We investigate the Premium Bonds conspiracy theories:


Christine Hills is convinced that unless she logs into her Premium Bonds account online, she won’t win a prize. 

The 62-year-old bought £24,000 worth of bonds in late 2020. By May 2021, she hadn’t won a penny.

She decided to log into her National Savings & Investments (NS&I) account to see if she was mistaken. In the next draw, she won £25. 

Investment: Around 22.4million people have Premium Bonds worth nearly £120bn. The bonds are tax-free and, unlike 'lottery' style draws, you never lose your original stake

Investment: Around 22.4million people have Premium Bonds worth nearly £120bn. The bonds are tax-free and, unlike ‘lottery’ style draws, you never lose your original stake

The next month she forgot to log in before the draw. She didn’t win a prize. So the following month she logged in before the draw — and, once again, she won.

The local government worker from Leicester is convinced that it is a pattern. NS&I insists it is just a coincidence.

Welcome to the world of Premium Bonds conspiracy theories.

Around 22.4 million people have Premium Bonds worth nearly £120 billion. The bonds are tax-free and, unlike lottery-style draws, you never lose your original stake.

There are two top prizes of £1 million each month. In February 2023, NS&I will award its 500th £1 million prize.

When the £1 million jackpot was introduced in April 1994, the first winner was a man from Surrey with £10,000 of holdings.

Other top prizes in the monthly draw currently include 18 worth £100,000 and 36 worth £50,000. The smallest, and most common, prize on offer is £25.

Run by Treasury-backed NS&I, the annual prize fund rate is 2.2 per cent at the moment. It means the odds of winning a prize with a £1 bond is 24,000 to 1 (up from one in 24,500 in September).

Ernie, the machine responsible for picking Premium Bonds winners, first sprang into action in June 1957.

NS&I says Ernie (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment) generates numbers in a random and uncontrollable way.

Ahead of the first draw 65 years ago, 49 million Premium Bonds were purchased, worth a minimum of £1 up to £500. Today, the lowest amount of bonds that can be purchased is £25, and the maximum is £50,000.

Even though NS&I has always insisted Premium Bonds prizes are totally random — any £1 bond has exactly the same chance of winning as any other £1 bond — not every bondholder is so sure.

Dozens of Money Mail readers have told us they are convinced that they’ve spotted strange patterns that can’t just be random.

Here, we look at the claims — and NS&I’s response…

Numbers can’t triumph twice

Myra Tucker believes each Premium Bond never wins a prize more than once.

The 83-year-old from Bristol has been buying bonds for decades and currently holds £40,000. She has kept track of her hundreds of wins over the years.

She says: ‘In 40 years, not one has ever appeared twice. It’s as if when a bond wins it is taken off the grid.

‘I know it sounds impossible but I felt certain that just one of my winning bonds might have won on more than one occasion.’

A number of Money Mail readers wrote in with the same theory.

NS&I says every bond is included in the draw each month. It says that in the past eight years, since it started recording the data, 376,535 bonds have won more than once. One of these bonds has won four times.

Random: The old Ernie (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment) machine from the 1970s. We are now on Generation 5

Random: The old Ernie (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment) machine from the 1970s. We are now on Generation 5 

Cash-in warning equals victory

Geoff Maly reckons that if you write to NS&I threatening to cash in your bonds, you’re more likely to win in the next draw.

Geoff’s father bought him four £1 bonds in 1957. In 1983, having not won anything, he decided to redeem his bonds and those of his two young sons.

He wrote into the bond office in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, asking how to proceed, but heard nothing. A month later he received a cheque for £25 from NS&I. In the following months, his eldest son won £50 and £25.

Geoff says: ‘Ever since then I have believed that, although all bonds go into the draw, the random aspect could be somehow manipulated.’ 

An NS&I spokesman says: ‘We know that there are many myths about how to win Premium Bonds, but the simple fact is that every eligible £1 bond has an equal chance of winning.

‘Regardless of if you bought your bond online, by phone or by post; if you were bought it as a child; or if you have had it one month or for 65 years — as long as you haven’t cashed in your bond you could win.’

NS&I says each month, the Government Actuary’s Department carries out independent checks to make sure Ernie’s output is random.

Ghost owners are ‘unfairly’ winning

Anthony Barker, from Rhos-on-Sea, North Wales, believes there are thousands of ghost bonds entered into the monthly draw which should not be there.

The 67-year-old points out that when a bondholder dies, their holdings remain live for a year until their estate is sorted — at which point the bonds should be cashed in.

But he fears that if NS&I isn’t made aware that someone has died, those ghost bonds could be entered every month alongside legitimate ones — and could win big.

NS&I says that if someone dies, the person legally entitled to their savings has to make a claim and notify it, which can be done online.

