Finding a lost pension plan

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If you’ve lost track of a pension, perhaps because you only saved a relatively small amount in it or because the company you were employed by has been taken over, it’s still possible to find it. Finding a lost pension plan doesn’t have to cost you anything.

Do you have a pension to trace?

If you’re trying to track down a workplace pension from years ago, it’s possible that there’s no pension for you to trace. That’s because the rules on workplace pensions were different in the 1970s and 1980s and you may have been given back the money you paid into your pension at the time.

As a rough guide, if you had a workplace pension:

  • If you stopped working for your employer before April 1975: It’s likely that you’ll have got back the money you paid into your pension at the time. Some workplace pension schemes were what’s called ‘non contributory’. This means that you didn’t have to pay anything into them, as only your employer paid in. If that’s the case, you’re unlikely to have got anything back from your pension unless you’d been a member of the pension scheme for 15 or 20 years.
  • If you stopped working for your employer between April 1975 and April 1988: If you were a member of the pension scheme for at least five years and were aged over 26, there should be a pension that you can trace. If you were a member of the pension scheme for less than five years or were in your early 20s, you are likely to have been given back the money you paid into it at the time. This means there’s no pension for you to trace.
  • If you stopped working for your employer after April 1988: There should be a pension in your name as long as you were a member of the pension scheme for at least two years. If you weren’t a member of the scheme for this long you’ll probably have been paid back the money you contributed to your pension when you left.

If you have a personal pension:

  • There should be a pension you can trace, no matter how long ago you took it out. However, there were one or two pension providers in the 1990s that would keep all the premiums you paid into your pension if you didn’t keep up the payments for five years. And some companies took so much in charges every year if you left your pension money where it was and didn’t pay into it regularly, that the amount of money in your pension may be far less than you expect.

Finding a lost pension plan

If you want to track down a workplace pension, there are several free to use websites that will help you to find your pension.

1. Government’s Pension Tracing Service. your starting point should be the Pension Tracing Service, which is part of the government’s Pension Service. Its service is free of charge and it has a register of all workplace pension schemes and providers of personal pensions. It will give you contact details for these organisations but won’t reunite you with your pension.

As well as doing an online search, you can also ring the Pension Tracing Service on 0345 600 2537 (if you’re calling from outside the UK, the number is (44) 0191 215 4491) . You can write to them at:

The Pension Service 9
Mail Handling Site A
WV98 1LU

If you want to trace a lost pension and you’re in Northern Ireland, use the Pension Tracing Service on the NI Direct website.

SAVVY TIP: Beware! Don’t just type ‘Pensions Tracing Service’ into Google and click on the top link as it may be a commercial company (I spotted a couple of ‘lookalikes’).

2. Pensions Advisory Service: An alternative to the government’s service is the Pensions Advisory Service. Don’t confuse this organisation with commercial companies as the Pensions Advisory Service is free to use, funded by the government and largely staffed by volunteers who work or used to work in the pensions industry. It has a Trace a Lost Pension service. You’ll need some information before you start, such as the name of the company that managed your workplace or private pension and you can’t save your answers and return to them later.

SAVVY TIP: I found this tool a bit clunky to use and I would have preferred to be able to save my answers so I could look up information and return to it. However, there were some helpful notes that explained where you might be able to find information that’s missing.

What information do you need to give?

You may not have much information to hand about your pensions, but you must know some basics to be able to use the service

  • If you’re tracing a workplace pension: As a minimum, you must be able to provide the name of the employer you worked for. The more information you can give, the better. Information that’s useful includes: the address of the employer, whether it traded under different names or was part of a larger group.
  • If you’re tracing a personal pension: It helps if you have information about who the pension provider was, when you took out the pension and when you stopped paying into it. If you have any old paperwork relating to the pension, that’s helpful as well.

What the Pension Tracing Service will do

The Pension Tracing Service will give you the current contact details of the scheme so that you can get in touch with those who run it, if it’s an employer-based scheme.

SAVVY TIP: Be aware that if you don’t have much information and the company has changed hands repeatedly, tracing your pension could be difficult.

What the government’s Pension Tracing Service won’t do

The Pension Tracing Service isn’t designed to:

1. Confirm that there’s a pension in your name with the employer or company it’s traced.

2. Tell you how much money is in the pension

3. Make contact with the employer or pension company on your behalf.

SAVVY TIP: Once you’ve received the details from the Pensions Tracing Service, it’s up to you to make contact and establish how big the pension is and how you can get it paid. If you need further advice or help with your query, you could contact the Pensions Advisory Service as they may be able to help.

Using commercial tracing companies
If you Google ‘tracing pensions’ on the web, the names of several different companies will come up. They may work on a no-win, no-fee basis and take a percentage of any money they trace on your behalf. Personally, I’d be wary of a company that takes a percentage of any pension it finds if I had no idea how large the pension could be. You might end up handing over several thousand pounds.

One company, Unclaimed Assets Register charges a fixed fee (currently £25) for each search, but doesn’t take any of the money it finds.

Related articles:

How to get a state pension statement – and understand it

Pensions jargon explained – what pension terms mean

Is your company pension safe? Understanding the Pension Protection Fund

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