How to find a lost pension

If you've lost track of your pensions, this will help you find them

Don't worry, you're not alone. Many people lose their paperwork. People move jobs, people move house and younger people may not always understand the value or importance of keeping track - everything seems to be on an app now.

This guide will give you pointers on how to trace and recover a lost workplace pension. This includes the information that you will need to be able to track your pension, the places that you should try and look for your lost pension, and also the type of questions you need to ask when you have found out who your pension provider was. Finally, we'll explain briefly how to avoid losing a pension.



Why do people lose pensions?

In 2013 AGE UK, the leading UK charity concerned with older people, conducted a survey to try to understand more about the UK public’s plans for retirement and general attitudes on the issue.

One of the most revealing things that the survey found was the fact that 23% of adults in the UK have lost track of at least one pension scheme. 47% of all missing pensions are simply classed as 'lost in the mists of time' in the survey and 20% say they have lost the paperwork relating to their pension. But what are the reasons why people are losing their pensions? Here are the top 3 reasons why people in the UK lose track of their pension pots:

If you have a personal pension, this can stay with you regardless of your employer. You should simply update the pension provider of any changes of address or personal details.

People move jobs more

One of the most interesting revelations of the Age UK report was the number of times people move jobs. The average person over the age of 65 has worked for an average of 5 or 6 employers over the course of their career, whilst nearly 25% of those in the 25-34 age bracket have already worked for this number of employers. This means that the younger generation will almost certainly have a variety of pension pots by the time they retire, which means some of them could very well be lost if some of the other reasons people lose their pensions are factored in.

It is a situation that is only going to worsen. Job security, which was once expected in most companies, is a rare luxury these days and the introduction of auto-enrolment will see far more people enrolled in pension schemes than previously. Under auto-enrolment, employees automatically join their company pension scheme rather than opt-in as in previous years. It is expected that most people will choose to stay in the schemes, so this, combined with working for an increasing number of different employers will see people juggling a multitude of pension pots.

People move house more

Did you know that people these days move house more often than did their grandparents? According to a Royal Mail survey, those under 35 have already lived in an average of five homes, whilst their grandparents would have lived their entire lives in just three. As anyone who has moved house knows, it can be one of life's most stressful experiences and it is rare that any move goes without a hitch and without something going astray. This means that the more people move, the more chance they have of losing important documents, such as their pension details. They can also lose contact with their pension provider should they forget to update their address details with them.

It is a situation that is expected to get worse. With spiralling house prices and the average first time buyer's deposit being over £28,000, more and more people are renting. A shortage of local authority housing (with their long-term letting periods) means that most people are renting in the private sector, where many people are on rolling six month tenancies. This lack of assured tenancies means that some people may be moving home every six months.

Younger people may not always understand the value or importance of a pension

Unlike some other countries in Europe, children in the UK have very little, if any, education about personal finance and financial products whilst in the education system. That means that while many may have a general idea of what a pension is, they may not truly understand its importance and its value.

We now live in a world where students will be leaving university with debts averaging £44,000, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, and where The Money Charity calculates the average deposit for a first time buyer as £28,030. This means that there is not only a huge amount of pressure on young people financially but, even if they do have the foresight to invest in a pension, it is likely to be far from one of their main priorities.



Checking if you have lost pension funds

Do you believe you have lost track of a pension? With millions of pounds left unclaimed in lost pensions you could be right. But how do you know?

Is it lost?

This is the first important question you need to ask yourself. Whether it is a personal pension or a workplace pension, just because you may have found some paperwork indicating you did have one, it does not always mean you still have an entitlement. This is because you may have had a refund of contributions.

For workplace pensions there are several key dates that you need to be aware of that may help you ascertain whether you may have a lost workplace pension.

If you left your employer before 1975: You will almost certainly have received a refund of your pension contributions. If you did not pay into the pension scheme, then the chances are you will not be entitled to anything. The only exception to this will be if you worked there for a considerable time, usually over 15 years.

If you left your employer between April 1975 and April 1988: You may have a pension if you were over the age of 26 and had completed over 5 years' service. If not, it is almost certain that you would have received a refund of your pension contributions and you will not now be entitled to anything.

If you left your employer after 1988: You may be entitled to a pension, as long as you completed over two years’ service for your employer. If you left that employment before completing two years, you will almost certainly have been given a refund of your pension contributions.



Tracing a lost workplace pension

Tracing a lost workplace pension can be a little easier than tracing a personal pension that you have lost. That is because often your employer or former employer, if they are still in existence, should have the details of their pension provider. If you want to track down an old workplace pension, simply follow the steps below.

Start at home

The first place to start looking is at home. Dig out as much paperwork as you can and check to see if you can find the details of any schemes you have forgotten about. Take a look at any old payslips and check to see if there were any deductions for pension contributions. If so, and you haven't, at a later date taken a refund, you could have a pension you've forgotten about. Also, contact all of your previous employers and ask for the details of their pension schemes. They should be able to give you the provider's contact details and you can contact them directly to ascertain if you were a member of a scheme or not.

If you are still having difficulty tracing your workplace pension, you can use the government's online pension tracing service. Their website is www.gov.uk/find-lost-pension or you can call them on 0845 6002 537.

I now know who my pension provider is. What details will I need to provide?

The more information you can give the provider the better, as it will make tracing any pension both easier and quicker. Details you should give them include:

  • Name (current and previous, if different)
  • Address (current and where you resided when working for the company in question)
  • Date of birth
  • NI number
  • Name of the company you worked for
  • Address of the company you worked for (in case your company had multiple branches/outlets)
  • Date you began working for the company
  • Date you left the company
  • Date you joined and left the pension scheme (if known)

The questions you need to ask

It's vital to ask a number of questions to find out more about any pension scheme you may be part of.

