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The DIY Guide to Finding Lost Pensions

Andrew Stephenson Pension Expert

By Andrew Stephenson.

Independent Financial Advisor

More Reading on Cashing In Pensions...

The Government offers a free pension tracker through what is known as the Pension Tracing Service. This service is the key to DIY pension tracking. It is offered in conjunction with an extensive database maintained by the Government; a database containing details of more than 200,000 pension schemes opened over the last several decades. You can use the free service by visiting the Government's Department for Work & Pensions website.

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Information to Help Your Search

While DIY pension tracking is possible, it might not necessarily be easy. The most important thing to note is that successful tracking comes down to the information you provide. The more relevant information you can give the government service, the greater the likelihood it will succeed.

What information do I need to find my pension, you might ask. Here is a short list of the types of information that will help generate a successful search:

  • Company Names – Workplace pensions are obviously tied to the companies sponsoring them. You should be able to supply the names of any companies you worked for at which you suspect you might have a lost pension. It also helps to make the effort to find out if older companies have since changed their names or closed up.
  • Contribution Dates – Most workers did not begin contributing to a pension on their first day of employment. This is especially true for older schemes. You will make your search easier if you can approximate the date you began contributing and the date those contributions ceased. Knowing the exact dates is even better.
  • Pension Scheme Info – Finding lost pensions can be a bit more challenging when they are personal rather than workplace pensions. In such a case, you have no company name to work with. What you will need to know is the name of the pension scheme itself. Keep in mind that your old scheme may have changed names or been acquired by another company.
  • Pensions Scheme Seller – Personal pension schemes are sold by banks, building societies, and insurance companies. If you do not know the name of your pension scheme, knowing who sold it can help. The benefit of knowing the seller is the fact that seller names do not change as often.

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The online form used by the Pension Tracing Service also asks the consumer to submit information about potential beneficiaries. This additional information might be helpful in cases where beneficiaries were listed on your pension accounts. Beneficiaries can also be contacted by the service should you pass on before the search is complete. Bear in mind that the potential beneficiaries you list on the form are not set in stone. Your actual beneficiaries at the time of your death can be whomever you choose them to be.

Other Sources of Pension Tracing

You may submit all of the information you have to the Pension Tracing Service without any success. Do not give up just yet. The National Insurance Contributions Office (NICO) might be able to help if your workplace pension was contracted out. As you probably already know, workers in the UK pay into the National Insurance programme in order to be eligible for certain benefits – including the state pension. The NICO's involvement in pension programmes means they sometimes have helpful information about workplace pensions.

One other avenue you might try is the Pensions Advisory Service. Their resources may be somewhat limited, especially where personal pensions are concerned, but they are a good last resort if the other two options fail.

Direct Contact of Employers

Regardless of how you obtain the information about potential lost pensions, you will eventually have to contact previous employers directly if you want to know exactly how much found pensions are worth. Knowing this is the case, you may want to start the process by contacting former employers before going to the Pension Tracing Service. There are a couple of reasons for this.

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First and foremost, you will save a lot of time by directly getting in touch with those employers you are already aware of. With just one or two phone calls, you could get all the information you need about any pensions you have with these employers. Why wait for the Government to answer your enquiry when you can have the information in minutes?

The second reason is one of determining whether you actually have a lost pension to worry about. It is entirely possible there is no pension in your name despite the fact that you have an old certificate from a previous employer. You may have received a contribution refund in the past and you are just not remembering it.

As one example, consider an employer you left prior to 1975. We know that is a long time ago but back then, the pension rules were set up in a way that encouraged employers to provide contribution refunds to workers who left for new employment. You may have a pension certificate from 1974 that is now nothing more than a meaningless piece of paper, because you received a refund later that year.

What to Do If You Fail

Finding lost pensions on your own may turn out to be nothing more than a frustrating use of your time that yields no profitable results. We hope that is not the case. Nevertheless, if it is, do not lose hope. You still might be able to locate lost pensions by working with a certified financial advisor who offers a pension tracking service.

Experienced financial advisors usually know all the ins and outs of tracing pensions with very little information to go on. As with private investigators, every pension they trace provides invaluable experience they can put to work next time around. An experienced and skilled advisor could help you find pensions that the Pension Transfer Service, NICO, and Pensions Advisory Service failed to locate.

Granted, you may have first opted for a DIY pension trace because you did not want to get involved with a financial advisor. However, searching on your own and failing does not do any good either. Besides which, a financial advisor can help you in lots of different ways above and beyond just finding lost pensions. A financial advisor can also help you determine the best course of action for any pensions you do find.

If there is any chance you have lost pensions sitting out there, finding them is a wise thing to do. You need to know how much money is available to you if you expect to make sound financial plans for the future. What's more, it would be a shame to never access saved pension monies simply because you lost track of them. It is your money; find it and use it to secure your retirement income.

Are you ready to begin the process of finding lost pensions? If so, you certainly have the opportunity to conduct a search on your own. One of our certified financial advisors is here to help you if you become bogged down or you simply prefer not to use the DIY method.

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