How to check your pension—and why you should be doing it now

You may not think to check your pension until you’re about to retire, but knowing exactly what you will get could help you plan for life after work

Money jar with pension label
(Image credit: Getty)

It's all too easy to leave your pension to its own devices, but spending a bit of time and effort on finding out how it's doing will often pay dividends in the long run.

Research shows almost a quarter of women do not know how much state pension they will get and when. 

Many women are also in the dark about their workplace pensions, with only one-third saying they have a clear idea of how much all their retirement savings are worth, according to research by investment firm Hargreaves Lansdown.

While the pension savings rate has improved over the past decade—as a result of the government’s auto-enrolment scheme that sees employees automatically placed into pension schemes—many people forget to check how much is in their pension, or how it’s performing. 

“Lots of people dutifully pay into their pension each month but never actually check where that money is going, what it’s invested in, or how large their pot has become,” notes Laura Suter, head of personal finance at the investment platform AJ Bell. This can make retirement planning almost impossible. 

If you’re wondering how to check how much is in your personal or workplace pension, or how much you might get from a state pension, and crucially, when you’ll be able to claim it, help is at hand. Follow our simple steps to check your pension and get your retirement plans on track.

How to check your state pension

The state pension has had a big overhaul in recent years. A 'new state pension' was launched in 2016, while the age at which you can claim it has been creeping up. 

“The state pension age has been on the rise in recent years, which has either passed people by or left them completely confused, so huge numbers of people have no idea when they might get their pension,” says Helen Morrissey, senior pensions and retirement analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“Worryingly, over a quarter of people in the 45-54 age group are confused and this is concerning, because their plans for retirement should be much more detailed by this stage.”

Luckily, it is fairly easy to check your state pension. You can get a state pension forecast by using your government gateway log-in (which you use for the self-assessment tax return) or by verifying your ID (you’ll need to provide your address, mobile number, and one form of photo ID).

The forecast will tell you how much state pension you could get, when you can get it, and how to potentially increase it.

You can also get a state pension forecast by post or by calling the Future Pension Centre on 0800 731 0175.

If you’d like to just check your state pension age, you can do that on gov.uk. Pop your date of birth into this simple tool and it’ll tell you the date that you’ll qualify for the state pension, and what age you’ll be.

Bear in mind that the state pension age is rising. The current state pension age for men and women is 66. For those born after 5 April 1960, there is a phased increase to 67 by 2028, and eventually 68.

The government is keeping the state pension age under review, which means it could change again in the future—so check on gov.uk regularly to make sure the date you can claim your pension is still the same, especially as you near retirement.

How to check your final salary pension

If you’re lucky enough to have a final salary pension or a career average scheme—also known as a defined benefit pension—your pension provider should send you an annual statement. 

This will tell you how much money you should receive each year, and at what age you’ll start receiving it. It may contain other details such as how much your spouse would be entitled to if you were to die. 

If you don’t receive a statement, or have any questions about the scheme, contact the pension provider. Don’t know who the provider is? Ask your employer (or former employer) and they’ll be able to tell you. 

How to check your workplace pension

When did you last check your workplace pension? While millions of us are paying part of our wages into a pension each month, not many of us bother to check how much is in our pension pot, or where it’s invested, or even if we have lost pensions from previous jobs.  

“The first step to getting engaged with your workplace pension is to check it,” says Maike Currie, investment director at the investment firm Fidelity International.

“This is typically done via an online portal and a password supplied by your pension provider. If you have lost the log-in details, or stuffed these deep into a forgotten drawer, contact your provider about resetting your access. Once you have the log-in details you can check how much is saved in your pot, where it is invested, and whether you would like to change your investment options.”

You probably have a few pension pots from different employers. When you check your pensions, you could consider consolidating your pension into one pot. 

How often should you check your workplace pension?

A good time to check what’s going on with your workplace pension is when you receive your annual statement. It shows how the value of your pension savings has changed over the past year, how much is in your pot and how much income you might receive from your pension when you retire. “Also check whether you have filled out an ‘expression of wish’ form as this ensures your nearest and dearest receive your pension savings if you pass away,” suggests Maike.

According to Laura at AJ Bell, “once you’ve got everything ship-shape you don’t need to check on your pension that often—as it’s a long-term investment you’re not likely to want to switch investments around every month. Instead, it’s a good idea to check in once a year and make sure everything is performing as you’d expect.”

However, when you’re within 10 years of retirement age, you need to keep a closer eye on your pension, as you start thinking more about your life after work—and how you’ll fund it.

Can you increase your contributions? This will give your savings a boost, and you may get tax relief and an extra employer contribution on top.

Are you planning to buy an annuity with your pension pot? If the answer is yes, you’ll want to gradually reduce the risk in your portfolio. Laura explains: “The last thing you want is your pension pot to fall in value dramatically just before you plan to use it. So generally people move into less risky assets and gradually move more into cash too.”

Remember that if you’re 50 or over you can book a free appointment with Pension Wise, the government’s impartial guidance service. If you’re feeling confused about your pension, your pension provider or HR department may be able to give you some pointers. Alternatively, you can pay for professional financial advice. 

How to check your personal pension

If you have a personal pension, or a self-invested personal pension (SIPP), it’s important to check in with it at least once a year. That way, you can see how much the pot is worth, and how your investments are performing. Keep a close eye on fees, as these can rapidly eat into your savings.

You should be able to look at your pension online, or using an app. If you use a financial adviser, ask them for the information. 

As you edge closer to your retirement date, check in with your personal pension more frequently. Consider whether the risk level of the investments is right for you—it should be simple to switch to different investments—and whether you can pay a bit more into your pension to give it a boost.