Millions of people who've lost track of old pensions can now unearth them much more quickly using the Government's new online tracing service.

There's currently an estimated £400 million sloshing around in lost pensions, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and four out of five of us will lose track of at least one pension pot.

The previous system involved filling in paperwork, and could take four days – but the new Pension Tracing Service lets you track down your old pension firm immediately online. It tells you which pensions are associated with individual employers, and has contact details for more than 320,000 administrators responsible for different pension schemes.

Some early users have already managed to claim £10,000s. For more on how to find forgotten cash, including in bank accounts, savings, premium bonds and investments, see our Reclaim Forgotten Cash guide.

What is the Pension Tracing Service and how do I use it?

The new online Pension Tracing Service is designed to put you in touch with the administrator of your lost pension. It's worth noting though that it won't tell you upfront whether you have a pension or what its value is – it'll tell you who to check with. Here's how to use it:

  • Step 1. Open the tool and select the type of pension you're looking for. You can search for a workplace pension (a pension an employer has set up for you), a personal pension (a pension you have set up yourself), or a civil service, NHS, teacher or armed forces pension.
  • Step 2. Enter your search info. If you're looking for a workplace pension, you'll be asked for your employer's name. If it's a personal pension, you'll need to enter the name of your pension provider. If it was an NHS, civil service, teaching or armed forces pension, you'll be given a link to contact the specific pension enquiry service directly.
  • Step 3. Jot down the contact details of the pension administrator. Once you've clicked on the relevant company or pension, you'll be provided with a name, address and possibly email or phone number for the administrator of the pension scheme you may have paid in to. It used to take four days to get this far, instead of a couple of minutes – but there's still work to do...
  • Step 4. Contact the administrator directly. You now need to write to or call the administrator to see if they can find your pension, and if so, how much it's worth. If you're writing, include as much useful information as you can – in particular your name, date of birth, the rough dates you believe you had the pension and your national insurance number.

This isn't a universal system – you can't assume that just because a pension or employer isn't listed, it doesn't exist. But it's a quick, free and easy way to check.

'I was shocked how easy it was to find £10,000'

The new tracing website went live on 9 May, but a couple of hundred people have helped test it out over the past few months and many have already managed to track down old pension savings.

Yvonne Mavin, who was among the group to test out the site, managed to trace £10,000 in pension savings she had with Aviva.

She says: "There was one employer who I worked for about 30 years ago and I knew I had a pension with them of some sort. But as it was so long, I had just lost track of it.

"I had actually put off trying to trace my pensions because I thought I would need lots of details. But when I got round to doing it I was shocked how easy it was."

While some of the amounts people are able to trace are likely to be relatively small compared with Yvonne, also understands one former banker has used the service and managed to trace a £100,000 pension pot that had been lying dormant for years.

Figures produced by the DWP show that 83% of those who tested the new website were either 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with the service they received.

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What happens if I find more than one old pension pot?

If you find multiple previous pension savings you can request to have them combined into one existing pot, although the best course of action is to speak to your pension provider first.

The DWP recommends those who manage to trace pension savings contact the free Government service, Pension Wise, to discuss their options.

How do I make sure I don't lose track of my pension savings in future?

The simplest way to avoid losing track of old pensions is to consolidate them into one 'arrangement' – this can be done by selecting one pension you prefer and transferring old pensions into it.

Another development the Government and pensions industry are working on is the 'pension dashboard', which will help people view all their pension pots in one place. It's expected to be available to use from 2019.