If you’ve worked for several different employers over the years, or you’ve moved home a few times, there’s a chance you might have lost track of one or more of your pensions.
There are around 2.8m pension pots worth nearly £26.6bn waiting to be claimed by their owners, so if you think you might own a share, make sure you claim what’s yours.
Here, we explain why so many of us have missing pensions, and how to go about getting hold of any forgotten retirement funds.
How are pensions lost?
Losing track of a pension, or pensions, can be easier than it sounds. The average person has 11 different jobs in their lifetime, the DWP says – that’s a lot of pensions to stay on top of if you’ve been enrolled in a company pension scheme each time.
Moving house can also make it hard to keep track of all your pension paperwork, especially if you haven’t always arranged for your post to be forwarded to your new address. Unless you’ve updated all your pension providers with your new contact details each time, it could be that any annual pension statements sent to your old address may have ended up being thrown away.
There are other reasons why so much is lying unclaimed. Often people put off looking for lost pensions because they think they’ll need loads of details which they don’t still have, or because they think any missing amount might be so small that it’s not worth tracking down.
Why finding old pensions matters
Locating a pension or pensions you might have lost track of doesn’t have to be complicated, and you might discover that what you thought was a tiny nest egg has grown into a more significant sum.
If you don’t find your missing pension savings, then it can have a real difference on your quality of life in retirement as your income could be notably lower.
Helen Morrissey, senior pensions and retirement analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown said; “Finding a lost pension could be the difference between struggling to make ends meet or being a bit more comfortable in retirement. It might mean you can afford to go part-time in the years before retirement, or need to stay in work for longer, so it’s vitally important to keep your contact details for your pensions up to date.”
It’s also important not to put off tracing lost pensions based on the assumption that you can do it just before retirement. This is because there’s a good chance that your money won’t be working as hard as it possibly can for you, and the longer this underperformance goes on, the smaller your pension will be at retirement.
For example, your money may be languishing in a pension with high charges, or it might be in investments which aren’t appropriate for you based on your investment timeframe and your approach to risk. You can find out more in our articles Where is my pension invested? and What pension charges am I paying?.
How to find old pensions
If you’re trying to track down an old workplace pension, the first place to start is by calling the pension provider if you know who it is. Most big pension providers will have a customer service number on their website so if you know who your pension is with, you should be able to simply pick up the phone and give them a call.
Tracing a lost workplace pension
If you don’t know, or can’t remember which pension provider your employer used – you can start by contacting your former employer. They should be able to provide you with contact details for the pension provider, and at the very least be able to tell you who it’s with.
It may help if you have the dates you worked for the company available and how long you belonged to the pension scheme.
It’s important to remember that if you chose to leave your workplace scheme within two years of joining and paying into it that you might have had your contributions refunded. If this is the case, while you may remember paying in, you might have got your money back and therefore won’t have any pension savings from this time.
Finding a lost pension using your National Insurance number
If you are struggling to find your workplace pension through the above methods, using your National Insurance (NI) number might help the process along, as you can send it to any of your previous employers to ask for your pension scheme administrator information.
Did I have a SERPS pension?
Before April 2016, it was possible for employees to contract out of the Additional State Pension (also known as State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme or SERPS).
This meant paying lower or redirected National Insurance contributions over the years and effectively accepting lower or zero Additional State Pension as a result. If you did contract out of the Additional State Pension, then when you retire, you’ll instead get a contracted-out pension from your employer’s workplace pension scheme. This is typically the same as or more than you would have got if you didn’t contract out, although the actual amount you’ll get will depend on how your pension has performed. If you think you might have a contracted out pension you’ve forgotten about, get in touch with your former employer and find out who it is held with.
You can also send your NI number to HMRC to see if you should be getting the Additional State Pension or whether you contracted out of State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme (SERPs), which will mean you receive less in your State Pension payments each month. You can learn more about SERPs in our guide State Second Pension and SERPS explained.
Tracing a lost private pension
If you paid into a private or personal pension at any point and you can’t remember where it is, the first thing to try and find is any old paper work you might have with the pension provider’s name on it. Most pension providers will send you a statement once a year, so you might find one when going through your paperwork. If you can’t find anything that moves things along for you, it is worth contacting the Pension Tracing Service (find out more below).
Contact the Pension Tracing Service
If you’re not making much headway, for example, because you can’t find the contact details for your previous employer, the government’s Pension Tracing Service may be able to help.
You’ll need the name of an employer or pension provider to use the service, but provided you have that, the service should be able to help you find the contact details for your workplace or personal pension scheme. The service won’t, however, tell you whether you have a pension, or what its current value is.
As well as using their online service, you can also contact the Pension Tracing Service by phone on 0800 731 0193.
Consider consolidating your pension savings into one pot
If you’re not sure what to do with your pensions once you’ve found them there are many reputable companies and advisors who can help you decide whether to combine your pensions or transfer to a different scheme. You can learn more about combining pensions in our article Should I consolidate my pensions? However, it’s always sensible to be on the lookout for potential pension scams, and high charges. To help protect against scams, always ignore any unsolicited calls, emails or contact as genuine companies will never contact you out of the blue. Pensions cold-calling is in fact illegal, so if you receive an unsolicited call about your pension, get any information you can, such as the company name or phone number, and report it to the Information Commissioner’s Office via their website or on 0303 123 1113. Find out more about pension scams in our article Don’t let scammers steal your retirement.
Always make sure that any advisor or company you plan to use to help you with your pension is regulated by the FCA, which you can check here, along with the FCA warning list of unauthorised firms. It’s also important to understand exactly how much you’ll pay if you do use a company to help you with your pensions, and to check that you won’t lose any valuable benefits if you decide to switch from an existing scheme.
If you have a pension worth more than £30,000 with certain benefits such as a guaranteed annuity rate (which will provide you with an income at a set rate for the remainder of your life), the Government has mandated that you must seek professional independent financial advice before you can transfer it to a new provider, in order to protect you from inadvertently giving up a number of valuable benefits. Learn more about this in our guide Should I transfer my final salary pension?
If you’re not sure what to do with your pensions, or are struggling to track them down. It may be helpful to speak to a regulated financial advisor who can help you understand your options and make the best decision for your personal circumstances. For more information, check out our guides on How to find the right financial advisor for you or How to get advice on your pension.
If you’re considering getting professional financial advice, Aviva is offering Rest Less members a free initial consultation with an expert to chat about your financial situation and goals. There’s no obligation, but if they feel you’d benefit from paid financial advice, they’ll go over how that works and the charges involved.