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The Dormant Assets [HL] Bill 2021-22 (Bill 203) was introduced in the House of Lords on 12 May 2021. It passed Lords third reading on 23 November and was introduced in the Commons the following day. Second reading is scheduled for Monday 6 December 2021.

The Bill (as introduced in the Commons), Explanatory Notes and Delegated Powers Memorandum can be found on the Bill page. It would extend to the whole of the UK.

The current scheme

The Government defines a dormant asset as a financial product (such as a bank account) that hasn’t been used for many years and which the provider hasn’t been able to reunite with its owner despite efforts aligned with industry best practice.

In 2008, the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act (the 2008 Act) was passed to provide a system to distribute dormant assets to good causes. It applies to cash in UK bank and building society accounts which have been dormant for 15 years, and has so far distributed around £800 million.

The core principles of the current scheme are that attempts should first be made to reunite assets with their rightful owners before transferring them, that owners should always be able to reclaim their funds, and that participation is voluntary. Funds should also not be used as a substitute for Government spending.

Expansion

In late 2015 the Government appointed an independent commission to advise on expanding the scheme to include other dormant assets. The Dormant Assets Commission recommended expanding the scheme. An “industry champions” report agreed and recommended a phased approach to expansion.

The Government launched a consultation in February 2020 on the list of assets it proposed to expand the scheme to, with a tailored definition of dormancy for each. The consultation attracted 89 responses, with “widespread support” for expansion.

The Bill

The Bill would significantly expand the scope of the existing scheme to cover a range of financial products, being long-term insurance products, certain pension assets, collective investment scheme assets, client money, and proceeds or distributions from shares in traded public companies. The Government estimates that this could allow a total of around £880 million to be released to good causes.

It would also introduce a specific legal requirement for firms participating in the scheme to make attempts to reunite assets with their owners, before passing them into the scheme. In total, £2 billion of the £3.7 billion of dormant assets the Bill could cover are expected to be reunited with their rightful owners. The remaining £1.7 billion would be transferred to a “reclaim fund”, which would reserve a proportion of the funds to ensure it can meet future claims and pass the rest on to be spent on good causes.

The Bill consists of 34 clauses and two schedules divided into three Parts. The Bill introduced in the House of Lords had only 33 clauses, but clause 30 was added to Part 2 at Report Stage.

Lords stages

The Bill received cross-party support in its passage through the House of Lords, and passed all stages without a division. A large number of technical Government amendments were made at Committee Stage on 21 June 2021.

At Report Stage on 16 November, Lord Bassam (Labour) moved an amendment to “enable orders under Clause 29 [on the distribution of dormant asset money in England] to create community wealth funds as a means of tackling deprivation and building social infrastructure in left-behind communities.” The Government opposed the amendment, but it was approved by 216 votes to 195.

Two Government amendments were made at Report stage. The first inserted into Clause 29 a commitment to have a public consultation before changes can be made to the focus of the English portion of funds now or in the future. The second was the addition of current Clause 30, which would “require periodic reviews of the dormant assets scheme and the alternative scheme, with a report to Parliament on the results”. Both were approved without a division.

Reaction

The Bill’s core measures enjoyed cross-party support in the House of Lords, and support from industry stakeholders including trade body UK Finance, the Association of British Insurers, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations and Social Enterprise UK.

Further background information can be found in the House of Lords Library briefing on the Dormant Assets Bill [HL] (19 May 2021).


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