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How to find or trace a lost pension

Updated 09 November 2021

4min read

Nick Green
Financial Journalist

Pension tracking

Over your career, you’re likely to work for many different employers. Thanks to auto-enrolment, this means you’re also likely to end up with multiple pension pots (good thing!) some of which you might lose track of (bad thing!) over time. Fortunately, finding lost pensions is usually quite easy. You can turn to the Pension Tracing Service, but what are the other options?

Why is it important to trace lost pensions?

You can never have too many contributions to your pension pot (well you can, but the pension limits are pretty high – most people will never exceed them), so it’s really important to track down old and unclaimed pensions and consolidate them. And in the unlikely event that you have exceeded the savings limits, or may be about to, you’ll want to know about this in good time so you can avoid any tax penalty.

Most pension providers and former employers are obliged to send you a yearly statement, setting out an estimate of the income you might expect from the scheme on retirement. If you’re no longer receiving these statements, perhaps because you’ve changed your address, opted out of the State Earnings-Related Scheme (SERPS) in the past, or have changed jobs, then it’s time to start tracing, because losing a pension can be costly.

Remember, if a pension remains unclaimed for six years after your selected retirement age, you will no longer be entitled to it. Potentially this could mean a loss of tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds. So find those pensions – here’s how.

What are the different pension tracing services? 

There are four main routes you can take to track down a lost pension.

If you know which provider your pension was with, get in touch with them. They should be able to trace your pension and give you a clear overview of its status and value.

If you’re tracing a workplace pension, then you first need to contact the employer who provided it. If your employer ran a private or stakeholder scheme, they should be able to give you the contact details.

If you’re still having problems, you can get in touch with the government's pension tracing service. This provides a free service, and can search a database of more than 200,000 pension schemes to find contact details for you.

There is also a free service provided by an organisation called The Pension Tracing Service. This is not a government website, but is run by the Better Retirement Group, a firm of independent financial advisers.

To locate a SERPS pension, contact HMRC with your NI number and the usual basic personal details such as full name and date of birth.

You may find it easier to trace your lost pension using a financial adviser, who will be able to approach the relevant bodies and organisations for you. They will know exactly what questions to ask.

Various other organisations and companies will offer to trace your pension for you, and may appear in internet searches. Most of these are probably best avoided – the government service or an IFA whom you have chosen are your best options.

What information do you need to trace a lost pension?

It’s important to make sure you have all the right information to hand when you’re tracking a lost pension. Your financial adviser can help collate everything you need, but here’s a quick guide to the essentials.

  • Your pension plan number, if you have it
  • Your date of birth
  • Your National Insurance number
  • The date on which your pension was set up

When searching for a workplace pension with a former employer, you should also have these details:

  • The name of the employer (remember the name may have changed, or it may have been taken over)
  • The dated you started working for the employer
  • The date you stopped working for them
  • The dates on which you joined and left the pension scheme

Have some questions ready for your former employer when you call. It will help make the search more effective, such as:

  • What type of plan is it? (It could be a defined benefit or defined contribution scheme)
  • Which pension provider is the scheme with?

How do I trace my lost pension?

Here’s our at-a-glance list of the steps you need to take when searching for a lost pension:

  1. Establish what kind of pension you’re searching for – is it a workplace pension, a personal or stakeholder scheme, or SERPS?
     
  2. Gather together all the important details that will help the search – pension plan numbers, personal details and NI number.  The more information you have, the better.
     
  3. Contact the right organisation that deals with the type of scheme you’re trying to find. This will be the pension provider, your previous employer, HMRC or the Pension Tracing Service.
     
  4. Consider using an IFA – they have the experience and knowledge to shorten the search.
     
  5. Once they have all been found, ask your financial adviser to help you combine pensions into your pension pot.

What do you do once you’ve traced all your lost pensions?

Once you’ve found any missing pensions that you’re entitled to, you need to decide how to make the most of them. It’s time to create an investment strategy that will provide you with the best possible retirement income.

There are many pension options open to you, and this is a choice you should consider carefully with the help of independent advice. Decisions you make now could affect you for the next 20 years or more, so it’s important to get them right.

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About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.