Pension savings and contributions can be one of those things we take for granted. You may notice the money removed from your payslip each month along with your employer contributions, but beyond that, there is a good chance you have never checked your pension pot.

It is currently estimated that around £37 billion is lost in pension pots spread across 1.6 million people in the UK. Research also shows that nearly half of all UK adults think they have lost pensions, but only 13 percent have tried to track them down.

Throughout your career, your employers may contribute to different pension providers, each of which has a separate pot. Keeping track of all the different pension pots can be confusing, but come retirement, you will be grateful for doing so.

So, whether you have a personal or workplace pension, we are going to look at the different ways you can go about finding your lost pension.

To find your lost pension, you will need your National Insurance number and the details of either your pension provider or former employers. You then need to contact them and find the details of your pension plan or use the government's Pension Tracing Service.

If you can't find your National Insurance number or you don't know which pension provider you have used, read on as we will explore solutions to each of those problems in detail later.

But let's first jump in and take a look at each of the steps you should take to make sure you can find your lost pension.

One of the difficulties with tracing your pensions is that you can have multiple providers throughout your career. You will need to track each of them to ensure you get your full entitlement.

Follow each of the following steps for every pension you think you may have lost to get your full pension, and you may also consider combining all your pension pots into one once you have tracked each of them down.

Ensure your pension is lost

The best place to start looking for your pension is at home. Go through any files, paperwork, and folders you have stored over the years and see what you can dig out. Check payslips, employment contracts, and any written correspondence you received from your pension provider.

You may find that your pension isn't actually lost and that all the details you need to access it are hidden away. So the first thing you should do if you think you have lost your pension is to ensure it is definitely lost.

It may also be that your pension contributions were refunded by a previous employer. This could apply to you if any of the following are true:

  • you left the employer before 1975 - unless you worked there for over 15 years.
  • you left the employer between April 1975 and April 1988 - unless you were over 26 and had worked there for over five years.
  • you left your employer after 1988 – unless you had worked there for over two years.

Find your National Insurance number

HMRC no longer issues National Insurance cards, but if you were issued one, your number will be on the card.

If you were never issued a card or can't find your National Insurance number, you can also view it online or on letters you have received from HMRC.

To view your National Insurance number online, you need to have a personal tax account. If you have a personal tax account, simply log in, and you will be able to find your National Insurance number in your account details.

If you don't have a personal tax account, have a look for any letters you have received from HMRC. All letters addressed to you from HMRC should show your National Insurance number.

If you still can't find it, you can fill in form CA5403 and send it to HMRC, and they will issue your number. You can also apply for a National Insurance number if you have never had one.

Contact your pension provider

To contact your pension provider, search for the contact number online or find the number on any letters or emails you have received. If you can't find your provider, contact your previous employer and see if they can help. See below for advice on how to do this.

When you call your pension provider, you will likely need to give them the following details:

  • Your name
  • Your date of birth
  • Your National Insurance number
  • Your address (current and previous)
  • The date you joined and left the pension scheme - if you know this.

You should then find out as much information as you can regarding your pension from your provider. You might consider asking:

  • The current value of your pension pot and, if you are not yet retired, what the estimated value is for your retirement date. Your provider should be able to help you calculate your pension.
  • What management charges are there, and how much are they?
  • Whether your account has any beneficiaries nominated to it - this means people your pension will be bequeathed to if you die before accessing it.
  • What charges would there be if you transferred your pot to another provider?
  • What guarantees are included in the pension pot?

Contact your previous employer

Throughout your career, you may have worked at many different places, and it can be hard to remember which employers paid into what pension fund. So you should browse your most recent CV and find all of the previous employers you have listed there.

Then you should contact the HR department of each company or organisation you worked for and remind them of the dates you worked there. They should then be able to point you in the direction of the pension provider they were using at the time of your employment.

You might need your National Insurance number to hand before you contact your old employers and your employment history and dates you worked at the company.

You should then repeat these steps for every place you worked where you think you may have lost your pension.

How to use the Pension Tracing Service

The Pension Tracing Service is a free service provided by the government that can help you locate pensions you have lost track of, even if you don't know the details of the pension provider. It accesses a database of over 200,000 workplace and personal pension schemes to help you find the details you need.

To contact the Pension Tracing Service, follow the link above or call the Pension Tracing Service number on 0800 731 0193.

Before you use the Pension Tracing Service, you need to gather as much of the following information as you can:

  • The names of your previous employers or pension services.
  • The previous names of your employers and pension services.
  • The type of business your previous employer ran.
  • What the employer's address was, the address of your pensions provider (if you know it), and whether those addresses have changed.
  • When you belonged to the pension scheme.

Don't worry if you don't have all of the above information, but do try and collect as much of it as possible.

There are two main types of pension you can have in the UK; defined benefit pensions and defined contribution pensions.

A defined benefit pension pays your retirement income based on your salary when you worked and the years you spent working for your employer. These include ‘final salary’ and ‘career average’ pension schemes. Defined benefit pensions are usually only offered in public sector jobs or workplace pension schemes set up a while ago.

A defined contribution pension pays your retirement income based on how much you and your employers contributed over the years and how much the pot has grown from investments. They can also be known as 'money purchase' pension schemes and can be both workplace and personal pensions.

You can combine your different pension pots to make managing and tracking your pension easier in the future.

To do so, contact your current provider and the provider to which you want to move your pots. You will need to check if the following are possible:

  • the pension schemes you are leaving allow you to transfer some or all of your pension pot
  • the scheme that you want to transfer the others into will accept the transfer

If you can transfer your pension, you may:

  • have to pay a fee to make the transfer
  • lose any right you had with your closed pension accounts to take your pension at a certain age
  • lose any fixed protection you have when you transfer
  • lose any right you had to withdraw a tax-free lump sum of more than 25% of your pension pot

Your pension providers can tell you whether these will affect you when you transfer.

Pensions are crucial for providing older people with their retirement income, but many adults in the UK believe they have lost track of some of their pension pots, and only a handful make the effort to trace them.

The easiest way to track your lost pension is to contact your pension provider directly, and if you don't know who they are, get their details from your former employers. Failing that, the HMRC pension tracing service is the best option. It can be a bit complicated to find old pensions, but it is worth doing to ensure you get your full pension when you retire.