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The Financial Services Act of 1986 allows companies to liquidate abandoned shares after a 12-year dormancy period, although they're required to make "reasonable" efforts during this time to contact lost investors.

The capital value plus any accrued dividends are then paid to the Court Funds Office, where it is held until claimed. No interest is credited with paid claims, and dividends from the underlying shares must be remitted as well, but the company can stop paying those after 12 years. Estimates are investors have failed to claim 300 million worth of share dividends that are due them.

If you have old share certificates and are seeking to reclaim the underlying equity or dividends due, contact the Companies House, Archive Section, Crown Way, Cardiff CF4 3UZ - 01222 380928; or the Stock Exchange: 0171 797 1448. Company House records go back about 150 years; the Stock Exchange has records from the early 1900's. have comprehensive records, including name changes, dating back 100 years. The Stock Exchange Year Book, available at most local libraries, gives contact information for most shareholder services departments.

With respect to Building Society demutualization shares prompt action is required, as they operate under special rules. (Building Societies originated as member-owned organizations making loans on residential real estate.) Demutualized building societies and insurers that have issued windfall shares must keep the equities and dividends for three years, after which they may be liquidated. The funds received are held in trust for an additional nine years, but after that the company can reclaim the money as its own.

To trace a Building Society that has changed name or been acquired by another, contact the Building Societies' Association - 3 Savile Row / London W1X 1AFl / www.bsa.org.uk or 0171 437 0655.

For information on missing Investment Trusts, contact the appropriate trade group: Association of Unit Trusts and Investment Funds (AUTIF): 65 Kingsway, London WC2B 6TD / 0171 831 0898 and/or Association of Investment Trust Companies (AITC): 8-13 Chiswell Street, London EC1Y 4YY / 0171 282 5555.

If the fund dates back before 1980 searches become ore difficult, but the official archives at the Financial Services Authority (FSA) may help.

There are also commercial research services that can assist investors, including: Trust Research Services (01732 741 411) and Shareholder Investment Research (0171 335 8700). Unclaimed Assets Register (0870 241 1713) is attempting to create a database of all financial holdings that have gone unclaimed, including life insurance, policies, pensions, securities and bank accounts. In addition to set fees, they may work on a contingency basis of 20%.


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