Establish what you have in your existing pension pots
It’s not unusual to lose track of old pensions and ISAs – even when large sums are involved.
Overlooking one of your pensions could mean needlessly settling for a reduced retirement income, so some diligent thought and action at this stage is needed to avoid making this mistake.
First, company pensions. Write a list of all the employers you’ve ever worked for and try to recall if each offered a pension scheme. If in doubt, assume that they did until proved otherwise.
Now contact the pensions department of each firm to ask for details of their pension scheme. In cases where you are not sure if you had a pension, ask if you were a member of their scheme.
Many companies ran multiple schemes at different times or for different categories of employee, so make sure that any information the firm provides relates specifically to the scheme to which you belonged (you may have belonged to more than one).
This step can involve a lot of work, particularly when you are dealing with companies you left decades ago. Some may have gone out of business, changed name or been taken over – perhaps several times. Internet research can help in establishing what happened in each case.
But the important point is that, even when a firm has gone bust, if you built up a pension entitlement it has not gone away. Someone somewhere will be managing a pot of money with your name on it, or will be responsible for paying you most if not all of your promised retirement income – you just need to find out who.
The only exception to this is in the case of some defined benefit pensions from companies that went bust many years ago, as we explain in a moment. If your own research reaches a dead end you can enlist help from a number of sources.
For defined benefit pensions, try the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), which takes over the pension schemes of companies that have gone bust. On its website there is a list of all company pension schemes that have been taken over by the PPF since November 2006; you can also contact the PPF via www.ppf.co.uk or 0330 123 2222.
If you were once a member of a scheme that got into trouble before the PPF was able to assist, which means before 5 April 2005, you may be entitled to help from another source of protection called the Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS). This, broadly speaking, will pay or top up the pensions of people who belonged to final salary schemes that began to be wound up between January 1997 and April 2005. For more information, see www.ppf.co.uk/what-it-means-fas.
Only those who had defined benefit pension entitlements more than 20 years ago and haven’t checked up on their benefits in that time could find that they have no pension entitlement from that scheme.
Another source of information about potentially forgotten defined benefit pensions is the National Insurance Contribution Office (contactable here). The NIC Office can help if your pension was contracted out of National Insurance, which means that NI contributions were diverted to the pension scheme, reducing your entitlement to top-up state pensions such as SERPS. If in doubt about this point, you should try this service anyway.
If neither of these organisations is able to help, try the government’s pension tracing service. This covers all types of pension scheme, including private pensions that you set up yourself without the involvement of an employer.
The Pensions Advisory Service’s website has more useful information on this subject and you can also contact the service on 0300 123 1047.
For private pensions, or for ISAs and other plans, try to remember which companies you used and contact them or their successor firms. Alternatively, use the government’s pension tracing service mentioned above.
The phone numbers and web addresses listed may change in future, but a Google search should be useful in such cases. We will in any event aim to keep contact details up to date on this website.
Once you know how to contact all your old pension schemes, ask each one how much money you have saved there, or, in the case of defined benefit plans, how much entitlement you have built up and what benefits you will receive.
Make a note of all this information using a spreadsheet, or a notepad if you prefer, so that you can refer to it again when you need to. The new pensions dashboard, a government initiative, should also help savers to track down old pensions.
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