With the news that the Government’s pensions dashboard project is on hold, people looking for lost pension pots will now have to turn into ‘detectives’, according to former pensions minister and LCP partner Steve Webb.
But there are things which people can do to maximise their chances of finding pensions from previous jobs, and Steve Webb has come up with a list of ‘ten top tips’, based on years of helping people to find missing pensions. Some will be relatively familiar, but some may not occur to savers and could be the key to tracking down thousands of pounds in lost pensions.
Steve’s top ten tips are:
Find a former colleagues and ask them for details of the pension scheme. If you have lost track with a workplace pension, contact people who you used to work with when you were paying in and see if they have details of the scheme. If you have lost touch with former colleagues, try a social media network to find people who worked for the same employer at the same time as you.
Use the Government’s ‘Pension Tracing Service’. This is a free service and not to be confused with commercial services which may have very similar names. There is a website (Find pension contact details – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)) and a phone number – 0800 731 0193. Although the service will not do the work of finding a pension for you, they will give you contact details for schemes linked to particular employers.
Ask HMRC for information based on your National Insurance record. Many company pension schemes and some personal pensions were ‘contracted out’ of part of the state pension system. This means that when you were a member you were paying a different rate of National Insurance and this will show on HMRC records. Those records may contain a ‘scheme reference number’ which will allow you to identify the scheme you were a member of at the time.
Check the Pension Protection Fund – if your former employer went bust at a time when there was a shortfall in your final salary pension scheme, it may now have transferred to the ‘lifeboat’ Pension Protection Fund. The PPF website has a list of the 77 schemes which it covers (see: Pension schemes we look after | Pension Protection Fund (ppf.co.uk)), and it may be that you now have an entitlement with them.
Start with your own paperwork. Look for anything you may ever have had from a pension scheme or provider, letters from your employer or any other documents which may give a clue to who provided the pension. Whilst a policy number or membership number is perfect, even knowing the name of the scheme or provider is a great start.
Check that you didn’t cash out your pension. Sometimes, the reason people can no longer find a pension is because they took their money out, perhaps when they changed job. This may be more common if you only worked for an employer for a relatively short period of time. You could check old bank statements for lump sum payments which could be a refund of pension contributions.
Check old addresses – very few of us notify a pension provider when we change our address, so it may be that the scheme has been sending statements or other information to an old address. If you do not have mail forwarding from previous addresses, consider contacting the current residents to see if they ever get any post for you.
Check other changes of personal details – many people change their name when they marry or divorce or for other reasons, and your name may no longer match the name in which the pension policy is held. Make sure you give the pension provider all the names by which you have been known so that they can check for a pension for you.
Check what happened to your former employer – businesses often change their name or get taken over and pension schemes also get merged or restructured. If you can no longer trace the firm you used to work for, it may be that another firm is now responsible for the pension scheme and may have details that will help you find your missing pension.
See if your pension scheme was ‘bought out’ with an insurance company – many final salary pension schemes aim to have enough money in them to be able to afford to ‘buy out’ all of their pension promises with an insurance company; in this case, the pension scheme winds up and the insurer is responsible for paying pensions when they fall due; if you find that the pension scheme of which you were a member no longer exists, don’t give up hope – see if you can find media coverage of a ‘buyout’ of the scheme with an insurer and contact them.
Commenting, Steve Webb said:“For people who have had multiple jobs, moved house a few times and not kept pension paperwork, it can sometimes be difficult to re-connect with a lost pension. But it is well worth the effort as some pension pots can be worth many thousands of pounds. If you turn into a detective and use these top tips for finding lost pensions I hope that many people will be able to find pensions which they thought were lost for good”.