Cases of elderly women missing out on thousands of pounds in state pension are piling up, and the Government has failed to say what it is doing to address this scandal.
We might be in the middle of a pandemic, but that shouldn’t stop it reassuring those who might be affected that it will carry out a thorough investigation to ensure anyone being underpaid will get they are owed.
If DWP staff who are working on Covid-19 right now can’t be spared, but will be redeployed to deal with this later, then the department should say that now.
Anything else looks like neglect of duty, on top of incompetence.
Full probe need: Backpayments can never entirely make up for what women underpaid state pension for years have actually lost – but they must all get what they are owed (Stock image)
It’s a bitter irony that the women contacting us about this are 70 and above, the age group most tragically afflicted and threatened by the coronovirus.
In lockdown for the foreseeable future, those who receive backpayments cannot even spend that money in the way they might like right now.
If they had got this money when they should have done, the extra amount might appear relatively small on a weekly basis, but could have made an untold difference to their retirement.
That missing cash represents outings not taken, restaurant trips deemed unaffordable, holidays never booked, more modest gifts bought for loved ones, and so on.
Tanya Jefferies: State pension missed out on represents outings not taken, restaurant trips deemed unaffordable, holidays never booked and more modest gifts bought for loved ones
That is what ‘underpaid state pension’ means in real terms to married women who have missed out on what they are owed for so many years.
You and your husband narrow your financial horizons to fit your income, and believe yourself to be the kind of couple who can afford a week’s break in France, but never a fortnight’s holiday in the US, however hard you save up.
Some of the sums women have been paid in the past month could easily fund a lavish overseas holiday, one which they sadly cannot splash out on under current circumstances – here’s hoping they will be able to spend that money however they wish very soon.
But backpayments can never entirely make up for what they have lost, even if they are all paid interest, which we can’t be sure of since the DWP refuses to confirm that.
By rights, these women should get compensation as well, especially as some might now have to pay income tax on their lump sums, as a result of the Government bungling their state pension in the first place.
Rising caseload means a full investigation is essential
The number of women coming to This is Money who go on to receive payouts worth thousands of pounds suggests the blunder affecting their state pensions could be widespread.
This is Money has so far published details of nine cases where women have received backpayments totalling more than £35,000, and we are aware of other credible cases which are being pursued independently with the DWP.
More elderly women, and their husbands and adult children too, are contacting us all the time. We will continue to help everyone we can, but the Government has to step up too to say what it will do to fix the issue.
Steve Webb: First discovered this problem in a question buried among the dozens he gets every week in his This is Money inbox
Our columnist, former Pensions Minister Steve Webb, first discovered this problem in a question buried among the many dozens he gets every week.
He immediately flagged it up, and told us of his intention to answer in his column and to urge any other women affected to come forward, just in case it wasn’t a one-off.
A shocking number of people got in touch as a result.
And Webb has been calling ever since for a full, systematic review to ensure all underpaid elderly women, not only those who read This is Money, get redress and the right state pension.
His fellow former Minister, Ros Altmann, has also demanded the Government look into this properly, pointing out the women affected are on low incomes and need every penny they are entitled to in state pension.
We can only hope incumbent Pensions Minister Guy Opperman is similarly exercised, and is banging heads together behind the scenes even if the DWP has not yet shown willing to launch an investigation.
Frankly, a public statement by Opperman about this fiasco is not unwarranted. It is destroying trust in the DWP to pay people the right amount of state pension, one of its most basic and important tasks.
Vindicated reader wants to double check DWP’s sums
One of the reasons this issue might have remained obscure for so long is that the maths involved in calculating the state pension is very complicated.
It is hard for most people to tell if anything is wrong with their payments, so they can’t easily object.
Glenis Madden: Told her state pension was ‘correct’, but finally vindicated and paid £6k
That makes the DWP’s treatment of Glenis Madden, a numerate woman in her 70s who spent her career working in the finance departments of a string of employers, all the more shameful.
She did suspect her state pension was inaccurate, but was given the brush-off just a few months ago by the DWP, which informed her in writing it was ‘correct’.
This case alone merits an investigation into why DWP staff – whose job it is to review the accuracy of state pensions – let her down, as well as why those working them out initially got her payments wrong.
Mrs Madden felt forced to accept the DWP’s decision in February, and it was only by chance that she found out through reading This is Money that she was right all along, and asked us to try again on her behalf.
Now, vindicated and finally repaid £6,000, Mrs Madden has lost all trust in the DWP.
She wrote to This is Money a couple of days ago asking if the Government might now send her a full breakdown of her backpayment, so she can go over its figures.
‘Without this information, how will I know that my future pension payments are correct?’ she asks.
‘Although I accept that errors in all walks of life can occur, I would have expected a governmental office to take more care when dealing with people’s finances.’
Are you being underpaid state pension?
Find out how to check if YOU are due more here.
You can also write to Steve Webb at pension firstname.lastname@example.org and put DWP CLAIM in the subject line.
If you write to Steve, please include the following information.
1. Your name and date of birth
2. Your BASIC weekly state pension – check the line referring to this on your 2019/2020 or your more recent 2020/2021 annual state pension statement, and send us the basic figure only, not the total you receive.
3. Your husband’s name and date of birth
4. His BASIC weekly state pension – as above
5. Your phone number – this will only be used to follow up this issue, not for any marketing purposes.
Injustice continues for many women
Some women are only getting one-year backpayments due to the accident of when their husbands were born.
This is because increases to married women’s state pension only started being applied automatically for those whose spouses reached state pension age from 17 March 2008 onward.
Women in this position are understandably galled to receive only small sums while others get full backpayments, and plan to take their cases to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
Steve Webb has promised to support their cause, and This is Money will be following their progress and publishing further stories as we believe they should be treated the same as everyone else.
All tell us they never received a letter from the DWP informing them they could apply for a state pension increase, and if they had done so they would certainly have acted.
It’s yet another dismal communication failure by the Government, this time affecting married women in their 70s.
This is all too familiar, as women in their 60s were not given adequate warning their state pension age would rise, or that this change was suddenly going to be sped up just before they expected to retire.
And many mothers in their 20s and 30s now are unwittingly heading for smaller state pensions, due to the unfairness of an obscure link to claiming child benefit, even if you don’t qualify for it.
STEVE WEBB ANSWERS YOUR PENSION QUESTIONS
The Government might not be actively trying to thwart women’s prospects of retiring on decent state pensions, but there is a worrying pattern of indifference here.
The state pension system was originally set up to benefit men because few women had paid jobs back in 1909, but the Government has had more than enough time to make it work for everyone by now.
When it comes to the elderly married women whom we are now discovering are underpaid, such errors must have turned up internally before now.
But it seems no one noticed or cared enough to follow this up. If junior staff did notify their managers, they can’t have done anything about it, or this could have been sorted out by now.
Instead women have carried on being underpaid for years on end, and Mrs Madden’s recent well-informed complaint went ignored.
Meanwhile, there’s yet another important group of women who might have lost out on state pension, whom we haven’t mentioned so far but are not forgotten: those who have already died.
We are finding so many cases now it’s more than likely some will involve women who are deceased. And, especially during this pandemic, others might die before their state pension gets corrected.
We have asked the DWP if state pension backpayments owed to deceased women will be passed to their heirs, but it has refused to tell us.
If, as we fear, such cases do emerge, we will fight for their loved ones to receive full payouts on their behalf.