Recent statistics on Britons’ retirement savings have made for some fairly grim reading. A survey by the Financial Conduct Authority found that 41% of people have a Defined Contribution pension scheme, which is dependent on changes in the stock market with respect to how much will eventually be paid out. The survey also found that most people with this type of pension have very little in it – two fifths have less than £5,000. Which is why it’s especially surprising to find that many of us have “forgotten” pensions that are sitting unclaimed – currently to the tune of £19 billion!
What is a forgotten pension?
On average we will have around eleven jobs throughout the course of a lifetime. We move jobs a lot more today than in years gone by and pensions that are set up for one job can be forgotten when we move onto the next. Many people don’t entirely forget but assume that a small pension from a shorter-term job is simply not going to be worth pursuing. However, if that pension was well invested that could be completely untrue – one woman who spoke to The Guardian newspaper said that an old pension she had traced out of interest was now worth £10,000.
The “lost pensions mountain”
Data on the large number of forgotten pensions comes from the Association of British Insurers. The ABI recently published a study indicating that there are currently some 1.6 million pension pots in the UK that have been forgotten about. Their total combined value could be as high as £19.4 billion. So, there is a significant volume of retirement income currently sitting unclaimed, which could be invaluable to those who don’t yet have enough for a comfortable life in those golden years.
How to find your forgotten pensions
You may be the type of person who has always kept scrupulous records of your finances and knows where all your retirement savings are. However, for many of us, especially where moving jobs has been fairly frequent, it’s highly likely that a few slipped through the cracks. So, what can you do to find any forgotten pensions that you might have and make sure that you benefit from them?
Go back through your paperwork. Can you match a pension to every period of work that you’ve been through? If there are any gaps, that’s where the forgotten pension might be. Start the process by writing out a list of all your previous employers and the dates you started and finished with each one. Note next to each one the relevant pension scheme name.
Where you can see there was a pension but you don’t have to details, contact the schemes – or the previous employers if you don’t have the scheme details. Find out if they are sitting on top of a pot of your cash. Companies that have closed or evolved can be traced via Companies House.
If you don’t have the right information you can use the government’s Pension Tracing Service, although you will need either the name of the employer or the name of the pension fund in order to be able to use this. The Pensions Advisory Service may also be able to help and you can always speak to old colleagues to see if they have details of the right provider.
Consolidate whatever you find if it’s practical to do so. It will be easier to keep track of your pensions if they are all within the same plan. However, there may be some financial penalties involved in moving your pension out of one plan and into another so make sure you research this thoroughly before taking any action.
Keep better records going forward. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in life, your future is going to be easier to manage if you’ve got a good idea of your pension and retirement savings and how to access them. Make sure you keep the paperwork you find and provide your current contact address to all the providers where you have established that you have a pension.
Pensions have changed significantly over the years and employers are now required to manage them differently, especially when it comes to exits. For example, if you left a pension scheme prior to 1975 it’s likely that any contributions you made while employed would have been refunded to you. If you made five years of contributions to a pension scheme between April 1975 and April 1988 – and you were over 26 at the time – then it’s highly likely you have a pension waiting for you. After 1988, if you completed two years in a scheme with an employer then you’re also likely to have a forgotten pension waiting to be found. If you do have a forgotten pension then it could transform your retirement prospects so it’s worth taking the time to investigate.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley