Over one million searches have been made on the Government's online pensions tracing service since its launch last year.

When the service was first launched in May 2016, there was an estimated £400 million sloshing around in lost pensions according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). With people having 11 jobs on average over the course of their working lives, it's easy to lose track.

Now new figures show that the Pension Tracing Service has been used more than a million times.

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

We've previously reported that some early users of the tracing service have managed to claim back £10,000s of lost pensions. 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 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 your pension provider's name. 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 it 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.

What happens if I can't get online?

You can also request contact details of your pension(s) from the Pension Tracing Service by phone or post.

You can call 0345 6002 537, Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm (+44 (0)191 215 4491 from outside the UK; 0345 3000 169 by textphone).

Or you can write to: The Pension Service 9, Mail Handling Site A, Wolverhampton, WV98 1LU.

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 that those who are over 50 (there are some exceptions to this age limit) and manage to trace pension savings contact the free Government service Pension Wise to discuss their options.

If you're under 50 or unable to use Pension Wise for any other reason you can also contact The Pensions Advisory Service for more information.

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 combine them into one 'arrangement' – this can be done by selecting one pension you prefer and transferring old pensions into it.

See our free Guide to Taking Your Pension for more information on how to do this.

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.