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How employees can track down lost pensions and consolidate

WEALTH at work explains how employees can track down lost pensions and provides guidance on whether to consolidate

The total value of lost pension pots has grown from £19.4 billion in 2018 to £26.6 billion in 2022. There are 2.8 million lost pension pots sitting unclaimed because they’ve been simply lost or forgotten about. One of the main reasons for this is because a person will have on average 12 jobs  in their lifetime, so could easily end up with many different pension pots with several providers which can easily be forgotten about.

Jonathan Watts-Lay, Director, WEALTH at work, comments; “It is worth employees putting in a little bit of time to check if one of the 2.8million lost pension pots could belong to them as it could make a big difference to how much income they get in retirement.”

How employees can track down a lost pension

  1. List of all previous jobs – Employees can start by making a list of all the places they have worked. It might be useful to go back through old paperwork such as payslips, P45s, P60s, CVs and job applications.
  2. Online research – Those who don’t have the pension information for an old employer, can try to find them using the Government’s Pension Tracing Service (www.gov.uk/find-pension-contact-details).
  3. Previous Employers – Individuals should get in touch with their previous employer to find out if they have any details. If they don’t exist anymore and if they worked for a company they can contact Companies House (www.gov.uk/government/organisations/companies-house), or if they worked for a charity, they can contact the charity register (gov.uk/find-charity-information).
  4. Up to date statements – Once they have tracked them down, they should ask for an up-to-date statement so they know how much their pension is worth and have the correct paperwork.

Should employees consider consolidating their pensions?
Once employees have located any lost pensions, if they have several schemes and struggle to keep track of them all, it might make sense to consolidate them. This means combining all (or most) of their pension pots into one.  This really only applies to define contribution pension schemes where you have a ‘pot of money’ to use for retirement. Whilst individuals could also consider Define Benefit schemes (also known as final salary), as these are not reliant on a ‘pot of money’ and guarantee to pay a certain amount of income in retirement, they should probably remain separate. In any event, if individuals are considering this option, they would be required to seek regulated financial advice at their own cost if the transfer value is greater than £30,000.

Jonathan Watts-Lay explains, “Pension consolidation isn’t just about making it easier for someone to manage their finances. Their different pensions could be invested in very different ways, which may mean they are taking more or less risk with their investments than they realise.”

He continues, “Consolidating pensions means that you don’t have to check the performance of multiple accounts, it could save money on the fees charged, and also ensures a joined-up investment strategy which matches the amount of risk that someone is prepared to take.”

What risks are there when consolidating pensions?
Jonathan Watts-Lay comments, “It is important for employees to check that they won’t lose out on valuable benefits or be charged expensive exit fees if they leave a provider. For example, some might have guaranteed annuity rates, a protected pension age, or enhanced tax-free cash. “

He continues, “Employees also need to ensure that the choice of investment options available are right for them and they should consider how they want to want to access their pension in the future, and whether the provider they want to use gives them the pension income flexibility they are looking for.”

How can someone consolidate and how much does it cost?
Jonathan Watts-Lay explains, “To consolidate your pensions, individuals should get in touch with the pension provider they intend to transfer into. This could be their current workplace pension scheme or another pension arrangement they have set up privately. They will ask for details including the policy numbers and provider names of all the pensions. This information will be available on paperwork and statements from the provider. The pension scheme they have chosen to transfer into will then begin the process of arranging for all their pensions to be transferred into one plan.”

He continues, “The costs of this can vary but bringing pensions together may reduce some charges as some providers charge a lower percentage the more that is invested. Individuals should ensure they check all charges with the provider they intend to transfer to, including charges for advice, setting up the new scheme, platform charges, dealing and transactional charges (including those to access funds via drawdown) and investment management charges.”

Some pension consolidations are taking a long time to happen. What is causing the delay?
Jonathan Watts-Lay explains, “The time it takes to transfer a pension depends on the method different providers use. Some still send paperwork through the post, which can be a lot slower than secure electronic methods. Also in November 2021, new measures were put into place to protect pension savers from scams which means that providers are now able to flag or block transfers which show signs of a potential scam. To prevent the transfer being flagged, it is important to ensure that individuals provide as much information as possible to reassure the provider they are leaving that it is a legitimate transfer.”

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