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13 May 2020

Nearly £20bn of pensions unclaimed in the UK: can you trace your lost pots?

The equivalent of £13,000 per pot is yet to be claimed

Around 1.6m pension pots worth £19.4bn have not been claimed by their owners because they've either been lost or forgotten, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) says.

The ABI has found that this is the equivalent of almost £13,000 per pension pot.

Providers have been attempting to reunite people with their lost pensions by sending letters to their addresses. However, the ABI says just one in 25 people tell their pension provider when they move home, making it more difficult for them to track people down.

Here, Which? explains how to find out if you have lost or forgotten pensions and how you can trace and claim them.

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Why are pensions not being claimed?

Nearly two thirds of UK savers have more than one pension and changing work patterns means that the number of people with multiple pensions will increase. People typically lose track of their pensions when moving jobs or changing home, the ABI says.

It notes that the average person will have around 11 different jobs over their lifetime and move home eight times.

In 2017 more than 375,000 attempts were made to contact customers, leading to £1bn in assets being reunited with them. However, the ABI has found that firms are unable to 'keep pace with a mobile workforce that moves jobs and home more often than ever before'.

How to know if you have unclaimed pensions

It's really important that you do claim your lost or forgotten pension to ensure you have enough to live off in retirement, and the sooner you do this the better.

However, sometimes even if you have a certificate from a scheme which says you're a member, it doesn't always mean you have a pension entitlement.

As a rule of thumb if you left your employer:

  • Before April 1975 - it's likely you'll have already received a refund on your pension contributions. If you didn't pay into the scheme (a non-contributory pension) you probably won't be entitled to a pension benefit.
  • Between April 1975 and April 1988 - you should have a pension provided you completed at least five years in the scheme. If not, you'll likely have already had a refund.
  • Between April 1975 and December 1985 - you would have had to be at least 26 in addition to completing five years in a scheme to be entitled to a pension.
  • On or after 6 April 1988 - you'll be entitled to a pension as long as you completed two years in the scheme. If you left before this, you'll probably have already had a refund.

Find out more: how much do I need to retire?

How to trace a lost pension

If you think you have a lost or unclaimed pension, you can contact the government's Pension Tracing Service, which has a register of all workplace schemes.

The ABI can also help with this. It has a guide on its website to help track your pension policies, gives tips on responding to tracing letters, and contact details which may be useful to you.

You could also try to get in touch with your old employers to find out who your pension providers are and then contact them directly to get details about your pensions. You'll probably need to provide some information, such as your name, address and National Insurance number.

How to reduce the risk of losing track of a pension

The best way to keep track of your pensions is to be organised and keep all of your pensions paperwork in one place.

You should also be sure to tell your previous scheme administrator about any changes of address so they can contact you if there are any issues.

It could be worth considering consolidating your pension pots, but make sure you don't lose out on any benefits by doing so.

By consolidating you:

  • can keep track of and manage your pot more easily;
  • save money, but only if you transfer from a higher-cost scheme to a lower-cost one;
  • have more investment choice if you consolidate into one flexible scheme.

However, if you were in a defined benefit (DB) scheme which provides a guaranteed income and shields you from investment risk, it is generally a bad idea to transfer into a defined contribution (DC) scheme, which exposes you to more risk as it is invested.

We have put together a comprehensive guide about consolidating your pots, so you can weigh up the pros and cons.

If you do wish to consolidate, it's really important to check whether you'll be charged by any previous providers for transferring out.

If you can, you should seek financial advice, to find out if consolidating is a good option based on your individual circumstances.

How the pensions dashboard can help

In 2018, the government predicted that there could be as many as 50m dormant and lost pensions by 2050. At the same time, it put in motion plans to unveil the long-awaited pensions dashboard, the online platform which will allow individuals to see and manage their pensions from multiple organisations in one place.

Which? has long been calling for the introduction of a pensions dashboard and has pressed the government to ensure that it shows users their state pension entitlement, projected private retirement income and information about pension charges. It also puts people in control of their data.

To work effectively the dashboard should:

  • help savers to locate their various pensions;
  • help them to understand the value of their pensions in terms of an estimated retirement income;
  • help savers to plan for retirement.

However, the dashboard, which was confirmed in last year's Pensions Bill, has been delayed further due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. It was meant to go live last year but was put on hold because of Brexit and the November general election.

The Dashboard Delivery Group - established by the Money and Pensions Service (Maps) - said that although the industry has called for a clear delivery timetable with firm dates, it's unable to provide further information yet.