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Claim your share of Rs27,000 crore EPFO money

EPFO inoperative account online helpdesk has been launched to track your old provident fund accounts

Till a few years ago, dealing with Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) accounts and the money in them was a very painful experience. With so many administrative bottlenecks and delays in withdrawing or even transferring the money from the account under the previous employer to a new one, it’s not uncommon to find individuals who simply chose to forget about their EPF money. In fact, the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has around 27,000 crore lying in inoperative accounts.

Things are much better now, and with the EPFO improving its turnaround time and getting more accessible, you shouldn’t leave your EPF money in old accounts. Now is a good time to remember your long forgotten EPF account. And to make your job of staking a claim easier, an EPFO inoperative account online helpdesk has been launched. It will work with some basic information about your employer and you to track your old accounts. But before you read in detail about the process, here’s why you need to withdraw that money now.

Your EPF account earns a tax-free and risk-free rate of interest that is also capable of giving you inflation-adjusted returns. Add to that the fact that both you and your employer would have contributed to your EPF account and that compounding would have turned even a small corpus invested years ago into a sizeable kitty by now. Here is an example to illustrate the point. Ten years ago, on a salary of, say, 20,000 per month, you would have contributed 2,400 and your employer would have contributed 1,859 per month in your EPF account. Of this, 541 from the employer’s contribution would have gone towards Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS). Let’s say you contributed only for a year. This would mean a total contribution of 51,108 from you and your employer. After that one year, you changed jobs. Assuming a fixed return rate of 8.5% (the current rate is 8.75%), your money would have been more than 1 lakh in 10 years, and that too tax-free.

So why claim at all? Why not let the money sit in the account and earn interest? That strategy will not work because in order to discourage people from leaving behind inoperative accounts in which no more contributions are made, EPFO decided to stop paying interest on inoperative accounts that were more than three years old, with effect from FY12. Therefore, it’s in your interest to either withdraw your money if you are no longer a salaried person or unemployed, or get your account transferred to the new one.

The helpdesk works on the basis of how much and how accurate is the information that you can provide. So, the more you have, the better it is.

If you know all the details of your older PF account(s) and your employer(s), you could opt for withdrawal by filling up Form 19, or simply transfer the older account using the Online Transfer Claims Portal (OTCP). Read more about how to use OTCP here: http://goo.gl/sxvhl8.

When all the information is available, of course, it is easier to track an old account. But if you have only scanty details and need help, go to the EPFO website, www.epfindia.com.

When you get here, after skipping the introductory page, you will automatically reach the online helpdesk. Once you enter the helpdesk portal, it will ask you to state the problem (in not more than 1,000 characters) and then ask you for a few details of your employer and your EPF account. These will include things such as EPF account number, employer’s name, city, your date of joining, provident fund office name, and more. “These details help us track the employer. But you don’t have to give all the information. We have listed down everything so that we are able to track the accounts, but you can fill whatever you remember and EPF authorities will get in touch," said K.K. Jalan, Central Provident Fund Commissioner, EPFO.

While the first page asks you for details of your PF account and the problem that you have with locating your previous accounts, the next page will ask details such as name, mobile phone number, date of birth, bank account number and Permanent Account Number.

Try to fill as many details as possible and to the extent possible. Your name, date of birth and mobile phone number are mandatory fields. (See table.)

Once you are done, you will need to get yourself verified through a personal identification number which will be sent on your mobile phone. After this, a reference number will be generated for future use.

EPFO has fed the system with all the establishment codes it has. There is even an icon that you can use to help locate the establishment of your employer.

If you remember either the establishment code or your PF account number, your query will straightaway be directed to the field officer in the regional PF office, who will then assist you in locating your account.

But if you don’t remember either, the query will go to the centralized helpdesk, which will then call you to get further details before they pass the query on to the field officers.

How much time the EPFO authorities will take to reply is not known yet. Response time would largely depend on the amount of information provided, and the workload, but the organization is hopeful of being able to respond within a day.

“If we get the minimum basic details, then we should be able to trace the accounts in 12 hours. We expect to be able to help about 85% of the cases," said Jalan. You can also login with your reference number and chat with the centralized desk. Once the EPF account is located, the helpdesk with notify you.

Once the account is traced, you need to withdraw the money, or transfer the account to your current one.

If you are unemployed, you can withdraw the money using Form 19. Fill this form and submit it with the employer you held an account with. The employer will attest your credentials and forward the request to the regional PF office. From the time the EPF authorities receive the letter, it should not take more than a month to settle the account. But if you are employed and under the EPF ambit, then you will need to transfer the old PF account. To do this, you can make use of the OTCP. For this, too, your employer, previous or current, will need to attest your credentials. This is required because until the Unique Account Number was effected for all working individuals with EPF accounts, the EPFO could trace you only through your employer. So, to rule out any fraud, these processes still depend on verification from the employer. If the employer no longer exists, then attestation from notified authorities such as your bank or a gazetted officer will be needed.

The online helpdesk portal from EPFO is indeed a step forward. Do make use of this facility to dig out all your previous accounts. As the facility is new, the time needed to look for old accounts is not known yet. As more people use it, the efficiency may improve. If you have made use of this facility, do share your experience with us at mintmoney@livemint.com.

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