The lost pension hunters: tracking down missing funds

3 minutes

It’s been estimated that as many as one in five of us have pension funds that we’ve forgotten about – or perhaps never even knew we had. Could you be one of them? We'll help you track them down.

  • An estimated £400 million worth of pensions are currently unclaimed
  • While £15 billion in unclaimed money is with financial institutions
  • Tracking down a lost pension, investment or legacy is free and straightforward

Track down your pensions

Writing for LV= pensions, Tony Watts (@tonywattswriter) shares how he tracked down a lost pension and talks to the experts who can help.

Several years ago, I was commissioned to write a story about a newly-beefed-up Government department: the Pension Tracing Service.

The Department for Work and Pensions was responding to a growing concern that, at retirement, many people were not claiming company or private pensions to which they were entitled. It was also in anticipation of the forthcoming pensions freedom, when it was expected many people would want to review where their pension pots were invested.

Their solution? To put extra resources into making it easier to track a forgotten pension down by tripling the number of people manning their Newcastle-based enquiry desk and enhancing their online service. The bigger, better free service would have a comprehensive database of more than 200,000 workplace and personal pension schemes – complete with contact details.

Great idea, I thought – but how easy is it? 

With absolutely no expectations of a result, I test drove the system for myself. I’ve spent virtually all my life being self-employed but did start working with two separate companies five years ago. I couldn’t recall ever putting money into a pension, though.

I followed the online instructions, supplying my NI number, date of birth and the dates of my employment. Within a few days I received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) with the names and addresses of the bodies now managing those two pension funds – if I had a pension in their system, they could tell me.

Two quick emails were all the next stage required, and then I waited.

Within a couple of weeks, a letter arrived: ‘Yes, you have a pension with us. When you retire in two years’ time its estimated value will be £215 a month.’ Result. 

Why it’s so easy to forget about a pension

Since May 2016, according to the DWP’s latest figures (at the time of writing), there have been 2,180,121 visits to their website – leading to hundreds of thousands of people being reunited with a pension they’d forgotten about. 

Forgetting about a pension is not as odd as you might expect. Most of us will have a working life in excess of 40 years and the average person has nine jobs in that time – some, if not all, of which will come with a pension. But, particularly when you are younger, a pension is the last thing you worry about.

And, as so many companies get taken over or go out of business, there’s an assumption that any pension rights will have disappeared along with them. Moreover, while the pension fund may well try and get in touch with pension holders later on, most of us will have moved at least several times in the interim, changed name, or perhaps even emigrated.

Are there any other lost funds out there?

Equally unsurprising, perhaps, is that a lost pension is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lost or forgotten money.

‘The bigger picture is that, according to the government’s own figures, UK financial institutions are currently holding £15 billion in unclaimed money, with pensions being just one part of that,’ says Andy Davies of Monimine (@Monimine_).

‘That can be in the form of a dormant bank account, a life policy or investment from a relative who has passed on, an investment account where a person placed a few hundred pounds early in their working life, but which has grown considerably in the intervening years. 

‘The old ‘penny polices’ where families put small sums away for a rainy day or a funeral are regularly forgotten about, but with a small amount of information they can be traced – and a useful sum recovered. 

‘Providers do take steps to track beneficiaries down, but if they move house and letters aren't forwarded, contact can easily be broken.’

Using a claimant’s previous addresses and the names of any relatives that may have left an unclaimed asset or policy, Monimine are usually able to track down the long-lost cash.

‘Tracking down an unclaimed pension can be particularly satisfying as you know it will help fund someone throughout their later life, and we often help ex-pats who have lost contact with a provider,’ explains Andy. ‘A few months ago, we received an email from a gentleman now residing in South Africa and we eventually tracked down a policy for him that he had taken out 15 years ago and was now worth £7,000.’

You can find out more about lost pensions here: 

Could you be missing out on a retirement fund?

When you do track a pension pot down you will have several options, including using the new pension freedoms to move or consolidate it. But do take expert advice first – especially if the sums involved will represent an important part of your retirement income. So, if you have an inkling that there may be a lost pension pot with your name on it, why not find out for certain? It’s simple and straightforward. You can phone the Pension Tracing Service on 0845 6002 537 or go to