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Keep close tabs on pensions trails or risk losing benefits | The Crusader | Finance

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Tracking down old pension policies is an important way of finding out if you are owed money

The wording on the slips of paper that pensioner John Buckle and his wife Julie chanced upon related to an old workplace scheme he had been part of and seemed to indicate he might be owed benefits from £98 to £500.

The certificates, dating back to 1968 and 1975, were issued by The Northern Assurance Company when John was an employee of British Motor Holdings.

One sentence that caught his eye stated: “This benefit will be payable at normal retirement date or at earlier death in accordance with the rules of the scheme” followed by the policy number.

John had joined the company at 18 and worked there until he retired. The pensions started with the scheme. 

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If you left a job or a pension policy a long time ago, it is likely you will have received a refund


There might be nothing or something, but I’d like to know

John Buckle


But like so many other firms this one changed hands, eventually becoming components maker Unipart with John a member.

John and Julie traced the certificates online to the last known pension holder Norwich Union which became part of today’s insurance giant Aviva.

But after his inquiry there seemed to stall, he contacted Crusader, explaining, “There might be nothing or something, but I’d like to know.”

Aviva did more digging only to discover the Buckles would have to do more too as it was no longer the provider and held no records. 

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If you left a job after 1988 and completed 2 years service, you will be entitled to a pension

But it was able to point John in the right direction, this time to pension schemes administrator Aon Hewitt. 

Crusader helped out as we thought a couple of quick queries could speed up the search.

And so it was. Aon Hewitt got to work very quickly and John had an answer within days. 

Of the two schemes the 1968 was non-contributory and wound up in 1975. All certificates before September of that year are invalid and with no benefits. 

Although his other one was dated for the end of September, Aon Hewitt said its inquiries had not unearthed any record of any benefit payable.

It therefore follows, it told him, after he left the company there were three possibilities: the benefit was reduced to take into account his leaving the service earl – had that happened a certificate for the reduced amount would have been forwarded to his address – alternatively he might have continued premiums, or thirdly he got a cash surrender value payment.

“There is no indication either the first two mentioned took place,” Aon Hewitt concluded, adding “it must therefore be assumed that the third happened although no records are now held of payments before 1980.”

John does not recall any payment, but as Julie pointed out when thanking Crusader for our efforts, “We did not have the documents so in the end it was our word against theirs.”

While this will not help John, the problems faced by working people like him and Julie are now being recognised, Michelle Cracknell, chief executive of The Pensions Advisory Service explains: “There is a possible ‘light at the end of the tunnel’,” she says, “with the creation of a pension dashboard that will list each person’s pension entitlement. The Government has announced a target date for the launch of the dashboard as 2019. It may take a few more years for details of all pension entitlements to be listed on the dashboard but it is an important initiative.”

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Pension schemes have long lives, with money remaining in pots for 30-40 years before being claimed

How to check value of old pensions – The Pensions Advisory Service’s guide

Michelle Cracknell, chief executive of The Pensions Advisory Service (TPAS) understands the position of workers and the confusion they often feel over pensions when she says: “It is not always easy to keep track of a pension, especially if you have been in more than one scheme or have changed employer throughout your career. Pension schemes have a long life, often the money is in the pension scheme for 30-40 years before the benefits are claimed.

“It can be very difficult to trace a lost pension, for example when: the employer may have changed names or no longer exists, the pension scheme may be administered by a different company, the rules that applied when you were a member of a pension were different from today. People drawing a pension today may be tracing membership to pension schemes in the 1970s where records may have been on cards and not computers.”

Cracknell advises: “If you do trace where the pension scheme is, you need to ask yourself if you have a pension. Having a certificate from a pension scheme, typically issued on joining but not taken back if you left the scheme and took benefits, does not always mean that you have a pension entitlement.

“You might well have had a refund of your contributions when you left that employer, for example. It’s also good to know that many older pension schemes may have required a certain number of years of membership from you, before giving you any benefits.”

As rough rules of thumb:

If you left the employer before April 1975, it’s likely you will have received a refund of your pension contributions. If you didn’t pay into the scheme you probably won’t be entitled to anything, unless you were in the scheme for at least 15 to 20 years.

If you left the employer between April 1975 and April 1988, you will have a pension, provided, you were over age 26 and had completed five years in the scheme. If not, you will almost certainly have had a refund of your pension contributions and have no further rights.

If you left the employer after 1988, you will be entitled to a pension, as long as you completed two years’ service.

If you left the pension scheme with fewer than two years’ service, you probably received a refund of your contributions at the time you left

A tool on TPAS’s website can help you establish the likelihood that you have a lost pension https://www.pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk/my-pension/online-tools?moreInfo=1

In the meantime, if you think that you have any pension certificates “at the back of the cupboard” or “behind the sofa,” the Pensions Advisory Service can help you trace whether you may have a pension due to you.

Call TPAS on 0300 123 1047 or go to pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk to live chat.

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