Dame Meg Hillier and Stephen Timms, chairs of the influential Public Accounts Committee and Work and Pensions Committee, have written to Peter Schofield, permanent secretary at the DWP, seeking an explanation why thousands of pensioners are being discouraged from claiming money they may be owed by the ministry.
The letter -published on the Work and Pensions Committee website – follows a high critical report by the Public Accounts Committee on the handling of pension back payments- and an articles on this website revealing internal advice given to ministry staff by senior management at the DWP.
It refers to my blog on February 10 which you can read here. This included an internal memo to people handling telephone callers seeking claims and a management training exercise aimed at speeding up the number of cases settled by staff by ignoring complicated claims, nearly all from women.
The most controversial was the ” drop and go” approach which urged staff ” if a case is complex or take a long time to resolve, move on to the next one in order to maximise the number of customers we can help today.”
The letter asks Peter Schofield to explain. It says:
“A report in Westminster Confidential on 10 February included screen shots, apparently of DWP internal documents, indicating that guidance to staff on handling calls about underpayments is to ‘close the call’ and only take details if the customer insists, unless the case is from or about someone who falls into one of the following four groups:
• A married woman whose husband claimed his State Pension before 17/03/2008
• An individual aged 80 or over who does not get any State Pension or only Graduated Retirement Benefit
• Someone who has died and may have been underpaid
• Someone who is divorced and wants to know how it impacts their State Pension.
It also refers to a message on the helpline which starts by telling callers that, if they are calling as a result of media coverage, “please be aware you do not need to contact us.” It goes on to tell people to stay on the line if they fall into one of the above groups.
Written in bold the MPs ask:
• What is the status of the documents quoted in the Westminster Confidential report? Do they represent current policy? If not, what changed and when?
• How will you evaluate the effectiveness of the revised information on Gov.UK in helping those who may be affected to understand their position and to take appropriate action?
• Do you have plans to review your communication strategy and take further action if, for example, only a small number of those affected contact you to report a change of circumstances or make a claim?
The MPs say : “People in the four specified groups appear to be those who need to take action to receive an increase in their entitlement and, when they do claim, will generally only get twelve months’ backdating. Unlike those covered by the LEAP exercise,[This where the government has been mandated to pay back money such as the 135,000 pensioners who have been underpaid] there is no legal obligation on the Department to seek them out or pay them arrears.
The Department told the PAC that it could not publish guidance for those who may have been underpaid – such as an online assessment tool – because it believed it could not accurately cover all possible underpayment scenarios.
We remain extremely concerned – MPs
The letter goes on : “The Government’s response to the PAC report refers to revised information on Gov.UK which emphasises further that some individuals must make a claim and how they can do this. It is also working to provide a more direct route for those enquiring about underpaid State Pension in respect of a deceased customer. While this is welcome, we remain extremely concerned that the limited information on Gov.UK, together with the guidance and telephone message may discourage some from taking action that could increase their entitlement.”
The letter also discloses that a third of the way through the exercise to pay back the 135,000 pensioners owed money only 10 per cent of the cash has been paid out. This suggests that it may take much longer to pay the money to older pensioners who may not have long to live.
The MPs ask the permanent secretary to explain “The average and the longest amounts of time that pensioners who have contacted you about a potential underpayment can expect to wait for a full response.”
It is excellent that MPs are pursuing this story. The full letter is here. The DWP have until May 12 to respond. The ministry better have a good explanation.
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Two things come to mind David.
1. A report on page 2 of the money section – Daily Telegraph Saturday 30th April:
“Savers caught by the 55pc tax on pension pots that exceed £1.1m have expressed outrage over a blanket exemption from the lifetime allowance enjoyed by judges”. The judges pension scheme is classed as ‘tax unregistered’. The Chancellor has frozen the lifetime allowance at £1,073,100 for 5 years
2. Why is the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman still dragging his feet over the WASPI women issues.
Good to see Meg Hillier and Stephen Timms asking questions
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Reblogged this on Tory Britain! .
You and Your Outstanding Work is One of the Few things that give me hope…Whilst struggling on Disability Benefits for an Extra Five Years. Thank You David
If I had my pension at 60 I would be happy to send money and support other charities but I can’t
Well done to David and campaigners. As to the DWP – they will probably obfuscate and delay because that’s how they behave following their masters in Downing Street.
The DWP are not fit for purpose.
1. They completely screwed up my niece’s claim even though my sister repeatedly asked them to check and double check. They didn’t and she, a poor student, is having to pay back over £2,000 because they repeatedly made mistakes.
2. They repeatedly made mistakes with a friend’s claim to the tune of £9,000 and they’ve had to pay him this in one lump sum.
3. They gave me inaccurate information about my state pension stating firstly that I hadn’t paid into a work pension, then when I requested to be paid weekly told me that I would need to apply after I receive my 1st payment, which is untrue. They then refused to give me a written updated statement after I paid an additional £800.80p. After all that and given I’ve done all the necessary paper work, get my first paymentv16th May, they then sent me an invite to apply for my pension !!
Dear David Hencke, Now Tory Boris is going to make redundant anywhere between around 60,000 and 90,000 Civil Servants, offering help to people.
Just when more Civil Servants are needed to deal with the backlog of underpayments, which is slowing down women now turning 66 getting state pension finally.
Yes I agree – the main savings can only be made by slashing staff in departments like the DWP and Ministry of Defence!
Why are the DWP so dishonest back to 60’s women had pension stole & no letter to explain rise in pension age ? They have taken NAT Ins contributions but refuse to do the correct thing seems they need investIgation Fraudulent practices. .