How to find old pensions

It's easy to lose track of old pensions: We explain how to trace lost pensions and what to do when you find them.

Ask any financial expert about the most important steps you can take to secure your financial future, and saving into a pension is likely to be near the top of the list. And if you’ve been abiding by this wisdom since you got your first job, you could have money in quite a few pension schemes by now – to the point that you may have lost track of precisely how many pots you have and how much is in them. If you’re super-organised, you may be able to find out simply by looking through your perfectly-filed annual pension statements. But if you’re slightly less systematic, you may have lost all records of some of your schemes. Here, we explain how to find old pensions, so you can guarantee you get your full entitlement when you retire.

How do pensions get “lost”?

Losing track of a pension is easier than you might think. It’s especially so if you’ve changed jobs regularly over your career, or paid into more than 1 personal pension scheme. If this is the case, you could have lots of small pension pots held by multiple providers. And, let’s face it, staying on top of paperwork is few people’s favourite pastime. So while you may be certain you had a pension through a job you held 10 years ago for a few months, laying your hands on the documentation to prove it could be another matter.

Most pension schemes must send you an annual statement. But if you’ve moved house and you neglected to update your address with the scheme, you can’t rely on this. Without this regular reminder, it’s easy to forget you ever had the pension.

Plus, over time, pension schemes close, merge or get renamed. So even if you’re organised enough to have some sort of filing system or can remember the name of the scheme, it could be called something else by the time you think to check on how it’s doing.

How do I know whether a pension I thought I had counts as “lost”?

There may be cases where you’re pretty sure you were signed up to a former employer’s pension scheme that you’ve now lost track of. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it counts as a “lost” pension, from the perspective of you being owed any money. Even if you did make contributions once upon a time and/or have a certificate from a pension scheme, that doesn’t automatically mean you have a pension entitlement.

Whether you’re likely to be entitled depends on exactly when you left a company, and certain other criteria. That’s because the rules on whether you were able to leave a scheme early and still accrue benefits have changed over time. With many earlier schemes, any contributions may have been refunded when you left the company. Broadly speaking:

  • If you left your employer before April 1975, it’s likely that you have had your pension contributions refunded, especially if you were only with the company for a relatively short period (less than 15 years, for example). Or, if you were in a scheme that didn’t require you to pay any contributions, you probably won’t be entitled to any benefits.
  • If you left your employer between April 1975 and April 1988, and had accrued less than 5 years’ service, you are likely to have had your pension contributions refunded. If you were with the employer for 5 years or more, you might be entitled to a pension.
  • If you left your employer after April 1988, you are more likely to be entitled to a pension, on the condition that you had completed 2 years of service. If you were with the employer for less time, you might have had your contributions refunded.

How do I find all my different pensions?

Tedious as it may sound, the first logical step is to go through your paperwork. If you hold money in a pension, the scheme provider should be sending you a statement every year. If something’s gone haywire and you’re no longer receiving statements (perhaps because you’ve moved house), check to see if you have a statement from a few years ago.

If so, simply get in touch with the pension provider so you can:

  • Update your address
  • Check the value of your pension and any other important details (such as what type of plan it is – defined benefit/final salary or defined contribution)
  • Start receiving statements again

You may need to provide details such as your plan number (if known), your date of birth, your National Insurance (NI) number and when your pension was set up.

If you can’t lay your hands on any paperwork, but you have a strong suspicion you hold money in pension pots that you’ve lost track of, there are ways to find them. The steps to follow may vary slightly, depending on whether your money is held in a personal or a workplace pension.

How can I track down a workplace pension?

In some cases, the supplier of the pension (as far as you’re concerned, at any rate) may be your employer itself. In this case, contacting your former employer may be all you need to do.

If your employer provided access to a personal or stakeholder scheme, but you don’t know the pension provider’s details, your employer should be able to provide them. Again, you may need to supply certain details, such as your NI number, when you started and stopped working there, and when you think you joined the pension scheme.

Once you know the provider of the pension, you can get in touch with it as outlined above.

What if the company I used to work for has gone bust or no longer exists?

Firstly, don’t panic that your pension pot is gone for good. Pension schemes are ringfenced from other business assets or otherwise protected. For example, final salary schemes are likely to be protected by the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), so any money built up will usually be safe. However, if your former employer no longer exists, it can make it harder to track down lost pension pots if you have no relevant paperwork.

But all is not (literally) lost. If you have no idea how to contact your employer or the pension provider, there are pension tracing services available. These include the government’s free Pension Tracing Service. You can submit a request on the website, or call 0800 731 0193, to get the contact details for an organisation. You will need to know the name of your employer or the pension provider.

If you think that you had a final salary (or defined benefit) scheme with a company that’s gone bust, you can also try checking the Pension Protection Fund website. It has a list of schemes that it looks after.

How can I track down a personal pension?

Tracking down a personal pension (so a pension that you set up yourself) that you’ve lost all of the details of can be a bit trickier. The government’s free Pension Tracing Service may be able to help, but you will need some idea of the name of the provider in order to be able to search for contact details. Even if you can only recall a partial name, this may help, as looking through the list of possible results may jog your memory.

