Steve Webb’s petition: After it hit 10,000 the Government was obliged to issue a formal response to him and all those who signed.
The Government has begun the ‘significant task’ of searching its records for married women who might be underpaid state pension, it has revealed.
It is also exploring how to check most effectively for widows and over-80s who may not be paid correctly, according to a response to a petition launched by former Pensions Minister and This is Money columnist Steve Webb.
Tens of thousands of elderly women could be owed an estimated £100million in state pension after a major blunder uncovered by Webb and This is Money six months ago.
The DWP is estimated to have paid out £25-30million to 1,900 women – one in four of the cases it has processed so far – and it has 37 staff and rising working to fix the debacle.
But it is under attack for a chaotic response in past months. We reported yesterday on cases where elderly women who were underpaid tens of thousands in state pension between them suffered a catalogue of errors and delays at the hands of staff.
>>>Are YOU being underpaid state pension? Find out how to check below
The Government’s bill could escalate dramatically beyond £100million if errors in the state pensions of widows and over-80s are found to be widespread.
The petition demanding a search for underpaid state pension for all elderly women has well over 12,000 signatures already.
After it hit 10,000 the Government was obliged to issue a formal response to Webb and all those who signed. The full version is here, or see below.
Why are some married women being underpaid state pension?
Married women who retired on small state pensions before April 2016 should get an uplift to 60 per cent of their husband’s payments once he reaches retirement age too.
Since 2008, the increases are supposed to be automatic, but before that women had to apply to get the full sum they were due.
Find out how to check if you are underpaid and what to do about it below.
Hundreds of emails have poured in from readers anxious to know if they have missed out on state pension too since we began our investigation.
Webb called on the Department for Work and Pensions to accelerate the process of checking records and not continue to rely on people phoning up one by one.
Meanwhile, the response to the petition appears to give no ground on pleas to also search for and contact women whose husbands reached state pension age before 17 March 2008.
Since that date, the increases are supposed to be automatic, but before that women had to make a claim to get the full sum they were due.
Women who have belatedly realised this only get a one-year backpayment and increased state pension going forward, rather than full arrears, and some are complaining to the DWP then taking cases to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
They are being supported by Webb, who has written to the Ombudsman asking it to look at whether the DWP was guilty of maladministration, and to find a way to put things right.
The DWP’s response also omits to mention any search for deceased women who were denied the correct state pension.
The Government has previously confirmed that the heirs of elderly women who die without realising they were underpaid state pension will receive the money, in response to a written question from the Labour Party.
But it is unclear what information they need to provide to the DWP to prove they are eligible for payouts.
Webb, who is now a partner at pension consultant LCP, says: ‘It is good news that the DWP have confirmed that not only are they checking their records for underpaid married women, but they are also looking into the position of widows and the over-80s who may also be missing out.
‘Although this is a big job, many of these women have been underpaid for many years and are owed thousands of pounds. DWP needs to accelerate this process and not continue to rely on people phoning up one by one.’
Jack Dromey, Shadow Pensions Minister and Labour MP, says: ‘The DWP have consistently failed to get a grip of this problem.
‘Each week, yet more women who have been underpaid their pension come forward and tell shocking stories of the impact this has had on their lives.
‘This petition is absolutely right in its call on the Government to be proactive in paying all those affected the compensation they deserve. Women who have served this country well should not have to beg for what is rightfully theirs.
‘Labour called for an inquiry into the DWP’s severe mismanagement of pension payments earlier this year.
‘It’s time for the Government to take urgent action on this growing scandal and to make sure every woman affected is paid the pension to which she is entitled.’
What does the DWP say in response to the petition?
The Government is checking State Pension records. Where it is identified that someone is being underpaid, any backdated State Pension due in accordance with what the law allows will be paid.
In 2008, the law was changed so married women who were getting a State Pension in their own right didn’t have to make a further claim to have their State Pension increased using their husband’s National Insurance contributions if he reached State Pension age from 17 March 2008.
Steve Webb: ‘DWP needs to accelerate this process and not continue to rely on people phoning up one by one’
A number of married women have contacted DWP to check if their State Pension amount is correct because they are not sure their State Pension amount has been increased as it should have been when their husband reached his State Pension age.
Where it has been identified that someone is being underpaid State Pension, DWP have paid any backdated State Pension due in accordance with the law.
DWP has started a wider State Pension records check to identify married women who may be being underpaid State Pension. The activity to identify those that are being underpaid their State Pension entitlement in accordance with the law is a significant task.
As a result of contact we have received from a small number of widows who have not seen their State Pension amount increased following their husband’s death, DWP is also exploring how it can most effectively check State Pension records to identify other widows and those aged over 80 who may not be getting their correct State Pension entitlement.
For any identified instances where someone is being underpaid, payments will be backdated as the law allows.
Any individual who believes they are being underpaid State Pension should contact the Department on 0800 731 0469. Further details on how to do this through the Pension Service are available on the gov.uk website here: www.gov.uk/contact-pension-service,
Are YOU being underpaid state pension?
But Webb stresses that the website is simply designed as a useful tool, and anyone with any doubt about the amount of pension they are receiving should contact the Department for Work and Pensions.
If you are a widow and think you have been underpaid, find out more here.
Meanwhile, many women appear to be struggling to get interest on their belated state pension payments, and it is worth following this up if you receive a backpayment.
This is Money understands the DWP is deciding interest payments based on whether a woman was underpaid for more than a year, whether it was down to government error and whether interest would amount to £10 plus.
Readers can contact Steve Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put DWP CLAIMS in the subject line and include your own and your husband’s date of birth (and death if you are a widow), how much you both receive in state pension and a contact telephone number.
But apologies in advance, we cannot reply to everyone and you should always prioritise contacting the DWP using the details above.