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Hundreds of thousands of married women who missed out on a higher state pension have been given a major boost in their fight for justice.
A landmark decision by a watchdog could be used to claw back £1 billion for older pensioners who have missed out on years of higher payments.
Women over-75 entitled to pensions based on 60 percent of their husband’s contributions have lost thousands of pounds each.
Steve Webb, partner at consultants LCP, said a successful challenge against the government has raised hopes that others will now be given what they are owed.
He said: “After years of working with married women to challenge these antiquated state pension rules, we finally have a glimmer of hope. The old processes for alerting women to the need to claim their state pension twice were hopelessly inadequate.”
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Since 2008, the uplift from a woman’s own state pension to the 60 percent rate of their husband’s pension happened automatically when he retired.
Before that, married women had to fill out a pension form to claim the increase. But many were not aware of the requirement and missed out as a result.
Although booklets were available at the time that explained the need to make a claim, the information was not sent out automatically to women and had to be requested.
When the husband retired, he could tick a box if his wife was on a low pension and a form would be sent out directly to him.
A decision by the Independent Case Examiner (ICE), which deals with complaints against the Department for Work and Pensions, has upheld a case of maladministration over the issue.
Although it only relates to one case, it has raised hopes that other women will be able to follow the same route to get compensation.
Campaigners hope the Parliamentary Ombudsman will also now rule that the problem needs to be fixed systematically rather than one by one. It currently has two cases to consider and two more will be submitted shortly.
Sir Steve added: “We’ve had it suggested that women should have gone to the Job Centre to get an information booklet or have been told that they had to rely on their husbands ticking a box on a form.
“The scale of the problem shows that there was a systematic issue, and it seems to me highly likely that many women, like Daphne, were never sent the claim form that they needed. I hope that this landmark case will lead to many thousands more women getting justice.”
Older married, divorced or widowed women on low state pensions are entitled to payments at 60 per cent of the full rate of their husband’s record of National Insurance.
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The payments were made automatically from March 2008 but a separate claim had to be made for women affected before that date. But many women simply assumed that once they claimed their state pension they would be paid whatever they were due.
Those who did find out years later that they could have been on a higher rate were only able to backdate any increase for 12 months.
Campaigners say the DWP’s measures to ensure women knew how the system worked were often highly ineffective.
Daphne and Tim Bennett, both aged 80, from Surrey, successfully took their case to ICE and the full uplift will now be paid all the way back to 2008, with interest and compensation.
Mrs Bennett said: “I hope that those in positions of authority will look at what happened to me and accept that there are many other women in the same position and will put things right for all of them.”
Most of the women affected have been underpaid since at least 2008 and while the figures vary among each individual, experts believe around £1,000 a year is a reasonable assumption.
The DWP has not given figures for how many women lost out but admits it is “low hundreds of thousands”.
Silver Voices called on the DWP to end the injustice faced by older women.
Director Dennis Reed said: “This case is very encouraging. There is a long line of DWP errors and maladministration as far as state pensions are concerned and this is a particularly egregious one.
“The Parliamentary Ombudsman should urgently get a grip of this because we are talking about the older generation and we can’t be waiting years for this injustice to be resolved. A lot of people don’t know their rights and pensions are extremely technical and complex.”
A retired bookkeeper has won her case against the government over its pensions failure.
Daphne Bennett, began claiming her state pension in 2003 but gaps in her contributions meant she received just £38.66 a week.
When husband Tim retired in 2008, she was eligible for a 60 percent married woman’s pension.
Payments were dependent on a new state pension claim form being filled out.
But Mr Bennett was told on the phone that no forms needed to be signed and no documents were ever sent to the couple, both 80, from Woking in Surrey.
In 2020, Mrs Bennett saw coverage about married women’s pensions and realised she could be on a higher rate.
She applied and was successful, securing an increase of around £24 per week, but it was only backdated to 2019.
The DWP rejected a complaint about its failures to inform her that a claim should have been made.
But the Independent Case Examiner overruled the decision and ordered back payments dating to 2008, plus interest and compensation for “distress and inconvenience”.
Mrs Bennett said: “When I first found out that I could have been on a higher pension for over a decade I was surprised and puzzled.
“Then when I claimed and was told it could only be backdated for one year, I felt it was unfair. It was their mistake, not mine.
“It has taken years to work our way through the complaints procedure, with the support of Steve Webb, but I’m absolutely delighted that my complaint has been upheld.
“My husband reads paperwork carefully and I would obviously have made a second claim for the higher state pension if anyone had actually told us that was how the system worked.
“I hope that those in positions of authority will look at what happened to me and accept that there are many other women in the same position and will put things right for all of them.”
Caroline Abrahams, the Charity Director at Age UK said: “It is very concerning that many women were underpaid their state pension for many years due to administrative errors and that some may still be missing out.
“We would welcome any moves to identify those who have been underpaid and ensure they receive their rightful pension, especially with the continuing pressure to meet high bills.”
A DWP spokesman said: “As upheld by a court last year, married women whose husbands reached state pension age after them, but before March 17 2008, are required by law to make a claim for an uplift to their State Pension.
“Our priority is ensuring pensioners receive the financial support to which they are entitled and the action we are taking now will correct historical underpayments made by successive governments.”
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