How to find old pensions

A quick guide on how to find old pensions and how not to lose them.
How to find old pensions
April 5, 2022

Table of contents

Find lost pensions

We’re all moving jobs and homes a lot more these days. This is causing chaos in pension land. 

Whether we’ve forgotten about old workplace pensions from previous jobs, a personal pension set up years ago or we’ve moved house and not told our pension provider the new address, lost pensions are a growing problem. 

There's billions in lost pensions.

When it comes to a pension we need to know where it is, what it’s invested in and how it’s growing. 

Retirement might feel a lifetime away, but one thing is certain, you’re going to need some savings.

Reasons to trace a pension 

Every new job brings with it a new pension pot. 

It’s easy to lose track of where your pension is and who is looking after it, but there are good reasons to find old pensions and keep track of them:   

  • It’s your money. Don’t throw away money you’ve already done the hard work to earn 
  • Know how your pensions are performing and whether you’re on track for your retirement goals
  • Check your pension pots are invested in line with your values and goals 
  • Keep on top of charges and fees and if you are getting value for money
  • Combine old pensions to keep them under one roof 

What details do you need to trace a pension?

When it comes to tracing a pension, the more details you can provide, the better.

More information should mean it’s quicker to trace a pension.

Useful information to trace a pension:

  • The name of your previous employer and the dates you worked there  
  • The name of your pension provider 
  • Your pension account number. It might also be called a reference number,  policy number, or member number 
  • Your National Insurance number

How do I find out what pensions I have?

Find old workplace pensions

Workplace pensions are linked to your job but it’s likely the pension is run on behalf of your employer by a pension provider. 

It’s the pension provider that will be able to tell you the value of your old workplace pension and how it’s invested. 

  • Look for the paperwork 

When you join a pension scheme, you tend to be sent a big paper welcome pack and often you’re sent annual statements. 

Getting your hands on any paperwork should help you find out if you have a pension and which provider your pension is with. 

  • Contact old employers  

Previous employers will be able to confirm if you had a workplace pension and the provider your pension is with. 

  • Contact pension provider  

If you know who is looking after your pension they will be able to help you get the extra details you need. 

  • Pension tracing service  

Pension tracing services help you to find old pensions and often do the leg work for you.

Find personal pension schemes 

  • Look for the paperwork 

Personal pensions are often something that you set up yourself, so looking for any paperwork to confirm who the pension provider was, is a good first step. 

  • Check with your financial advisor  

Personal pensions can also be set up by a financial advisor, so you could check with them directly for further details on who is looking after your pension. 

  • Contact pension provider   

If you know who you set your personal pension up with, check with the provider directly and they will be able to help you get the extra details you need. 

  • Pension tracing service  

Pension tracing services can still help you find personal pensions but you will have to provide them with the name of the pension provider first.

How to use a pension tracing service

Pension tracing services all have the same goal: to help you find old pensions. But how they help you find old pensions is different. 

Some services like the GOV.UK pension finding service offer a DIY approach, providing you with a database of pension providers to search through. It’s then up to you to contact the pension provider and get the details of the pension. 

Other pension tracing services do the leg work for you. 

The Freetrade Pension Tracing service is one of these. We start by finding your old pension providers (unless you know them already) and then we ask your provider for key pension details. Once we have your permission of course. 

You can kick this process off in your Freetrade app or check out our pensions page for more details on opening a SIPP account.

GOV.UK pension tracing service 

The UK government’s pension finding service is a database with the details of pension providers for both personal and workplace pensions. 

Here are a few things to know: 

  • You’ll need the name of your pension provider or employer to start the search 
  • It can’t tell you whether you have a pension or what the value is, the service can only provide contact details 
  • The system relies on pension companies and employers keeping the government informed of contact and pension details. So it may not always be up to date. 

Are pension tracing services free? 

There are a few pension tracing services out there and while some are free, many charge a fee. 

The Freetrade pension tracing service is free and there are no strings attached. 

How to keep your pension pots safe

A few tips to avoid lost pensions: 

  • Update all pension providers with your new address when you move house 
  • Hang on to any documents or emails confirming pension details 
  • Consider combining old pensions in one place through a SIPP


Are you entitled to a pension?

There are a few types of pension in the UK: workplace pensions, personal pensions and the state pension. While you might have all of them over your life they have slightly different rules when it comes to who’s eligible for them and how you access them.

