The paper from Sir Steve Webb, published today by pension consultants Lane Clark & Peacock, asks whether thousands of older women are missing out on some of their state pension entitlement. The issue appears to be particularly acute for older married women who may not realise that they had to put in a claim for a higher pension when their husband turned 65.
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However, it’s suggested that other married women may encounter problems, such as some widows and divorced women, and for the over 80s.
According to the research, in some cases, women affected could be owed backdated payments which run into thousands of pounds.
It’s estimated that the total amount owed could reach as much as £100million.
The issue affects a set of women covered by the “old” state pension system – meaning those who reached state pension age before April 6, 2016.
Under this system, married women could claim an enhanced rate of state pension when their husband reached the age of 65, in cases where they only had a small state pension entitlement in their own right.
The same rules applied to widows and divorced women.
At current rates, the pension that a married woman can claim based on her husband’s record of National Insurance contributions stands at £80.45 per week, although this is provided that their husband was receiving a full basic state pension.
This is 60 percent of the full basic state pension rate of £134.25.
Married women on low pensions should have been awarded this 60 percent rate automatically when their husband turned 65, since March 2008.
However, before that date, they needed to claim the uplift.
Data obtained in a Freedom of Information request submitted earlier this year by LCP partner Steve Webb to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) suggests that many tens of thousands of married women who would be eligible for this rate are not receiving it.
Sir Steve, a former Minister of State for Pensions, said that in the majority of cases it seems likely that this is because they have not actively claimed the uplift.
However, the pensions commentator said that in some cases it “will reflect the failure of DWP computers to automatically award the uplift”.
It’s understood that in situations where women needed to make a claim, should they do so belatedly, they can only backdate their claim for 12 months – meaning any uplift for the years prior to this is lost.
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In addition to gaps for married women, the paper identifies other groups who may be missing out. These include:
- Thousands of widows who appear to be on very low state pensions, well short of the expected rate for a widow claiming on her late husband’s record;
- Thousands of divorced women who should, in principle, be benefiting from the ability to ‘substitute’ the NI record of their ex-husband for the period up to the end of their marriage;
- Thousands of women aged 80 or over who should in principle be entitled to an £80.45 pension on a non-contributory basis provided that they satisfy a simple residency test.
LCP says it’s difficult to put precise figures on the numbers missing out, but estimates that tens of thousands of women are being paid less in state pension than they’re entitled to.
To help married women identify if they may be entitled to an increase, LCP has launched an online calculator.
It allows women to enter details about their age and state pension receipt and that of their husband.
Sir Steve is now calling on the government to investigate this issue as a matter of urgency, and urging them to automatically uplift the pensions of those who are entitled.
The pensions commentator is also calling for a review of the 2008 rule change which means those who became entitled to a higher pension before that date can only now backdate a claim for 12 months.
The problem was initially highlighted following correspondence from readers of the website This is Money to its columnist Steve Webb.
Commenting, he said: “It is truly shocking that thousands of women are being short-changed on their state pensions.
“The system is highly complex and few will be aware of the special rules for married women, widows, divorced women and the over 80s.
“Yet each of these groups seems to be losing out in different ways.
“Whilst DWP is willing to put things right on a case-by-case basis when individuals get in touch, there is clearly a systematic problem here.
“It is time for the DWP to take this issue seriously and launch a full investigation into how so many women have been missing out for so long.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We are aware of a number of cases where individuals have been underpaid state pension.
“We corrected our records and reimbursed those affected as soon as errors were identified.
“We are checking for further cases, and if any are found awards will also be reviewed and any arrears paid.”
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