Finding lost pension schemes

Mike Skinner from Chester searches for his missing pension with the help of Watchdog

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There are three billion pounds sitting around in unclaimed pensions in more than a million accounts. Don't let your money be part of it.

With each of us now working an average of 11 jobs a lifetime it's more likely than ever we will build up a number of different pension funds.

You are more likely to have lost track of pensions if you have changed employers, not kept good records or moved house.

Here's what you need to do to make sure you get everything you've saved for.

1. Check your records

Take a look through all your paperwork to see what records you do have.

If you can't find any pension details for periods when you were in employment it may be worth investigating further.

You may be getting annual statements from each of your schemes. If you don't, you should get in touch once a year to make sure everything is still in order.

If you stop receiving your statements or you can't get in touch with your scheme you'll need to track them down.

2. Finding a lost pension

Keeping track

  • Most workers who have not already joined a pension scheme, will gradually see a slice of their pay automatically diverted into pensions as part of automatic enrolment
  • Whatever your pension scheme, keep all paperwork, including annual statements.
  • Make sure you notify the pension provider if you move home

If you have stopped getting correspondence from a particular scheme, the first place to contact is the pension provider.

After that, try the company that employed you (if it was a workplace pension).

Details you should provide and template letters are available at the Money Advice Service.

3. Using the Government's tracing service

If you can't get hold of the pension provider or your former employer, the Department for Work and Pensions offers a free online tracing service to help find who is currently managing the pension scheme.

You can also contact the service by phone or post.

It has access to more than 200,000 personal and workplace pension schemes. The more information you can give, the more chance of your pension being traced.

If the tracking service can't find your pension, the Pension Advisory Service can give you more help and advice.

4. Doing your own detective work

Am I owed money?

Money

Pensions rules have changed, making it complicated. Consider these points.

  • If you left a workplace before 1975, you will probably have received a refund of any pension contributions you made. However, if you were made redundant or were in the scheme for a long time, you may have a pension entitlement. If so, you'll have been given a Certificate of Entitlement.
  • Between 1975 and 1988 it was compulsory for employees aged over 26 who had contributed to a scheme for five years to be given a "preserved pension" (one they could keep) if they moved job. The age 26 requirement was dropped in 1986. If you were younger or hadn't contributed for five years you may have been given a refund for the money you'd paid.
  • After 1988, employees who left a job after less than two years of contribution to a pension scheme would have normally received a refund of their contributions. However, those who paid into a scheme for more than two years should be entitled to a pension.

If you've lost records of pensions from former employers, it can help to write down the dates you worked for them.

If you're having problems tracing your pension because a company has moved, closed or changed its name, you can try tracing it through Companies House.

You can use the online search tool to find the name of the company you worked for and its last known address, or its new name if there is one.

You can also make an inquiry by post or by phone.

It may be worth asking former colleagues whether they have any useful information about the company.

From 1978 company pensions may have taken over part of your state pension - known as contracting out.

If this may be the case for your scheme, you can call the National Insurance contracted out pensions helpline to find out who is now responsible for your pension.

Failing that, you can try speaking to the Pension Protection fund. They take over final salary funds if they close down - for example if the employer goes into liquidation.

As a last resort you could ring round all the pension providers. This may take some time.

You could also consider using the Unclaimed Assets Register. There is a cost for using the UAR and the provider you're looking for would have to be a UAR member company.

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