To help you get everything on track, financial journalist Kalpana Fitzpatrick (@KalpanaFitz) asks Michelle Cracknell, chief executive of The Pensions Advisory Service (@TPASnews), what action you should take to track down your cash.
The UK is the land of lost pensions, with funds worth around £400m sitting unclaimed, according to the Department for Work & Pensions. Thousands of people have no idea where their savings are or have completely forgotten about them.
The average person switches jobs around 11 times during their work life, so losing track of your pension savings is easily done, especially when companies change hands in a takeover, rebrand their name, or switch pension providers.
How do I find out if I am missing money?
If a company you used to work for no longer exists, or if it has been taken over, you might not know whether you have money in missing pensions or not. If you were automatically enrolled, you may not have even been aware that you were paying into a pension.
First, make a list of all your jobs and find as much paperwork as you can – not just pensions, but pay slips that may show pension deductions and contractual information as well.
‘Think about where you have worked and match each job with any pensions details you have, then see if there are any gaps,’ says Michelle.
The Pensions Advisory Service, which provides free and impartial advice on pensions, has a tool on its website to help you get started.
‘The tool helps you trace your pension by telling you the questions that you will need answers to, like who you worked for, when you worked there and for how long,’ Michelle explains.
If you don’t know the answers, the tool provides you with useful links where you can find more information, as well as to services that help track lost pensions down.
What's the best way to keep track of my pension funds?
When you leave a job you may never hear from the pension scheme, so it’s easy to forget about your money as the years go by. To make sure this doesn’t happen, ask for an annual statement.
‘Not all pension schemes have to send you a statement, so you may have to set a diary reminder to ask for one every year,’ says Michelle.
If you change address, notify the pension scheme provider – quite often, people lose track of a pension because the provider doesn’t know how to contact them.
‘Increasingly, pension scheme providers are sending communications by email, so when you leave the company, remember to change your contact email to your new work or personal email,’ says Michelle.
You should also store your pension paperwork with other financial papers.
‘An important reason for keeping your pensions paperwork with your other financial papers and keeping them up-to-date is that the pension scheme may provide benefits if anything should happen to you,’ Michelle explains. ‘It is important that your beneficiaries know who to contact.
When's the best time to go searching for lost pensions?
Your missing pension could be worth hundreds or even thousands of pounds – so it’s worth trying to track it down straight away.
‘Companies move, merge, disappear and change names,’ says Michelle. ‘The sooner you search for your missing pension, the easier it is. It may be a big exercise the first time, but if you keep up-to-date every year, it will get easier.’
Where can I find out how much money I'm missing?
Your pension statement will give you a projection of your benefits.
‘This may be an estimate on the size of the pension pot or an estimate on the pension payable when you retire, depending on the type of pension scheme,’ Michelle explains.
Before you can get insight into this valuable information, you need to find it.
In May last year, the government’s pension tracing service launched a new website
to help people trace their pensions, which you can use for free. The service helps people get in touch with the relevant schemes to see what retirement savings they have with previous employers.
Who should I contact to get access to my lost pension fund?
If you can, call up the HR department of the company you worked for and ask for the pensions administrator – this may be an external company.
The pensions administrator can look up your details and arrange for a statement to be sent to you. If the pensions provider has changed, the HR department should inform you and give you the number of the old pension provider.
If the company you worked for no longer exists, or you don’t know how to contact them, use the pension tracing service or the tool available on the Pensions Advisory Service website.
What should I do when I've tracked down my lost pensions?
Once you’ve tracked down all your pension pots, think about consolidating them. There are benefits to consolidation: some old pensions may have high charges or sit in poorly performing funds. But do your research into the age and type of pension and seek financial advice, as consolidating your pensions isn’t always the best move.
Finally, if you were part of a defined benefit scheme, also known as final salary, and have a deferred pension, it is usually best to leave it where it is because defined benefit pension schemes are gold-plated arrangements. The amount they pay out increases each year, and they will normally continue to pay out a pension to your dependents if anything happens to you – just remember to claim it when you retire.
Tracking down lost pensions can be hard, but get started sooner rather than later. Once you find them, with the help of the tools and services available online, it’s far easier to keep track of how much money you have in your retirement fund.