‘How do I find pensions I’ve lost in 40 years of work?’

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Dear Kate,

Is there a way to track down lost pensions? I think I’ve lost at least one pension, possibly more because I’ve changed addresses a few times since I started working about 40 years ago. I want to see how much I have saved in all my pensions so that I can start thinking about retirement.

Paul B, via email

Kate says:

According to the Association of British Insurers, there are an estimated 1.6 million lost pensions with more than £19 billion unclaimed. This is a huge amount that can make a big difference for many people.

As a result of the government’s flagship policy of automatic pension enrollment, almost every job now has a pension. As people move from job to job, they often leave these pensions behind and sometimes forget about them, or don’t appreciate them, because they are often small jars.

Not only do people move from jobs, but they also move home and can lose track of their retirement by forgetting to share their new address with their pension provider or scheme.

Will your pension actually be lost?

Depending on the type of scheme and when you were a participant, it may be that your pension is not actually lost, but that you have not built up any pension. This is because the pension regulations have been amended several times over the years and you may have been affected by the so-called ‘conservation rules’.

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For example, if you left your employer between April 1975 and April 1988, in order to retain the right to a retained pension, you had to be over 26 years of age and have been in retirement age for at least five years. If this was not the case, you would not have had a pension entitlement and you would receive any personal contributions back.

However, if you left your employer after April 1988, the five years was reduced to two years and the age limit was removed. These rules will continue to apply to defined benefit-type plans, but no longer to defined contribution plans.

Once you’ve figured out whether or not you can find pensions, there are five things you can try.

1. Find Your Annual Benefit Statements

Most pension plans provide a benefit statement every year, even if you and your previous employer have stopped paying pension contributions. These give you an estimate of the pension you may receive when you retire. Check your papers to see if you still have old benefit statements.

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The best way to stay in touch with your retirement is to sign up online with your retirement plan or administrator so you can see it when it’s convenient for you, rather than waiting for an annual benefit statement. This should be possible with most modern pension schemes, although it may not be an option for older schemes.

2. Contact your pension provider

If you can’t find benefit statements but know the name of your pension provider, try contacting them. Share as much information as possible, including your name, any previous names, date of birth, Social Security number, previous addresses, your plan or employer name, and, if possible, your subscription number.

3. Contact your employer

If you have built up pension through your work, try to contact previous employers. Again, provide as much information as possible to help them track you down, including the dates you entered and left the employer.

4. Ask former colleagues

Another way to explore is to talk to former colleagues. They may be able to point you in the right direction, for example by sharing the address of your pension scheme or pension provider.

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5. Contact the government agency for tracing pensions

If all else fails, try the government’s Pension Tracing Service website. This is a free government service that searches a database of more than 200,000 pension plans for the contact details you need. It’s not perfect, but it can be useful.

You can call them on 0800 731 0193 or search the online phone book. The service must be able to locate your former employer, even if the name may have changed or the company has been acquired since you left.

This does not state whether you have a pension under a particular scheme, but it does contain the contact details of the employer or administrator who provides the pension scheme. It is then up to you to write to the contact details provided, again providing as much information as possible.

You can use the tracking service to find your own lost pension, or to find pensions for someone else that you have permission to do.

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