29 Oct 2023

Five fearless tips to resurrect your dead and buried pensions

National Pension Tracing Day in the UK is on Sunday, 29th October this year. Since it’s a couple of days before Halloween, it felt only right to come up with a blog title that links the two together. Well, at least I tried to get into the spirit of things!

You may not be aware that National Pension Tracing Day even exists. To be fair, it’s only in its third year, but it raises an important piece of awareness around old pension pots.

Changing jobs and moving house are the two main causes of pensions getting “lost”. The vast majority of us forget to update pension providers when we move house.

It’s estimated that there are 2.8 million forgotten pension pots up and down the country, containing about £26.6 billion. There’s a fair chance that some of that money could be yours.

So, as the clocks have rolled back an hour this weekend, why not spend that extra time tracking down your ghostly pension funds?

Here are five steps to help you along the way:


1. Dig out old paperwork from past employers

First of all, reflect back on your working life. How many jobs have you had since leaving school? Don’t worry about casual jobs as a teenager. Your paper round won’t have built up any pension entitlement!

A good starting point is to assume that you had a pension for each job. That might not turn out to be true, but it’s a good starting assumption.

Be aware that pension arrangements can sometimes change during your time with an employer. Over the past couple of decades, a lot of employer pension schemes have changed their benefits, terms and conditions. You might even have more than one pension arrangement from the same employer.

Dig out your old pension paperwork

Dig out old pension statements, pension handbooks and any other paperwork. Check that you have something for each of your periods of employment. If you don’t, then it could be worth contacting past employers to ask if you have a pension pot that you’ve forgotten about.

Of course, pension rules have changed a lot over the years. It could genuinely be the case that you had a previous job, but with no pension entitlement. It’s worth taking a few minutes to read this guidance from moneyhelper.org.uk.


2. Conjure up your basic information

This is a simple step, but you’ll need this information to help track down any missing pension details. Pull together the following and write it down:

  • Plan / Policy numbers of all the pensions you know about
  • Your date of birth
  • Your National Insurance Number
  • Previous addresses with postcodes
  • Dates of employment for previous jobs

This information will come in handy if you need to liaise with pension scheme administrators. They’ll need these details to help track down any money in your name.


3. Reach out to previous employers

Where you have identified a period of employment with no corresponding pension, get back in touch with the employer.

This is not always as easy as it might sound. Takeovers and mergers mean your past employers may have changed name or even disappeared altogether. But even when a company dies, your pension does not. It’s your money, so don’t let it rest in peace!


Don’t let your old pension pots rest in peace!

Try sending emails and making phonecalls to HR departments. Contact previous colleagues who still work there and ask them to put you in touch with the relevant department. Even try a Google search because many pension scheme details are available online.


4. Use a Pension Tracing Service

If you’re struggling with the step above, it’s worth trying out the Government’s pension tracing service. This won’t provide you with specific details of any funds in your name, but it might at least help you track down contact information.

You can also call them on 0800 731 0193.

This is a free, impartial database of information, although you will need to do most of the work yourself. National Pension Tracing Day is helping to build awareness of this key resource.

Other commercial pension tracing services are available. These will offer to conduct a wider range of research and do the work for you. But do pay attention to the costs and charges for these services. It might be better to invest a couple of hours of your own time first.


5. Shed some light on your existing pots

Now that you have a complete list of all your previous pension plans, what next? Well, a few basic steps should be:

  • Update your contact details with all your pension scheme administrators
  • Check that you have nominated beneficiaries for each of your pensions, in case you die
  • Check the current value of your pensions

Shed a light on your old pension schemes

Then to drill down a bit further:

  • Find out if there are any guarantees, such as protected tax-free cash or guaranteed annuity rates
  • Check what charges are being deducted
  • Find out where your money is invested
  • Establish the options available at retirement age
  • Be clear on the death benefits
  • Investigate what support and tools are available. For example, can you access pension valuations online and make changes easily?


Next steps

If you successfully complete all these steps, you’ll have a good overview of your overall pension benefits. All of your working life should be accounted for, even if that means periods of time when no pension was building up at all.

What a great outcome for National Pension Tracing Day and a productive Halloween!

Now, you might find yourself asking a really common question. Should you keep everything as it is, or should you consolidate and simplify your pension arrangements?

You can read about how to feel the joy (and avoid the dangers) of combining your pensions in my article here. For more general information, the government’s MoneyHelper site has a great page on how to make the most of your pensions.

It might also be a good time to consider investing in financial coaching or financial advice. A regulated financial adviser will analyse your overall situation and provide you with a specific opinion on what to do next. This will normally include the recommendation of financial products.

A financial coach can help you work out your goals, guide you through the options and help you make your own decisions. You might also benefit by working on your own financial beliefs and behaviours. Sometimes, a financial coach can even help you find the best regulated adviser for you, if that becomes necessary.

If you’d like to chat about this, click the button below to book a 30 minute slot at no cost to you. Or subscribe to my newsletter for weekly thoughts about money and life planning in general.