Postal Savings Rights Lost: Protecting People’s Property Must be the First Priority

It is so unreasonable that postal savings deposited in the past could disappear without depositors knowing about it. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and the independent administrative agency that manages such postal savings should give top priority to protecting people’s property to deal with the issue.

In principle, the rights of depositors of fixed-term and fixed-amount savings deposited at post offices prior to the privatization of postal services in October 2007 expire 20 years and two months after maturity. This is based on a provision of the former postal savings law, which was in effect at that time.

Depositors of regular savings, and those of fixed-term savings deposited at Japan Post Bank after privatization, do not lose their rights. However, the rights to many fixed-term and fixed-amount postal savings accounts created before privatization have been expiring, reaching a record high of ¥45.7 billion in fiscal 2021.

Two months before the rights lapse, the Organization for Postal Savings, Postal Life Insurance and Post Office Network, the independent administrative agency, sends depositors a notification letter. However, many of these letters are returned to the sender without reaching the person concerned for reasons such as the death or relocation of the person who saved the money. The total amount of savings for which rights could be lost in the future is about ¥440 billion.

The problem is that many people lose their rights without knowing the provision and discover the fact later.

Even after the rights have expired, if there are unavoidable circumstances such as illness or disaster that prevented depositors from completing the procedures in time, they can still make requests for the return of their deposits at Japan Post Bank counters and elsewhere, even if they failed to make a claim.

However, it is reported that many people have not been able to recover their deposits, and there have been a number of such complaints. The ministry has decided to review the application of the provision so that it will be more flexible in responding to requests for the return of deposits starting January next year.

Currently, documentation is required to prove unavoidable circumstances when requests are made, but the ministry will accept them without such documentation.

The ministry will aim to make the screening for the return of deposits more transparent by providing specific examples, such as deposit holders not knowing that their savings existed. It will also make it possible for those who were denied the return of deposits in the past to make requests again.

In the first place, deposited savings are the property of members of the public, and it is natural to protect them as much as possible. It is hoped that the maximum amount of deposits will be returned.

It is also essential that the legal provision that causes rights to expire be made well known to the public. It is not sufficient to simply send a notification letter. The ministry should also call it to the attention of depositors through post offices, local governments and other entities.

The provision was intended to reduce the administrative burden when savings were managed on paper, among other purposes. However, this is less necessary now that account management has become digitized.

Private banks return deposits anytime upon request, even for dormant deposits that have not been used for a long period of time. It is advisable for the government to reconsider the provision on the expiration of rights, too.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 18, 2023)