On the eve of last week’s crucial judgment on women’s state pensions, the Backto60 campaign declared ‘full restitution’ was on its way.
Thousands of women left poorer by the rise in their state pension age had invested their hopes and their money in a court victory that could see them receive their state pension backdated to the age of 60.
Hours later, a crushing blow was delivered as judges unanimously dismissed their legal challenge.
Where now? Campaigners on women’s state pensions have been dealt a crushing blow after judges thew out their latest legal challenge
There is no doubt 1950s-born women were badly treated by successive governments over the state pension age hike.
And many rightly still feel a burning injustice. But now, after its resounding defeat in court, Backto60 is facing questions about its aggressive demands and how it spent supporters’ money.
The campaign group’s fight for full payment of their pension won support from thousands of women. Indeed, few would argue its moral cause was not just. Little wonder it has so far raised more than £230,000.
Last week’s Court of Appeal judgment dismissed complaints of age and sex discrimination, but also underscored fundamental problems with the legal case.
Yet Backto60 is still determined to appeal to the Supreme Court, in a move that would cost supporters tens of thousands of pounds more.
In a YouTube video posted last week, campaign director Joanne Welch hit out at the judgment.
She said: ‘We are strong and will never retreat.’
‘Waste of money’
Backto60 raised more than £81,000 to take its challenge to the Court of Appeal after its defeat at the High Court last year. A message on the Crowdfunder website read: ‘Our track record is exemplary: each time we have raised funds, we have delivered everything we promised and more. With your support, the win will be secured.’
But last week’s judgment laid bare that ‘full restitution’ was never a possible outcome of the costly court case — even if Backto60 had won. The judges also ruled that the Government had no legal obligation to let women born in the 1950s know their pension age was rising.
Furthermore, the court said the legal action was launched more than 20 years too late for it to have any power to award compensation.
Fighting on: Backto60 campaign director Joanne Welch is still determined to appeal to the Supreme Court, in a move that would cost supporters tens of thousands of pounds more
Pension lawyer Jennie Kreser, former legal director at the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority, told Money Mail: ‘The Backto60 campaign was never ever going to succeed. Some very vulnerable women contributed as they felt hard done by. It was just a complete waste of their money.’
Asking too much?
Critics fear Backto60’s unwillingness to accept ‘crumbs’, or anything other than ‘full restitution’, has done more harm than good.
Baroness Altmann, a former pensions minister (see her opinion, right), says: ‘Maybe I would have been able to make some progress on helping those in hardship, but they [Backto60] made it clear they weren’t going to accept that.
‘I would not recommend anybody to put money in to take this case up to the Supreme Court. Even if they win, it’s not a victory that will give them their pensions back to the age of 60. It’s misleading to say it is a possibility, especially in the light of this strong clear verdict.’
The Government has estimated Backto60’s demand to reverse the pension age increase for women would cost at least £200 billion.
Pensioner Judith Bywater, 66, says she was blocked from the Backto60 Facebook group for disagreeing with its militant approach.
She says: ‘They have let the Government off the hook. They have stopped any reasonable debate on the subject with their greed.’
Q&A – Pension Ages
After years of campaigning and fundraising, a legal challenge was dismissed by judges last week. Here, Ben Wilkinson explains what the case was about, and what hope there is left for the women forced to work longer.
When did the state pension age go up?
The Pensions Act 1995 changed the age a woman could start collecting her state pension from 60 to 65 – the same as for a man – from April 2010 to 2020.
The Pensions Acts of 2007, 2011 and 2014 then accelerated this change, and raised the state pension age for some men and women to 66, 67 or 68.
What was the legal challenge about?
Julie Delve and Karen Glynn claimed the decision to hike their state pension age from 60 was unlawful discrimination based on age and sex.
Their legal team, backed by Backto60, also said the Government was under a legal obligation to inform women affected by the rise in state pension age.
The case went to Judicial Review last year and then the Court of Appeal this year after the High Court ruled against them.
What was the result?
The three Court of Appeal judges were unanimous in rejecting all claims by Backto60.
They said adopting the same state pension age for men and women did not amount to unlawful discrimination under EU law or the Human Rights Convention.
They said the Government had no legal obligation to inform women affected, and besides, the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) publicity campaign had been ‘adequate and reasonable’.
The court also said the application for a Judicial Review of the Pensions Act 1995 had been made ‘substantially out of time’ as it had not been made within three months of the law being passed.
This meant the court had no power to order the Government to pay up anyway.
Were women given enough warning?
The Court of Appeal accepted that there was evidence ‘many’ women had not known that their state pension age had risen until shortly before they turned 60. The judges also said it was impossible to say whether the warning provided to 1950s-born women had been inadequate or unreasonable.
Is the state pension a right or a benefit?
Key to the Backto60 fight is the assertion that a state pension is a citizen’s right – especially after they have paid National Insurance contributions for decades.
