Dormant Accounts Unlocked…finally

12 September 2019 - by Claire Flynn

Sue Gray is certainly living up to her reputation of shaking things up. In the absence of a minister, the Department of Finance Permanent Secretary has released £16 million from dormant bank accounts and building societies in Northern Ireland to support organisations in the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE).

The Dormant Accounts Fund is being implemented over 10 years after it was first introduced.

The money was initially allocated in 2008 after legislation enabled building societies to voluntarily hand over funds held in accounts untouched or unclaimed for 15 years or more to a Special Reclaim Fund.

The fund has seen huge success in England, with almost £600 million made in community investment deals with social finance infrastructure in place to support the needs of the community and voluntary sector. 

The VCSE sector in Northern Ireland has campaigned for the release of the dormant funds for a number of years, so this will be very welcome news given the challenging circumstances it has had to operate in.

Some organisations have been forced to close their doors due to a lack of funding while others continue under extreme pressure to deliver their services to communities across the region.

The intention to develop a scheme for the use of dormant account funds in Northern Ireland has been announced on four separate occasions by four different ministers, from Sammy Wilson, Simon Hamilton, Mervyn Storey and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, but no money was ever released.

The fund was set to be used for a range of interests from social enterprise, children’s organisations, health, disability and arts as well as for community finance initiatives, faith groups and refugees.

The National Lottery Community Fund has now been directed by the Department to deliver the fund and will now further engage with the sector to develop a Strategic Action Plan for the scheme which will open this financial year.

Social Enterprise NI, supported by Stratagem, has been calling for investment in social finance so that organisations can make further investment in their activities, grow their organisations and, more importantly, become self-sustaining enterprises.

The question now is how exactly the funds will be deployed and where we go next to deliver real value through the public sector’s leadership on procurement and innovation.