly sold, PPI could meet some consumers' genuine credit protection needs," the FCA says during the consultation.

So, the FCA says that, in effect, every case must be taken on its merits, and that requires people to make a complaint, despite consumer groups claiming that a huge number of mis-selling victims are missing out.

"We do not consider that there are strong grounds to significantly depart from this complaints-led approach now," the FCA adds.

Image source, Thinkstock

One of the most controversial compensation cases was the payouts for those mis-sold credit card and identity theft protection by insurer CPP.

Seven million people were eligible for compensation and received letters inviting them to make a claim for compensation. Some consumer groups argued that the letters looked like junk mail.

By the time the claims window expired, more than four million people had missed out. Only a third of those eligible received compensation, averaging £190 each. Just one submitted claim was rejected.

Any kind of dispute that puts the onus on individuals making an initial complaint can be "incredibly stressful" says James Walker, founder of consumer website Resolver.

"Lots of the people I speak to tell me they have simply given up. What is frustrating is people don't realise that the rights they have when it comes to taking things further are actually quite strong," he says.

"You don't have to suffer in silence for long periods of time if you want to escalate your complaint and there are lots of free ombudsman schemes that can help you."

He points to cases such as a pensioner who parked his car to go to the doctors, oblivious of a parking restriction notice that was obscured by a fence. He received a ticket, followed by debt collection notices, but after more than a year in dispute received £350 in refunds and compensation.

Image source, PA

Despite these cases, there is a move in some industries for compensation to be paid automatically more often.

In October last year, Virgin became the first train company to automatically compensate some passengers if they are delayed. Travellers using its services on the West Coast mainline - and who book their tickets via the company app or website - receive automatic repayments.

Research has shown that most rail passengers do not bother to claim compensation, even when it is due - a situation that led to a so-called super-complaint by consumers' association Which?.

'Make it easy'

In the airline industry, where passengers must make a claim for compensation following delays, an estimated 70% of those who have a right to a payout do not claim, according to a comparison website.

Communications regulator Ofcom is also investigating the use of automatic compensation when phone or internet services fail. At present, customers tend to go through one of two ombudsman services.

Proposals to be published by the regulator in the new year are aimed at providing "easier redress" when something goes wrong.

Arguably, the most significant change in redress for consumers may result from the 2015 Consumer Rights Act.

UK consumers may be included automatically in a legal claim for damages in a US-style class action and so receive automatic compensation if the case succeeds. A £14bn legal claim filed against Mastercard seeking damages for anti-competitive card fees is the first significant test of these new rules.

Image source, PA

Unclaimed payments are not always in the form of compensation.

Billions of pounds in benefits is unclaimed every year by those entitled to the money.

Up to £4.6bn of Housing Benefit went unclaimed in 2014-15, according to the latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Families entitled to the benefit but not claiming it missed out on an average of £3,000 per year.

Some 1.4 million households failing to receive Pension Credit are missing out on £2,000 a year, the figures show. Entitlements worth thousands of pounds a year were also going unclaimed for employment and support allowance (available to those who are unable to work owing to illness) and jobseekers' allowance.

Claim 'shame'

The DWP says that a lack of awareness of these entitlements and the "perceived stigma" of claiming benefits were thought to be among the reasons that people failed to make a claim.

Some of these payouts will become automatic under the new Universal Credit benefit, which is being gradually introduced across the UK.

Later in life, many people could miss out on retirement income, with millions of pension savings pots lying dormant. These are often small pots of savings from workplace pensions when employees spent a short period of time in jobs and have moved home since.

All this amounts to billions of pounds available to claim - and claim legitimately - without the need for a lucky lottery win.

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