Gloucester and England's Charlie Sharples helping to promote a £1m unclaimed prize from a ticket bought in the City of Gloucester

How we find missing winners

Believe it or not, there are prizes that sometimes don’t get claimed (check your tickets, people!) and we are regularly asked what we do to try and alert these lucky players to ensure they get their prize. So I tracked down the man whose job it is to do just that  - Patrick Lisoire – and put your questions to him.

Q: How soon after the draw do you try and find the winner?

We initially release the details of all unclaimed prizes around two weeks after the draw. This is a reasonable amount of time after the draw for someone to have had the chance to checked their tickets before it becomes necessary for us to remind players. It also gives sufficient time to a potential winner, who thinks they may have lost their ticket, to hear about the prize and get in touch with us – they need to do this in writing before the 30th day after the draw. In some cases, when it comes to the bigger prizes (as these are far more likely to be covered by the media), we will purposely do some additional activity around the 25th day after the draw to communicate that anyone who thinks they might be the winner but hasn’t got their ticket for whatever reason needs to get in touch with us quickly.

Our relationship with the media is of huge importance in helping us find missing ticket-holders, and we invest a lot of time in making sure we talk to them – we can provide great content for them, and they can prove massively important in informing their local community on all the relevant information around an unclaimed prize.

Q: What do you do to try and find the winner?

Basically, we use any means possible and available to us to try and unite the ticket-holder with their winnings. We do publicity stunts with the local mayor/town crier/local football club, etc, and you may well have seen these appeals for players to check their tickets in your local paper, in a national paper, on the radio and even on TV for really big prizes – we constantly talk with the media about what would help them feature the story.

£6.3m unclaimed prize

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Photo stunt to promote a £6.3m unclaimed prize in Anglesey & Gwynedd, which was claimed!

If we decide that doing some kind of publicity stunt would work best to get the message out there (and we work with the media to make sure that what we are planning is what they actually want and would feature), then there are quite a few details to sort out. For example, we recently did a bit of activity with Gloucester Rugby Club, where a first team player and England international helped raise awareness of a £1 million unclaimed prize. Our work included coming up with the idea, speaking to all the media to ensure they were interested, speaking to the club to arrange and sort out logistics, arranging photography, ensuring props were in place, writing the press materials and sending those to the relevant media, attending the event and doing media interviews as and when required.

We also recognise that social media is a massive part of everyday life and can be a huge help in getting information across about unclaimed prizes, so we do a lot of activity on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Other tactics we have used in the past to get the message out there include taking out adverts in the press, hiring a fleet of ad vans to tour the area where a ticket was bought, supplying every retailer in the area of an unclaimed prize with a poster to display, and leaflet dropping in a local area. Details of all the largest unclaimed prizes are also always available on the National Lottery website.

Q: Your Twitter and Facebook / press releases seem very vague, why don’t you at least say the road it was bought on or some more minute detail?

When releasing details of an unclaimed prize, we have to balance raising awareness of the prize and encouraging a claim, with every player’s right to anonymity. As agreed with our regulator, we identify an area based on a population size of around 100,000, which allows us to raise awareness in that local area without compromising the winner’s choice on whether to share their news if they come forward or keep it to themselves.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the majority of lottery winners don’t choose to go public when they claim their prizes, which gives a good indication as to why we have to be very careful with the information we release about where the winning ticket was bought. If you think about it, if we were to release the name of the street where the ticket was bought, or even the actual shop, then the likelihood of being able to identify the winner(s) (possibly against their wishes) dramatically increases.

Q: Why can’t you use the CCTV footage of the ticket being bought to find the winning player?

There are a number of reasons why we can’t do this. Firstly, it’s all about player protection and making sure that we in no way compromise the choice of the winner to decide if they want to tell the world about their win or keep it entirely to themselves – we can’t make that choice for them by, for example, releasing their image from CCTV footage. This duty of care to players is part of the strict licence we operate under.

Aside from that, we have to act within the law and the only way that CCTV can be used at present, in keeping with the Data Protection Act, is either as part of an investigation into a crime or if we had the express permission of the ticket-holder. Clearly, no crime has been committed when someone simply goes into a shop to buy a lottery ticket, and we can’t get the permission of the ticket-holder to release their image as we don’t know who they are.

It’s also worth pointing out that even if we were able to use CCTV in some way, not all retailers have CCTV or, indeed, have a back catalogue of recordings in high enough quality that could be used.