$131 million lies begging

Hamish McNeilly goes looking to share some Christmas cheer, with the help of the IRD, but finds it harder than he thought.

It is quite possibly the world's most famous song about tax.

Let me tell you how it will be
There's one for you, 19 for me
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah,
I'm the taxman.

''Taxman'', the George Harrison-penned song off the Beatles' Revolver (1966) album also, quite possibly, shaped the image of tax collectors the world over.

Should 5 percent appear too small
Be thankful I don't take it all
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah,
I'm the taxman

You get the idea.

However, what if I told you the New Zealand version of the taxman, our own Inland Revenue Department, has millions of dollars - $131 million in fact - of unclaimed monies they want to return to the rightful owners.

That figure again, $131 million.

Just two years ago, that figure was $78.5 million, so clearly people need a hand in claiming what is rightfully theirs.

And maybe so does the department, which following questions from the Otago Daily Times issued a statement bragging it ''successfully reunited more than 3500 people with their cash this year''.


It also wasn't good enough that the person promoted as receiving a pre-Christmas windfall to the tune of $3500 was broadcaster John Hawkesby.

''It was wonderful to receive something back without asking from an organisation we normally associate with giving money to,'' he said.

I am very happy for you, Mr Hawkesby, but let's try to give some money back to people who hadn't previously a multimillion-dollar payout courtesy of the taxpayer.

But let's be clear: unclaimed money is not tax refunds.

These are funds transferred to Inland Revenue from deposits in banks or other financial institutions and include insurance proceeds, cheques or wages.

Because under the Unclaimed Monies Act (1971), funds left untouched for more than six years are required to be paid to Inland Revenue whose records go back to 1973 and involve more than 289,000 cases.

The department claims it has worked hard to reunite the rightful owners.

But at the risk of being audited, just how hard is it trying?

So I decided to spend a couple of late shifts reading the database, looking for interesting individuals or organisations - after I checked my name, partner's name, friends, family and colleagues - in the hope of contacting them and providing some Christmas cheer.

I'm talking about organisations such as the Invercargill Gramophone Society, which is owed $134.77, surely a princely sum for a group dedicated to the love of gramophones.

Or how about Beverley Ann Archer, owed $35,034.60, or Queenstown International, owed $389.14.

With just a name of an individual or organisation and an amount of unclaimed cash to go on, I decided to first concentrate on those with a geographical link to the South.

So when I discovered Dunedin Adoption Support is owed $215.82, I soon found contact details for a member and emailed them the promise of easy money.

Within a few days, I had a reply confirming I had the right person and they would be checking with the treasurer for the return of the $215.82.

A good start.

However, efforts to contact or get responses from other local organisations and individuals proved largely fruitless (NOT. GOOD. ENOUGH) so I decided to spread my search wider.

I successfully contacted the Canterbury Howard League branch to point out it was owed $506.48, and was thanked and again told it would be raised with the respective treasurer.

A long-winded message was left for the good folk at Iwitea marae in Wairoa to say $158.78 was there for the taking, and while I didn't hear from them, I hope they looked into it.

Moving on from smaller organisations who do such great work in the community, I decided to try my luck to see how the corporates would react.

So an email was sent to pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, who was owed $270.85.

And their reply; zero, zip, nada, zilch. Just the kind of response I expected from a pharmaceutical giant.

I also contacted New Zealand company Hallensteins Bros, which started in Dunedin no less, to point out it had $462.05 in unclaimed monies.

And unlike the pharmaceutical giant, at least it replied.

''Thank you for sending this through - unfortunately we are not able to make a comment on this at this time.''

I would also have loved comment from Dead Brain Cells ($226.13), Dr Hirotsugu Fukuda ($134.49), Get Bitten Café & Catering ($284.70), but it wasn't to be.

Nor could I find Gordon George Kennedy,who is owed $33,373.54.

Or Mr K. Nakayama, who is owed what appears to be the highest amount on the database, $371,664.05.

And try as I might I couldn't reunite $284.58 to A. Guy.

Don't ask me what I want it for
If you don't want to pay some more
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah,
I'm the taxman

Now my advice for those who die
Declare the pennies on your eyes
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah,
I'm the taxman
And you're working for no one but me.


Are you owed?

Inland Revenue provides a service for the true owners of unclaimed money which has been left untouched for six or more years in companies such as financial institutions and insurance companies.

• That database can be found at http://www.ird.govt.nz/unclaimed-money/

• Inland Revenue does not keep unclaimed monies or make interest from it.

• It is the responsibility of individuals to check with us regarding any unclaimed money they think they may be entitled to.


What do I do if I think I'm owed money?

• Inland Revenue encourages anyone who thinks they may have a claim to contact it. Email Inland Revenue at unclaimed.monies @ird.govt.nz or write to Unclaimed Monies, Inland Revenue, P O Box 38222, Wellington Mail Centre.


What proof do I need?

• People who want to claim money need to send their name, address, IRD number, and proof of identity (such as a copy of a birth certificate, driver's licence or passport) to the Inland Revenue Department's postal address.


What happens then?

• When a claim is received, the claimant will be asked to give Inland Revenue detailed information for verification. Once this information is provided and checked, and the application approved, a letter of confirmation will be sent, saying that amount will be refunded in 15 working days. Crown Revenue will then issue a cheque, or direct-credit payment into the claimant's account.

There is no time limit to when the money can be claimed. Once a person's details are checked, and the application approved, a letter of confirmation is sent out stating the amount and a refund issued.



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