Lost pensions – how to track them down
Last updated on 23 August 2017
It’s easy to lose track of your pensions. And even if you have only a small amount in these schemes, it is still worth tracking them down. They could provide extra income later on or some cash straight away.
Why keep track?
When you retire and stop earning money you still hope for a certain standard of living. That’s why people join pension schemes – to put some aside for that time. And, as it’s your hard-earned money that’s going into the pension pot, it makes sense to keep an eye on it. Without details of your pension scheme it can be hard to make a claim on a pension scheme. Which means you could be missing out on that extra income when you retire.
How to lose a pension
If pensions are so important, how do people come to 'lose' them in the first place? It’s easier than you think.
For most people, their main pension is through their workplace. But people no longer have a job for life, moving from employer to employer. Workplace pension schemes are just that – the scheme stays with the workplace, as the employer contributes to your pot. So with each new job you could have a new pension scheme, leaving you with a string of pension pots.
Changing jobs shouldn’t mean you lose track of your old employer’s scheme. But what about firms you worked for 20 or 30 years ago? You may not have even changed jobs to lose track of a pension. If you have moved house you simply may have forgotten to notify your pension scheme of your change of address.
Making it’s all too easy for your pension details to go astray.
Where pensions hide
Over the years, you may accumulate bits and pieces of pension from many different sources. This may include:
- Workplace pension schemes (also called occupational pension schemes or superannuation schemes) run by employers you used to work for.
- Personal pensions you stopped paying into when you joined a different pension scheme at work.
- Personal pensions taken out if in the past you had been 'contracted out' of part of the State Pension scheme. Being contracted out meant you gave up building up part of your State Pension and some of your National Insurance contributions were paid into this scheme to provide you with a personal pension instead.
Your pension, your money
You may have transferred the pensions you were building up under these schemes to a new employer's company scheme or to a new personal pension. But, if you didn't do that, you probably still have the right to a pension when you retire or possibly, from age 55 onwards, a cash lump sum straight away.
Either way, usually you can take a quarter of these savings as tax-free cash. The rest, whether taken out as a pension or lump sum, is treated as taxable income.
How to find missing pensions
Start in your filing cabinet. Dig out all your old paperwork and see if you have details of any schemes you had forgotten about. If the paperwork carries a former postal address for you, begin by writing to the scheme provider giving your current contact details.
Are you sure it’s lost?
This is the first question you need to ask. Because even if you have a certificate from a pension scheme, it doesn’t always mean that you have a pension entitlement.
You may have had a refund of your contributions when you left that employer, for example. It’s also good to know that many older pension schemes may have required a certain number of years of membership from you, before giving you any benefits.
What happens to old workplace pensions?
- If you left the employer before April 1975, it’s likely you will have received a refund of your pension contributions. If you didn’t pay into the scheme you probably won’t be entitled to anything, unless you were in the scheme for at least 15 to 20 years.
- If you left the employer between April 1975 and April 1988, you will have a pension, provided, you were over age 26 and had completed five years in the scheme. If not, you will almost certainly have had a refund of your pension contributions and have no further rights.
- If you left the employer after 1988, you will be entitled to a pension, as long as you completed two years’ service. If you left the pension scheme with fewer than two years’ service, you probably received a refund of your contributions at the time you left.
A free service to trace pensions
The Pension Tracing Service is a free, government service specially set up to help with tracing old pensions (don’t confuse this with private firms that use the same or similar name). You can visit their gov.uk website or call them on 0345 6002 537.
The service may be able to give you the contact details for a company pension scheme or personal pension that you have lost touch with. It is then up to you to contact the scheme for details of any pension.
The government service will search a database of over 200,000 schemes. This includes details of the new company or provider name if your old scheme has been taken over or changed its name over the years.
The more info, the better
You need to give the service as much information as you can about the scheme you have lost. Ideally, this should include:
- For a workplace pension scheme:
- name of the employer,
- type of business,
- last address you have for the scheme,
- when you belonged to the scheme.
- For a personal pension scheme:
- name of the scheme,
- last address you have for the scheme,
- the name of any bank, insurance company or building society associated with the scheme.
Try our list of pension providers
We’ve been around since 1861, and in that time a number of pension providers have joined us. You may be surprised at just how many companies we have records for. So it could be well worth having a look at our database for any pension schemes you may be missing.
Keeping track of pensions
Prevention is better than cure, so be sure to keep all your pensions paperwork in one place. You should also tell your previous pension scheme administrator about any changes of address.
- Your likelihood of having benefits under an old workplace pension depends on when and how long you were in the scheme
- Keep track of all your pension benefits and start tracing any lost pensions