What happens to my pension when I leave a company?

When you change jobs it’s likely you’ll leave behind a company pension. Even if you change jobs just two or three times in your career, it can be hard to keep track of how much your pensions are worth and where your money’s invested.

How do workplace pensions work?

In an effort to encourage more workers to save for their retirement, the government gradually introduced a scheme called Auto-Enrolment. As of 2018 it is now compulsory for every company in the UK to automatically enrol its eligible staff in a workplace pension scheme. To meet the conditions you must earn over £10,000 per year and be aged between 22 and State Pension age.

Once you’ve been enrolled by your employer, they’ll be required to make a minimum contribution by law, and you’ll also have to make a minimum contribution. Employees have to pay a minimum of 5% of their annual salary into their pension, and employers have to pay 3%. Any money you contribute to your pension as an employee will be eligible for tax relief from the government.

There are two types of workplace pension, defined contribution pensions and defined benefit pensions. Defined contribution pensions are the most common and have a value based on how much money you’ve paid into your pension and how your investments have performed. If you’re auto-enrolled in a workplace pension scheme it will usually be a defined contribution pension.

Defined benefit pensions are less common and are only typically offered to those working in big companies or the public sector. The value of the pension is based on the number of years you’ve been a member of the scheme and your salary.

How do I find out if I have a pension?

Due to the recent pension law change, you’ll be in enrolled in your workplace pension scheme automatically, unless you’ve opted-out and are no longer paying into the scheme.

  • Your current pension: you can find out more information about your pension by talking to the HR department at your place of work. They’ll be able to share details of the company scheme, including how it works and who your pension provider is. You should also receive regular statements from your provider detailing your policy number and their contact details, as well as an update on the performance of your investments.
  • Old pensions: any pension that you stop paying into is considered to be an old pension. Most people have several old pensions that become dormant as soon as they leave a job and stop making contributions. If you remember paying into a pension at your previous workplace and didn’t do anything with it when you left the company, it’s likely you’ll have an old pension. You can check back through statements and old payslips to find out more information.
  • Lost pensions: if you’re confident that you’ve paid into pensions in previous jobs but can’t remember how many or who they’re with, there are a few things you can do to find a lost pension. If you know either the employer or pension provider’s name you can search the government’s free database.

The Pension Tracing Service helps you find contact details for a workplace or personal pension scheme so you can get in touch with them directly. It won’t, however, confirm if you have a pension or provide any details on its value so you’ll need to contact your pension provider directly.

If you choose to move your old pensions into a single plan, your new provider may be able to help you track down your old pensions. When you transfer your workplace pensions to a new PensionBee plan we’ll contact your old providers on your behalf and handle the transfer process from start to finish. You just need to provide a few pieces of information such as the pension provider name and policy number (if you have it to hand).

Workplace pension rules

All employers must offer a workplace pension scheme by law and there are several rules you’ll need to be aware of.

  • If you’re eligible for Auto-Enrolment your employer must enrol you in its pension scheme, although it can delay your enrolment date by up to three months

  • Even if you don’t meet the criteria for Auto-Enrolment your employer can’t refuse you access to its pension scheme, but it won’t have to contribute to your pension if you earn less than £520 a month, £120 a week or £480 over a four-week period

  • Both you and your employer must make the minimum pension contributions set out above

  • You’re allowed to opt-out of a workplace pension scheme at any time and can claim a refund if you do so within one month of joining

  • You should never face any discrimination from your employer for either joining or remaining in a company pension scheme and you should never be encouraged to opt-out.

Can I transfer my pension?

It’s relatively straightforward to move a company pension from one provider to another. You might choose to transfer your pension out of necessity, if you’re changing jobs or the scheme you’re in is closing. You can also move your pension if you’re moving overseas, have found a better scheme or are looking to transfer all of your old workplace pensions into one plan.

While you won’t need to seek permission to complete any pension transfers, it’s a legal requirement to seek the advice of an Independent Financial Adviser if you’re thinking about moving a defined benefit pension worth over £30,000.

Can I cash in a pension from an old employer?

Under the Pension Freedom rules you’ll be allowed to access your workplace pension once you reach the age of 55. It’s not possible to cash in your pension before this time, no-matter how old it is or what it’s worth, and you should avoid any scams that claim to be able to help you access your pension early.

Once you turn 55 you can cash in your old company pension in a number of ways. The first 25% you withdraw can be taken as a tax-free lump sum, and any withdrawals after that will be charged at your usual rate of income tax. Popular options include drawdown, which keeps your money invested until you need it, and purchasing an annuity, which pays a guaranteed income for a set period.

At anytime, before 55 or after (57 from 2028), you can move your old workplace pension to a new scheme and combine all of your old pensions into one. Although you may not be able to withdraw the money in your pension straight away, you’ll always have control over how it’s invested.

Keeping track of old workplace pensions

Moving all of your pensions into one simple plan can help you keep track of how your savings are performing. Rather than managing multiple pension pots, PensionBee can help you take control of your savings by bringing everything together in one place.

Risk warning

As always with investments, your capital is at risk. The value of your investment can go down as well as up, and you may get back less than you invest. This information should not be regarded as financial advice.

Last edited: 07-07-2021

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