Failing this, a bit more paperwork rummaging may yield results. Check old bank statements from the period during which you think you paid into the scheme. Relevant payments, and the name of the provider, may be listed.

If you’re still drawing a blank, you might want to try the Unclaimed Assets Register. This is a commercial site that helps people find unclaimed assets, including pensions, though it doesn’t cover every pension provider.

What schemes can help me trace my pensions?

There are a few schemes available that can help you locate lost pensions. They include the following:

The Pension Tracing Service

This is a free, government service that can help you find contact details to aid your search for a lost pension. You can find contact details for yourself or for someone else’s scheme, with their permission. However, the service doesn’t tell you if you definitely have a pension with a provider, or its value, so it’s only a step in the journey.

To use the service, you need the name of each employer or pension provider. Visit the website to search online, or call 0800 731 0193.

The Policy Detective

This is another free service, though it’s run by a commercial organisation. As with the Pension Tracing Service, it allows you to find the contact details for pension providers. Again, you need to know the name of the provider to be able to search.

The Unclaimed Assets Register (UAR)

This is a commercial service run by credit reference agency Experian. It’s a database of the unclaimed financial assets in the UK, including pensions. It aims to help consumers to recover lost money.

It doesn’t cover every pension scheme, though (you can find a list of the financial organisations it works with on its website). And bear in mind it’s a register of assets that these organisations have deemed “unclaimed”. So, even if your pension provider is on it, the search won’t necessarily show up pensions that you think are lost if the provider doesn’t view them as such.

It costs £25 to run a search. You only need to pay this once (rather than searching for each company individually, the UAR runs a search of all the companies in its database at once). But it’s probably only worth trying if you’re confident you have a missing nest egg.

How long does it take to trace lost pensions?

Running a search for contact details via the Pension Tracing Service or the Policy Detective takes only a few moments. If you run a search on the Unclaimed Assets Register, Experian says the results will be ready within 2 working days.

How long it takes after that depends on how many companies you need to contact in order to track down your lost pensions. It will also be down to how quickly former employers and/or pension providers respond to your enquiries.

Is it worth the effort of tracking down my pension pots?

Danny Butler

Finder insurance expert Danny Butler answers

Tracking down pension pots that have gone AWOL may seem like just another thing to add to your endless to-do list. It can be tempting to dismiss the idea, especially if (for example) you only worked for a company for a short time, and reckon your pension pot will be small.

But every penny counts, and never more so than when you’re saving towards a comfortable retirement. And don’t forget that pensions are usually designed to increase in value over time, so what was once a small pot may be worth more than you think. According to the Association of British Insurers, as of 2020 there were an estimated 1.6 million unclaimed UK pension pots, worth a collective £19.4 billion. That’s nearly £13,000 per pension pot.

And if you have old paperwork, or with the help of pension tracing services, it shouldn’t be too much hassle to make a few quick enquiries. Those lost pots could give your retirement income a valuable uplift.

What should I do when I’ve located my lost pensions?

Once you’ve identified and contacted the providers of lost pensions, and they’ve confirmed that you hold money with them, start by asking them a few questions. These might include:

  • What’s the value of my pension pot and what’s my retirement income likely to be? The provider may send you a pension statement with this information.
  • How is my pension invested, and what are the options for changing it? For example, you may want a lower or higher-risk approach, or to invest in more ethical funds.
  • What fees and charges am I paying to run and manage my pension? If these are high, you might want to consider switching to a provider with lower charges. If so, ask what the fees are to transfer to a different scheme.
  • Are there any nominated beneficiaries on my account? These are the people or organisations that will receive any pension benefits if you die before receiving the pension. They may need updating if you set them up a long time ago and your situation has now changed.

If you’ve got loads of small defined contribution pension pots that are a faff to manage, even with annual statements, you could consider consolidating them into a single scheme. Depending on the terms of each scheme, this could mean moving smaller pots into an existing, larger scheme. Alternatively, you could start a brand new personal pension scheme to bring them all together.

Unless you’re confident managing investments, it could be sensible to seek independent financial advice before taking this step though. It may need some thinking through to weigh up the pros and cons and choose the right scheme to move money into. And if you’re lucky enough to have a final salary pension scheme, it’s rarely a good idea to move money out of it. The downsides of doing so will almost certainly outweigh the benefits.

Bottom line

The state pension may be the foundation of UK retirees’ income, but most people will boost their retirement finances by paying into workplace or personal pensions. The average person will change careers between 5 and 7 times over a lifetime, and some will do so more often. As a result, most people’s pensions will be split across multiple schemes, making it trickier to keep track. If you’re convinced you hold money in a lost pension, it’s well worth following the steps outlined in this article to find it and benefit from that extra bit of boost when you retire.

Finder survey: Do you have any type of pension?

Source: Finder survey by Censuswide of 1032 Brits, December 2023

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