Under the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 the state pension is defined as a ‘contributory benefit’.
It means a person’s national insurance contributions go towards funding the state pension, and also other benefits.
But because the state pension is a benefit, it means the Government has the power to change the rules — just like it can with other state handouts.
Can Backto60 appeal?
The Court of Appeal has refused permission to appeal against its judgment, so Backto60’s only option is to ask the Supreme Court for permission to appeal. As of last night, the court had not received an application to appeal.
What about Waspi?
Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) is pursuing a different course of action to Backto60.
It has pressed the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to investigate complaints of maladministration by the DWP in its handling of communicating the rise in state pension age to 1950s-born women.
After a delay while Backto60’s challenge was going on, now just six sample cases are being looked at as part of Waspi’s case.
But if the ombudsman recommends compensation is paid, then the DWP could have to pay up in similar cases, too.
A cause divided
Another group opposed to the way the Government handled the rise in state pension age is Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality).
Waspi had sought legal advice about the prospect of winning in court, but was advised to focus on political lobbying and asking the ombudsman to investigate fears women affected were not effectively warned of the hike in their state pension age.
As a result, the group concentrated its efforts on complaints to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman on grounds of maladministration.
But the investigation had to be put on hold when Backto60 launched its legal action.
Pensions consultant John Ralfe says: ‘What [Backto60] have always been after is utterly bonkers politically and legally.
‘Waspi were a little more circumspect and realistic. They have been completely overwhelmed by Backto60.’
Former supporters who donated to the Backto60 cause also now complain they are being silenced when they ask about strategy and spending.
One woman who donated said she was ‘excommunicated’ – removed from the Backto60 Facebook group and blocked on Twitter – after asking questions.
The 61-year-old, from the East Midlands, says: ‘I have been asking on the site where our money has been spent and how much is left. I’ve been told it is not my concern. But it is.’
Backto60 is still determined to take an appeal to the Supreme Court, in a move that would cost supporters tens of thousands of pounds more
Another former supporter says she was blocked after donating £25. She says: ‘They are really toxic.’
Liz Morris, 66, donated £30 for the Judicial Review, but was blocked on Twitter and Facebook after asking for information on spending. She says: ‘They are asking for more and more money, but it’s never been transparent.
‘Backto60 has done more harm than good. Perhaps by now we could have had something for somebody.’
Kay Clarke, co-founder of the 1950s Women of Wales support group, says she has also been blocked by Backto60 online.
The 65-year-old, who donated £25 to the Judicial Review, says: ‘A lot of followers think they are going to get every penny back. I subsequently found out this is not true and am very disappointed they have wasted so much of our precious time at our age.’
Margaret Rimington started the original petition to the Government to reverse the state pension back to 60 for women. She wrote on Twitter: ‘I’m not happy about the way Backto60 has gone. It was a great group when I and others were moderators.
‘To block anyone who has donated is a disgrace in my opinion. I was even blocked myself for asking to reduce the hours the moderators were working.’
Waspi raised money for legal fees using CrowdJustice — a site that ring-fences donations so they can only be spent on legal fees whereas Backto60 used Crowdfunder, which passes the donations directly to the fundraiser — after taking a 3 per cent fee.
Pensions denied: Judges have dealt the Backto60 campaign a crushing blow, unanimously dismissing their legal challenge
Academic and public health expert Allyson Pollock has reported Backto60 to Crowdfunder after being used, without her permission she says, in a campaign to raise money for a documentary about the women’s plight.
She adds: ‘It appears there is no record or accounts as to how funds have been spent.’
A Crowdfunder spokesman says: ‘Our terms and conditions clearly set out that the agreement to support a project is between project owner and backer.
‘And, whilst we always encourage projects to clearly state what they will do with the money they raise for the project, we do not promise a project owner will do as they say on their crowdfunding page.
‘In practice however, we have very few examples of successful projects knowingly not delivering on their project aims.’
…but fighting on
Backto60 campaign director Joanne Welch told Money Mail she’d still go to the Supreme Court, adding: ‘Crumbs are not acceptable.’
When asked about whether supporters might have been misled into believing the court case could bring full restitution, she said: ‘We have a righteous cause and everything we do, we do with a clear conscience.
‘Everything we have crowdfunded for, every promise, we have kept. These people who think they know better than a world-class legal team — sorry they don’t.’
But Mrs Welch hung up before we could put any more questions to her. She did not did not respond when sent questions asking for information on spending and if she had taken a salary from donations.
The legal case was first launched by Julie Delve and Karen Glynn, but was supported by Backto60.
After losing the Judicial Review the two women were each ordered to pay costs of £10,000 each. The Court of Appeal loss will cost them no more than £50,000 extra.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman says: ‘The Government decided 25 years ago that it was going to make the State Pension age the same for men and women as a long-overdue move towards gender equality.’