A silhouette in the style of Sherlock Holmes, representing someone following clues to track down their lost UK pension

In 2016, the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) launched its online Pension Tracing Service “to help people more easily and quickly locate their lost pension savings”. At that time, the DWP reported “an estimated £400 million in unclaimed pension savings“.

Yes, you read that correctly: £400 million in unclaimed pension savings. That has almost certainly increased over the past seven years, with some commentators believing the amount could be as high as £37 billion.

How has this situation come about?

The then UK Minister for Pensions, Baroness Ros Altmann, said: “People have had on average 11 jobs during their working life, which can mean they have as many workplace pensions to keep track of.”

This issue can be further complicated if pension schemes merge, close, or otherwise change names. For instance, Norwich Union became Aviva in 2009, and Allied Dunbar became defunct in 1998, with its policies taken over by Zurich.

GBPensions can help you track down your ‘forgotten’ UK pension

Over the years, GBPensions has helped numerous clients trace “lost” pensions, and sometimes even uncover pensions they didn’t know they had! GBPensions director Tony Chamberlain explains. “Our clients in New Zealand are predominantly British expats and returning Kiwis who’ve worked in the UK for several years at least. Tracking down all their potential pension pots is integral to our process. Consequently, we’ve identified some helpful resources and learned how to use them effectively.

“We’re happy to share this information freely. Hopefully, this will help more people – not just British expats in New Zealand – reunite with their long-lost pension pots.”

How to find current contact details for your personal or occupational pension scheme/s in the UK

Find pension contact details is a free service from the UK Government’s Pension Tracing Service to find contact details for a lost pension. You’ll need to know the name of your employer or pension provider. The service provides contact details only; it won’t tell you if you have a pension or what its value is.

Alternatively, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has a comprehensive list of UK pension providers, past and present. For example, click on Commercial Union and you’ll see it’s now administered by Aviva, and the relevant web link.

What to do if you can’t recall the name of your personal pension provider

Even if you don’t know the name of your personal pension provider, there may still be a way forward.

Age UK (formerly Age Concern) recommends a free pensions tracing service called Gretel. It’s relatively new, having launched in April 2022, which means “the financial institution that your pension is with may not be signed up to it yet, so Gretel might not be able to find it. However, new financial institutions are being added to the service all the time and Gretel will continue to search for your assets every 2 weeks. So, if it doesn’t find your pension straight away, it may find it in the future.”

Getting set up on Gretel should only take a few minutes. You’ll need to provide your name, a current UK address, and date of birth. You’ll also need to be able to verify past addresses. The team is looking at expanding the service, but this is likely some months away.

You’ll then receive a list of accounts that Gretel has found, with “detailed instructions and contact details for you to retrieve them”. The platform will continue to check for lost accounts and assets as new information becomes available.

(NB: GBPensions cannot endorse Gretel as we have not used this service ourselves, but we are sharing information on the basis that Age UK is unlikely to make poor recommendations to British seniors. We have been in touch with the Gretel team, who we found to be responsive and helpful. However, because users must provide a UK address, Gretel may not be suitable for British expats.)

Questions to ask your UK personal or occupational pension provider

Once you know which provider your pension was with, you’ll need to contact them and ask pertinent questions. Money Helper UK has a handy template (as a Word docx) to draft a pension-tracking letter to a pension provider. Using this as a guide should help cover all the bases, including the fund’s current value, how it’s invested, and details of bonuses or rewards. Also, be sure to ask about management charges.

‘I had a workplace pension in the UK, but my former employer went into liquidation. Can I still gain access to my pension?’

In this unfortunate circumstance, you may still qualify for some payments.

The Pension Protection Fund (PPF) “protects people with an eligible defined benefit pension when an employer becomes insolvent”. Its website lists all the pension schemes it’s assessing, have already been transferred to it, or have been withdrawn.

The PPF website explains: “As a member of PPF, you’ll receive pension benefits from us rather than a pension from your former scheme. You’ll hear us call your payments ‘benefits’ or sometimes ‘compensation’ as we’re paying you compensation for the pension that you’ve lost.”

There’s detailed information about what being a PPF member means, plus several free downloadable PDF booklets and a PPF letter of authority form.

In Part 2 of Helping you reunite with your long-lost UK pension schemes, we’ll offer advice specifically for people who contracted out of the UK’s State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme (SERPS).