Workplace pensions - since 2012 UK employers have had to automatically enrol employees into workplace pension schemes. And that’s the rule whether you work full or part-time. 

To be enrolled in a workplace pension you have to: 

  • Work in the UK
  • Be at least 22 years old and under state pension age 
  • Earn more than £10,000 a year in the 2022/2023 tax year. If you earn less you can still ask your employer to join the scheme
  • Not already be enrolled in a workplace scheme 

Personal pensions - anyone under the age of 75 in the UK can have a personal pension but you’ll have to sign up for it yourself, you are not automatically enrolled. 

State pension - the state pension kicks in later in life when you reach state pension age (currently 66 but that’s set to rise to 67 by 2028 and to 68 by 2039). 

The state pension age will change again in future, so the government’s state pension age calculator is a good place to start to check when you might be able to start claiming. 

The amount of state pension you’ll get depends on a few things like personal income and circumstance but one of the main determinants is your history of paying national insurance.

At the moment if you qualify for the full new state pension, you’ll get £179.60 a week.

To be entitled to a state pension you’ll need at least 10 qualifying years on your National Insurance record. This means 10 years in which one or more of the following applies: 

  • You were working and paid National Insurance contributions
  • You were getting National Insurance credits if you were unemployed, ill or a parent or carer
  • You were paying voluntary National Insurance contributions

How long does it take to trace a pension?

The time it takes to trace a pension will vary and really depends on how much information you have to start with. The more information you’re able to provide, the quicker the process can be. 

Some pension providers will get back to you with your pension information within a few weeks but others can take longer. Generally, we guide it can take up to 12 weeks. 

When it comes to combining old pensions this requires an extra step as you’ll have to transfer a pension too. If you’re able to transfer your pensions digitally it will be a lot quicker.

What are your options after you’ve traced old pensions? 

Once you’ve traced old pensions there are two main options available to you:

  • Keep your pensions where they are 
  • Combine old pensions  

Why combine old pensions?

  • Easier to keep track of pension performance and costs 
  • Less admin  
  • Make your own investment decisions

Why keep pensions where they are?

  • You could lose pension benefits if you transfer away 
  • You could be worse off in terms of costs

Before transferring a pension it’s important to understand if you’ll be better off or not by transferring.

Think about:

  • Any difference in ongoing costs
  • Whether you’ll lose any benefits your current scheme offers like guarantees (which offer you a certain guaranteed income for life)
  • If you’ll be charged anything for leaving your current provider

What if an employer no longer exists?

If an employer goes out of business the first thing to know is that your workplace pension is most likely protected. Funds in a pension scheme can’t be paid to anyone the employer owes money to. 

What happens next depends on what type of pension you have. 

If your workplace pension is a defined contribution (DC) pension, where both you and your employer were contributing to your pension pot. The pension you’ve built up will be safe because it’s kept and looked after separately by another company.  

You should already have the details of the pension provider but if not you can look them up using the government’s pensions database. In the event the employer has gone out of business, the pension provider will most likely write to you. 

If your workplace pension is a defined benefit (DB) pension (also known as a final salary scheme) it’s likely your pension will be protected by the pension protection fund, insurance or the company that acquired it. 

Can you find pensions with a National Insurance number? 

Your National Insurance number is a useful piece of information to help you trace a pension as it will be registered with the pension provider. However, when contacting a pension provider it’s a good idea to have more information such as your full name and address, as the pension company will need to confirm your identity before passing over any information.

Whether you're looking for pension basics or pension investment strategies we've got you covered. Our SIPPs explained guide is a great place to start. The question you need to keep in mind is how much will you need to retire? Whether you're starting a pension in your 20's and 30's or you need guidance for starting a pension in your 40's our guides offer clear and jargon-free guidance.

Important information

This should not be read as personal investment advice and individual investors should make their own decisions or seek independent advice.

When you invest, your capital is at risk. The value of your portfolio, and any income you receive, can go down as well as up and you may get back less than you invest. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results.

Eligibility to invest into an ISA and the value of tax savings both depend on personal circumstances and all tax rules may change.

Freetrade is a trading name of Freetrade Limited, which is a member firm of the London Stock Exchange and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England and Wales (no. 09797821).

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