A deceased person’s bonds can stay in the draw for up to a year after their death, instead of being repaid immediately. Any prizes are then paid to the person’s beneficiary once the claim has been completed.

Letter-starting bonds are duds

One Money Mail reader, from Staffordshire, reckons bond numbers with letters at the beginning are passed over by Ernie.

He has a bond that was bought for him in the 1950s, which begins with the letters ‘AK’.

It has never won a prize, but he has had other bonds over the years which have come up with £25 every now and again.

NS&I says early bond identification codes started with two letters followed by six numbers. In 1973, these were converted to start with ‘000’ to match the format used for more recent bond numbers. 

NS&I had to change the format because it was set to run out of unique bonds thanks to their popularity.

Again, NS&I insists that every single £1 bond has the same chance of winning as any other. Whether a bond originally had letters at the beginning has no bearing on Ernie’s selections.

Bonds starting 000 make up just 0.05 per cent of the draw.

Odds: NS&I has always insisted Premium Bond prizes are totally random - any £1 bond has exactly the same chance of winning as any other £1 bond

Odds: NS&I has always insisted Premium Bond prizes are totally random – any £1 bond has exactly the same chance of winning as any other £1 bond

Larger blocks are advantageous

John Macaulay, 75, is sure that large blocks of holdings are more likely to win. The father-of-two from Chelmsford, Essex, has held the maximum in Premium Bonds — currently £50,000 — since he retired 17 years ago.

His holding is made up of some larger blocks of bonds and much smaller purchases dating back to his childhood.

John is so convinced of his theory that he’s considering cashing in his smaller holdings and transferring them into one large one.

He says: ‘The large blocks of holdings are by far the most successful, but I still get an occasional prize from my childhood bonds.

‘My newer bonds are bigger holdings and seem to win more.’ So far, £1,000 is the highest amount he has won, but he regularly wins three or four sets of £25 a month.

NS&I says it makes no difference if bonds are bought in one block or in multiple blocks.

Newer bonds win more frequently

A number of readers say they are sure that bonds bought more recently are more likely to win prizes.

Jeanette Norman has five £1 bonds from 1957 which have never won, but she says that when she buys new ones she wins. 

She adds: ‘My dad used to withdraw them and reinvest them and always win, which is what I’m going to try.’

Of all winners in November, 30 per cent were bonds bought in the past two years.

Only 16 per cent of winners bought bonds more than ten years ago. NS&I says bonds bought more recently may appear to win more often because there are more new bonds than old.

Around 45 per cent of bonds were bought in the past two years due to a pandemic-driven boom, while only 6 per cent were purchased before 2004.

Each £1 bond is just as likely to win, regardless of when or where it was bought — it is simply the luck of the draw.

In fact, the oldest bond to ever scoop the £1 million jackpot was bought in 1959 — and was picked out as a winner by Ernie 45 years later in 2004. The winner had only a £17 holding.

Jill Waters, NS&I’s retail director, says: ‘At least once per week someone will say to me that only the most recently purchased bonds win prizes.

‘It’s totally untrue. Every bond has an equal chance of being drawn by Ernie.’

It’s true that the more bonds you hold, the better your chance of winning big prizes. But this does not mean it’s impossible to bag a bigger prize if you don’t hold the maximum amount.

Since 1994, there have been 12 people holding £1,000 and under who have scooped the £1 million prize.

And in August 2020, a woman from Cumbria won the jackpot with £5,900 invested.

According to Money Saving Expert’s calculator, the average annual winnings of someone with a £10,000 holding is £200.

This rises to around £500 for someone with £25,000, and around £1,000 for someone with a £50,000 holding.

Certain regions are far luckier

Another debate is whether you are more likely to win a prize if you live in a particular part of Britain.

Certainly, a number of Money Mail readers told us they’d spotted this pattern.

For example, of the 4,976,066 prizes in the November draw, 1,026,155 were won by people in the South East.

Only 133,432 prizes were won by people based in the North East, and 447,875 in the North West.

Alan Hall, from Liverpool, believes the city does not have many big winners.

He says: ‘In the past, I have taken prize cheques to pay them in at my bank and the cashier has quipped: ‘It must be Liverpool’s turn to win big.’ ‘

But NS&I insists that if it seems as though more prizes are won by holders in certain areas of the country then it’s likely to be because there are more bond-holders there compared to other parts of the UK.

The South East is home to the most UK bondholders.

Of the 22.4 million or so investors, 3,471,853 are based in the South East, or 15.5 per cent.

London is home to 10.8 pc of customers, while 10.1 per cent are based in the East, 9.6 per cent are in the North West and 3.2 per cent are in the North East.

t.armstrong@dailymail.co.uk

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