There are currently around 1.6 million pension pots in the UK that are left unclaimed, worth more than £19bn. A staggering number, but when you consider that only around 4% of people notify their pension provider when they move house, perhaps it isn't that surprising after all. The good news is that finding old pension pots is easier than ever thanks to improved record-keeping and advances in technology.
In this article, we explain how you can track down your old private and workplace pension pots. We also explain ways that can save you time and money by combining all of your old pension pots into one easy-to-manage plan.
How do people lose pensions?
There are a number of reasons that people lose track of their pensions. The most common reasons are changing jobs and moving house. On average, UK workers will have 11 different jobs throughout their career and they will move house an average of 8 times in their lifetime. The good news is that pensions are not lost forever and it is relatively easy to claim what is rightfully yours.
How to find old or lost pensions
Step 1 - Gather what information you already have
Check your paperwork
Most workplace pension schemes and personal pension providers normally send out annual statements to members. These statements will include details of your pension benefits, your pension plan reference number as well as contact details for the scheme that were valid at the time. This will provide a starting point to find out further information about your pension, including an up-to-date valuation. If you can't find any pension statements then anything related to your employment will be useful as it may help provide key dates as well as information such as your employee number. If you don't have any paperwork then you will need to backtrack through your career as described below.
Work your way back through your career and write down the details of all of your old employers, including any key dates. It is not crucial to know the exact date you started and finished working with an employer, but the closer the better. If it is relatively recent, you could use social media including Linkedin and Facebook to help you compile the information. Also, check to see if the employer is still in business and whether the business name has changed.
Step 2 - How to find an old workplace pension
If you don't know the name of the pension provider for your old workplace pension then you should get in touch with your old employer to find out. You may find it difficult to get information over the phone, as many companies have strict guidelines on giving out personal data and so you may have to follow up on your enquiry in writing. At the very least, they should be able to tell you who the pension scheme administrator was at the time of your employment. You will likely need to provide your employment start and end date as well as your National Insurance number. You'll need to repeat this step for each of your old employers, so make sure you keep a note of all of the details.
It is important to note that getting in touch with your old employer will not help you to find out how much your pension pot is currently worth or what it currently invests in. You'll need to speak to the pension provider directly (step 5 below), once you know who it is, in order to answer these questions.
Step 3 - How to find an old private pension
You may have taken out your own private pensions in the past and are no longer contributing to them. Perhaps you have changed banks or have moved address and are wondering how to track down your lost private pension. Firstly, see if you can find the name of the personal pension scheme or pension provider. If checking through your old paperwork hasn't provided any useful information then go through your old bank statements and see if you can find any payments or references relating to a pension scheme. It may not be immediately obvious that it is a pension contribution; but check for any deductions made by banks, building societies or life assurance companies as these all provide personal pensions to customers.
Step 4 - Use the Pension Tracing Service
If you are struggling to find out contact information for an old private or workplace pension then use the Pension Tracing Service. The service is free and is provided by the government. The tool can help you find contact details for an old pension scheme by searching its database of over 200,000 private and workplace schemes.
Step 5 - Contact your old pension provider
Once you have the relevant contact details you need to contact your pension provider(s). You will need to provide your date of birth and National Insurance number as well as your address. If your address has changed, you will need to confirm your old address for security and they will then be able to note your new address on file, ensuring any future paperwork is sent to your correct address.
Your pension provider will then be able to update you with the key information you need such as what type of pension it is and (assuming it is not a final salary scheme) the current value of your pension and how your money is invested. The scheme will also be able to provide information on the fees that are applied to your pension, which can have a huge impact on your investment returns. Make sure you note down the fees that are charged each year for all of your pensions as you may be able to save a significant amount by combining them into one easy-to-manage plan. Also check whether there are any penalties for transferring your pensions elsewhere or whether there are any guaranteed benefits (such as guaranteed annuity rates) provided by the scheme.
What to check on your old or lost pension pots
Once you have tracked down your old pension pots, you should consider the following:
Firstly, make sure that your pension provider has all of your up-to-date contact information including your current address and email address. This should ensure that you are kept up to date going forward and that you receive an annual statement as well as any other notifications regarding the administration of your pension plan. Also, if your pension provider has an online portal, consider setting up an account so that you can access and amend your details quickly and easily online.
Check how much you have paid into your pension over time as this will help you when determining how much your money has grown over time (i.e the performance).
Next, check to see how your pension is invested. If you haven't taken an active role in your pension previously then it is likely that your pension is invested in a 'default' fund. A default fund is designed to meet the needs of the average scheme member and so is not tailored to your specific investment goals.
Next, take a moment to check the performance of your pension plan. You should be able to see the past performance of your pension either via its online portal or by checking your annual statements.
As we mentioned earlier in this article, costs can have a considerable impact on your investment returns and so you should check to see what your pension provider is charging. You may be able to get a cheaper plan elsewhere and if you have more than one pension pot then combining your pension plans into a single, low-cost plan could be a sensible option. Make sure you ask about any potential transfer penalties that might be applied if you move your pension elsewhere.
Check whether there are any guaranteed benefits under your existing pension such as a guaranteed minimum pension or a guaranteed annuity rate. Some old pensions offer very generous annuity rates when you reach retirement age that allow you to convert your pension pot into a much larger retirement income than would be available elsewhere.
Find out what death benefits are payable if you were to die and who is the nominated recipient, as you may want to change this.
Should you combine your old pension pots?
Once you have all of the information to hand, you need to decide on what action you wish to take. You may decide that having tracked your pension pots down, you are happy to leave them where they are and there is nothing wrong with that. Just make sure that the plan is invested in a way that meets your retirement goals and that you are comfortable with the fees that are being charged. Combining your pension pots into one easy-to-manage plan may be a sensible option for some, particularly those looking to cut costs and save time. We explain how you can do this below.
Combine your old pensions using a pension consolidation specialist
Combining your pensions into one low-cost pension plan can make sense. You can end up paying one simple fee and you can manage your pension from one online account. If you wish to explore consolidating your pensions you need to decide which service is best for you. If you still need some help with locating and tracking down your old pensions then you could use a pension consolidation specialist such as PensionBee* or Profile Pensions, as these services provide additional help and advice with tracing lost pension plans.
Alternatively, you can combine your old pensions using popular robo-adviser services Wealthify, Moneyfarm or Nutmeg. You can also take advantage of occasional special offers including cashback and fee-free investing for a year. Check out Wealthify*, Moneyfarm* and Nutmeg for more information about how to transfer your old pension plans.
Read our article 'Should I combine my pensions - what you need to know' for more information including when you should and shouldn't consider combining your pension pots as well as the things you need to check before combining your pensions.
Crucially, none of the services mentioned will allow you to transfer a final salary scheme (also known as a defined benefit pension) to them. If you are unsure about whether consolidating your pensions is right for you, and/or you have a final salary scheme, then you should seek the help of a financial adviser.
Combine your old pensions using a financial adviser
When it comes to making a decision about your old pension pots, you may be more comfortable getting advice. It is worth noting that by law, anyone transferring funds from a Defined Benefit (DB) pension - often referred to as a final salary scheme - into a SIPP or private pension must seek the services of a financial adviser if the benefits are worth more than £30,000.
A financial adviser can help you understand all of the risks associated with pension transfers as well as provide advice as to whether you will lose any other benefits, such as Guaranteed Annuity Rates (GAR), and what course of action is best for you.
Check out our articles 'How much does a financial adviser cost' and '10 tips on how to find a good financial adviser'.
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