It is important to know whether it is a defined benefit scheme or a defined contribution scheme. Defined benefit schemes are also known as final salary schemes (though there are career average schemes too) in which your pension is based upon the number of years worked and your salary at retirement age. Defined contribution schemes are based on contributions into a pension pot which are nested into a pension pot which can be accessed at any time after the age of 55.

Defined benefit scheme: If you find out you were a member of a defined benefit or final salary scheme, then your pension provider should be able to give you a very accurate estimate to what you can expect to receive when you take your pension. This is because your pension is based on salary and service and is not subject to the ups and downs of the stock market.

Defined contribution scheme: If you find that you have a workplace defined contribution scheme that you had forgotten about, then you need to be asking the same sort of questions as you would if you'd have found a lost personal pension. You need to find out:

  • How much has been contributed into your pension pot?
  • Current value of the pension pot
  • What is the estimated value of the pension pot on your expected retirement date?
  • Are there management charges for the pension scheme? How much are they?
  • How is the pension pot being invested?
  • What are the details of the death benefits on offer? How much would my nominated recipient receive?
  • Is there a nominated beneficiary on file? Who is it?
  • If I were to transfer my pension to another provider, would there be any charges? How much would they be?

Now you have the full details about your lost workplace pension, it is important to take advice as to what you should do with it. There are various options dependent upon the type of pension and the particular provider but options can include leaving it as it is until you reach retirement age or, if you have another pension or pensions, you may choose to combine them into one pot. What you choose to do will depend upon your personal circumstances, lifestyle and retirement expectations.



Tracing a lost personal pension

Do you remember taking out a personal pension but cannot now recall any details about it? If you do, you are not alone. It can often be a little bit more difficult than tracing a lost workplace pension because you don't have an employer or former employer to contact to obtain the details of the pension provider. However, don't be disheartened, many people successfully track down their old pensions every year. Follow our steps below:

Start at home

Have you moved house in the past few years? That can be one of the major reasons for losing pension paperwork. Whether you have or not, the best place to start looking is at home. Think about where you keep official documentation such as your driving licence, benefit information or bank statements. Don't just flick through all of this, you need to scan them carefully to see if there is any mention of words like pension, contributions or annuity.

Have you ever used a financial adviser? If so, you may have taken advice from them when taking out your personal pension; in which case contact them and see if they have any details.

If you have a partner, it may be worth asking them, as they may remember the time when you took it out and may remember the name of the pension provider in question. Friends too may be worth asking, just because many people discuss financial decisions with friends and they may have recommended a provider to you.

If you are still struggling to find your personal pension, then you can use a service run by the government that was set up to help people trace pensions. Visit their website: www.gov.uk/find-lost-pension.

I now know who my pension provider is. What details will I need to provide?

The simple answer to this is as many details as possible. You need to provide as many of the following as you can:

  • Name (both now and your name at the time you took the policy out, if different)
  • Address (current and the address you resided at when taking the policy out)
  • Date of birth
  • National Insurance number
  • Date joined

The questions you need to ask

Unlike a workplace pension, you do not need to ascertain what sort of scheme it is because as it is a personal pension, it will be a defined contribution scheme, also known as a money purchase scheme. The questions you need to ask include:

  • What is the value of your pension pot?
  • What is the current value of your pension pot?
  • What is the estimated value of your pot on your expected retirement date?
  • Are there any pension scheme management charges? How much are they?
  • How is the pension pot being invested?
  • What death benefits does the scheme have? How much would my nominated person receive in the event of my death?
  • Is there a name on file as my nominated beneficiary if should I die? Who is it?
  • Are there any charges if I were to transfer my pension elsewhere? How much would they be?
  • Can I start contributing to the pension again, should choose to?

Once you have these details, it is important to take advice as to what your next actions should be. Dependent upon the provider, you may have several options as to what to do with your pension pot including: doing nothing and simply taking it when you retire, transferring it to another provider or combining it with other pension pots you may have. As to what it is best to do, that will depend upon a number of factors including what your retirement expectations are.




How to avoid losing your pension in the future

With millions of pounds being left unclaimed because people have lost track of their pensions, it is important that, if you want to maximise your retirement funds you keep track of where your pensions are.  

Keeping track while you are working for an employer

With people moving jobs far more frequently nowadays than did previous generations, it is important that you keep track of your pensions as you could end up with a multitude of pensions from a variety of providers with no clue as to how many pensions you actually have.

  • Keep a detailed record of your employment history including all correspondence, salary slips showing contributions and any other communications that relate to your pension.
  • Keep the documentation that explains the pension plan you are in including its investment policy and details about the various benefits you may be entitled to such as death in service benefits.
  • You will probably receive an annual update of your pension. Its format will vary as to whether you have a final salary or defined contribution scheme. It will give you an estimate of your benefits at retirement age and a valuation and estimate of your pension pot should you have a defined contribution scheme. You should always keep hold of each of these updates.
  • If you move house, always notify the pension company. Do not assume that just because it is a work scheme your employers will do so.

Keeping track if you leave and go to work for another employer

Keep all your paperwork and store it with your most valuable documents i.e. those that you will not destroy in the future such as your will, house deeds etc. Tell your old pension provider of any changes to your address or telephone number immediately. You need to be contactable should there be any changes you need to be made aware of.

Keep track of your former employer. This will help keep you abreast of any changes you need to know about. The business may merge with another, be sold or even go out of business, all of which can have an effect on your workplace pension.