Reposted from a story by: Jason Tin From: The Courier-Mail May 22, 2013 12:00AM
Adrian Duffy emerged from a quintuple heart bypass only to find his wife’s $20,000 Suncorp account empty because the bank gave it to the government. PIC: David Kelly
A QUEENSLAND pensioner emerged from a quintuple heart bypass only to find his bank had emptied his account, handing more than $22,000 to the Federal Government.
Legislative changes rushed through Parliament late last year mean money can now be identified as “unclaimed” after an account has been inactive for more than three years, instead of seven years.
Banks have already begun searching for inactive accounts that fit the new definition and transferring the cash to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, as required. ASIC then passes the money to the Commonwealth of Australia Consolidated Revenue Fund.
The Australian Bankers’ Association has accused the Government of putting its “own financial circumstances” ahead of customers’ needs, leaving them facing “months of delays trying to reclaim their own money”.
ASIC says the money can be claimed “at any time by the rightful owner”, but banks have pointed out the process can take as long as six weeks.
Toowong resident Adrian Duffy is now looking at a lengthy battle to have his savings restored.
The 75-year-old spent 21 days in hospital following quintuple heart bypass surgery and a second operation in April.
When he and his wife, 57-year-old Mary-Jane, went to check their Suncorp account, they discovered their balance had plummeted from $22,616 to zero. A note on the May 1 entry read: “Closing WDL Govt unclaimed monies.”
The couple had saved for 14 years in preparation for major health-related costs.
Suncorp claims a letter was sent at the end of March notifying the account – held in Mrs Duffy’s name – had been inactive for more than three years and would be closed if no action was taken.
It says attempts were made to call the couple on April 16, followed by an “account closed” letter on April 30.
Mr and Mrs Duffy are adamant they received no warnings of the closure of the account.
“I called it stealing,” Mr Duffy said.
“My understanding of the definition of stealing is to take something without somebody’s knowledge and not tell them. As far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly what happened – (the Government) took it without telling us.”
The couple are working to recover the money, but say they were lucky to have other savings.
“If we didn’t have the money elsewhere, we would now have to be paying for cardiologists, visits to surgeons, ECGs, x-rays, whatever is involved in the follow up,” he said.
“We would have to find money to pay them, because those people aren’t going to say to you, ‘we’ll wait six weeks’.”
While many people believe they have until May 31 to act on their dormant accounts, banks in fact must finalise their lodgements by that date.
A Treasury spokesman said the reforms were designed to “help reunite Australians with their lost money sooner, and protect them from being eroded by fees, charges and inflation”.
He said interest would be paid “at the rate of CPI inflation from 1 July 2013”.
National Seniors Australia chief Michael O’Neill said the changes were more likely to hit older Queenslanders, adding
the NSA had received calls from people who were “quite disturbed” to discover the changes.
Tony Burke, acting chief executive of the Australian Bankers’ Association, said he believed there was “no benefit for consumers from the changes”.
State Member for Indooroopilly Scott Emerson said he was “really concerned about how easily the Federal Government is able to reach in and rip money from people’s accounts”.
“When this was brought to my attention I’ve realised how rushed this legislation has been and how badly this policy has been implemented and communicated,” Mr Emerson said.
Westpac and Bank of Queensland said they had been contacting affected customers.