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LETTER: Forgotten Ontario assets could help with unprecedented individual, community needs

'Unclaimed Properties Act can make approximately $14.4 million of unclaimed assets deliver much-needed relief to both individuals and the community,' Scott Warnock points out
2020-08-10 ap
Huronia Community Foundation executive director Scott Warnock is pictured in front of his organization's location in the Midland community health hub. Andrew Philips/MidlandToday

Midland Today welcomes letters to the editor. They can be sent to andrew@midlandtoday.ca. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication).

Dear Editor,

In light of COVID-19, Ontario communities and families are struggling more than ever. Here in North Simcoe, lots of our neighbours have lost their jobs. Many part-time and temporary workers are facing the impossible question of whether to pay for food or rent. Some are visiting a food bank or even a shelter for the first time ever. Others are facing unprecedented personal challenges.

As Ontario looks for innovative ways to support individuals and communities, a potential solution is to unlock money that already exists.  More specifically, Ontario can explore the creation of an Unclaimed Properties Act that can make approximately $14.4 million of unclaimed assets deliver much-needed relief to both individuals and the community.

Unclaimed Property is a term that covers a broad range of financial assets that are forgotten or go unclaimed by their rightful owners. Think employment wages that get sent to an old address, estate gifts where the next of kin can’t be tracked down, and insurance payments or old credit union bank accounts that are forgotten about. These are largely $200 and $300 amounts that people haven’t cashed or simply haven’t remembered they have.

But it’s money that many could put to good use right now.

Inspired by the BC Unclaimed Property Society and a partnership with the Vancouver Foundation, an Unclaimed Properties Act here could help Ontario to achieve two important goals: First, it would reunite everyday Ontarian with these monies that are rightfully theirs. And second, recognizing that not all unclaimed property would be claimed, it would create community benefits by sharing a percentage of unclaimed assets with communities each year.

Ontario does not currently have the legal structure in place to do this. But that’s not to say that Ontario doesn’t have any unclaimed property. The most populous province has accumulated a significant amount, and currently, consumers have less than a 1% chance of ever finding it; compare that to BC where, every year, consumers track down 20% of the unclaimed money they hadn’t known they had!

A key feature in BC is that the Unclaimed Property Society works to locate owners and holders of unclaimed property. There is also a searchable database that allows the public to identify whether unclaimed funds are held in their name. However, despite these efforts, some funds still remain unclaimed. Since 2003 the Vancouver Foundation has responded by granting these unclaimed funds to the tune of $42 million to hundreds of worthy charities working across British Columbia. Together, this has earmarked support to tackle pressing issues like food security, youth unemployment, housing and homelessness, and more.

Based on BC’s performance, we expect this initiative could unlock approximately $4.4 million annually for individuals and another $10 million annually for communities in Ontario.

Who knew that our forgotten assets could have so much positive impact, at this challenging time? This is real money that could help individuals and meet urgent community needs right here in North Simcoe.

The best news for Ontario is that at a time when need is so great, this money is available at no cost to the taxpayer or the treasury.  It only requires legislation to support it and an intermediary to help make it accessible. That is where the Community Foundations of Canada: Ontario coalition of foundations comes in. Modelled after the BC Unclaimed Property Society, the 49 community foundations across Ontario have a unique and proven model that would allow for the establishment of a mechanism to find the holders of dormant accounts and distribute the funds of accounts for which no owner is found.

This is a great opportunity for Ontarians to have greater access to their own financial assets, while also raising the sails of our struggling charitable sector at a time when communities need it most.

Scott Warnock

Executive Director

Huronia Community Foundation