FARM workers and trust account holders could become unwitting but significant contributors to federal Treasury coffers when Canberra starts raiding dormant bank accounts in coming months.
As much $760 million is likely to be collected from unclaimed funds sitting in superannuation, life insurance, trust fund or special purpose savings accounts such as nest eggs for education or first-home purchases.
New government rules declare a financial institution account "dormant" if it has not had a withdrawal or deposit within three years.
All account holders are being urged keep tabs on long-established accounts and start making transactions of as little as $1 at least every couple of years to avoid being caught out by new "unclaimed deposit" rules.
Accumulating bank interest or regular management fee withdrawals do not count as activity.
"It might be funds deliberately set aside for a rainy day or it may not be much money at all, but it all adds up and the government seems to think unclaimed monies will be a bit of a cash cow," said National Farmers' Federation (NFF) economics and trade general manager Tony Mahar.
Many people in the farm sector, including those who had worked for short periods on farms, may have small sums from unclaimed compulsory superannuation which had been parked in accounts years ago and not touched since.
"The farm workforce includes a lot of part-time, holiday and transient workers and older people who may now have stopped work - it's not hard to imagine how funds may be ignored or forgotten about," he said.
"There's a logical benefit to anybody to get motivated to do some checking, rather than leaving money sitting unclaimed.
"But if you've worked in different jobs over the years it may not be easy to find out what's been put aside."
Until now accounts had to be inactive for seven years before the money was effectively confiscated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and pocketed by Treasury.
Now an anticipated $100m-plus is expected to be diverted to the government this financial year.
All authorised deposit-taking institutions must submit an annual unclaimed money return to ASIC by March 31 for accounts dormant for seven years, or by May 31 for deposits not altered for three years.
Typical of vulnerable bank accounts which could soon pass the three year deadline are old passbook savings deposits, rarely used cheque accounts, long-term savings, or money held in bond as part of business agreements or on behalf of children until they reach a certain age.
Account holders whose money is transferred to ASIC can get it back if they can prove it is theirs, but the Australian Bankers Association (ABA) said the process would take time and require additional form-filling effort by the claimant.
ABA chief executive Steven Munchenberg said some money was expected to be reclaimed as customers and financial advisors realised what had happened. Interest would also be paid.
But the legislation, passed without much publicity in December, appeared to be a rushed revenue boosting exercise giving the government access to a lot of new money.
"There's been no consultation with the banking sector. A lot of people are now totally unaware that the three-year rule is about to see their funds moved on," he said.
"Many accounts do belong to people who have simply forgotten about them, but some are funds deliberately deposited for the long term, including gifts put aside for a child's education, special events or holidays."
Mr Munchenberg said banks and financial institutions had no obligation to contact customers about dormant accounts but he expected attempts were made in most cases.
"It's in a bank's best interests to try and keep the funds on its books."
Commonwealth Bank of Australia regional and agribusiness banking boss Geoff Wearne said anybody with doubts or queries should be moving quickly to check with their bank staff or other financial advisors.