The growing scandal of the multi billion pound payments owed to pensioners and claimants by the DWP

Readers of my blog will be familiar with the scandalous story of the billions owed to 50s born women who both suffered maladministration and direct discrimination over the raising of the pension age from 60 to 66.

But what has emerged over the past year appears to show that this is part of a pattern where pensioners and disabled people are frankly swindled out of their money by the incompetence, maladministration and meanness of top management and politicians who run the Department for Work and Pensions.

Far from the 50swomen being an isolated case where mistakes were made those at the top of the DWP administration appear to have a playbook to deprive people of their rightful pensions and benefits, especially if they happen to be women. Nearly all the cases hit women much worse than men and as I have highlighted before – men have had privileges denied to women – such as the long running auto enrolment scheme that allowed men to have their national insurance contributions paid by the state from 60 to 65 while denying women any such privileges.

One of the worse cases which saved the state billions was a decision not to pay out extra pensions to people whose firms had contracted them out of Serps – an old style second pension- so they lost out of a Guaranteed Minimum Pension still payable in the public sector. A lot will have been women

The blog I wrote on this – despite being fiendishly complicated to explain- attracted over 15,000 hits – yet only two people got any compensation as the DWP made it difficult to claim.

Time to sign this petition

Christopher Thompson, a retired expert on this, has put up a petition to Parliament to protest about this and restore the indexation, but sadly only 311 people have signed. If everybody who read the blog signed it it would force the government to have to explain to Parliament why they did it. So please sign if you can.

Then there was the case of 237,000 pensioners – again a lot of them women – cheated out of £1.46 billion from their pensions – by miscalculations by the ministry raised by former pensions minister, Sir Steve Webb. The department is slowly trying reimburse them – some have decades of extra pension owed -but it will take at least to 2024 before it is completed.

Now Sir Steve has found another scandal which only affects women who should have received credits for looking after children from the late 70s. He has launched a campaign Mothers Missing Millions to try and get women’s pensions raised to make up the money – in one case a women was not credited with 14 years contributions.

And you have to add the scandal of the 118,000 disabled people put on a lower rather than benefit rate where the ministry has declined to compensate them – only giving money to the one person who complained to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Even the Ombudsman has been silenced by the ministry who refuse to budge on this issue -leaving him appealling to MPs for help.

Time for an inquiry into the running of the DWP

What I am saying here is if you put all these cases together it is quite clear there is a pattern of underpayment and maladministration where the department do their best to avoid doing anything about it. It is without doubt discriminatory against women and suggests that ministers don’t want to pay them.

It is time women pressed all MPs to take up these issues. There is a strong case for an inquiry into the running of the DWP – there are too many cases for this to be just a coincidence.

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Parliamentary Ombudsman’s plea to MPs to summon the DWP and the Environment Agency for failing to compensate people

Amanda Amroliwala chief executive of the PHSO

Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, has asked the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) to intervene on his behalf and summon the heads of the Department for Work and Pensions and the Environment Agency to appear before them to explain why they are ignoring his findings and refusing to compensate people.

The plea came during a hearing of the committee last week to examine the organisation’s progress and future plans to handle complaints. The committee also heard how the Ombudsman was hamstrung by the failure of the Cabinet Office to pass new legislation to give him greater powers and the latest progress in the 50swomen maladministration claim. More about this below. All these issues highlight weaknesses I have raised in previous blogs.

The DWP case involves 118,000 disabled people who suffered from years of benefit maladminstration . I wrote about this in August- see here. The complaint came from Ms U – via the London borough of Greenwich welfare rights office- who was put in the wrong lower category of the employment support allowance despite being in very poor physical and mental health with little or no savings The Ombudsman ordered the Department to pay her £7500 compensation and five years of arrears totalling £19,832.55 plus interest.

A National Audit Office investigation found that 118,000 people were in the same boat and should have been compensated alongside her following the Ombudsman’s ruling. But the DWP decided only to pay her and ignored everyone else. The pay out would have run to millions of pounds and the DWP decided it would ignore the Ombudsman because legally they can.

The second case involves one family but it is one of the most egregious cases I have heard in Whitehall. The case has been going on for 12 years and involves admitted maladministration by the Environment Agency over the issue of a water licence for a micro hydro project in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire. The Earl family who renovated a tumbledown watermill to use for the scheme was supposed to receive substantial compensation decided by an independent assessor appointed by the Environment Agency. who bungled their case. The money owing could amount to £3m as interest has piled up and the EA has refused to follow through the Ombudsman’s finding for years.

John McDonnell MP

MPs also raised the issue of the Ombudsman’s lack of powers. John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor and a Labour member of the committee, has tabled a question to the Cabinet Office asking why they have not introduced legislation to do this. The issue is raised in an earlier blog here.

Mr McDonnell asked Robert Behrens:”Can you explain the practical implications of the Government’s lack of support for legislative reform? How does that hold you back from adhering to the Venice principles, which the Government have signed up to ?”

He told him: “Two of my counterparts have the power of own-initiative investigation. In cases like Windrush, the maternity scandal in hospitals or the issues with mental health, we could go out and look at an issue without it being complained about. We could resolve that issue before it went to a long-standing independent or public inquiry. The peer review panel said that other ombudsman schemes in Europe use that and have used it in Covid to good effect.”

He went on: “If you have 16 public service ombudsmen in the United Kingdom, it means that people do not know where to go. It means the profile of my office and other offices is lower than it would otherwise be. That is not satisfactory in terms of being the only organisation in the public service that provides redress free of charge to citizens. That is very important.”

He added that he saw no reason why a government could not introduce a bill to do all this straight after the next general election.

MPs Question chief executive on 50swomen pension investigation

Amanda Amroliwala, chief executive of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, was closely questioned by three MPs, Ronnie Cowan, SNP, John McDonnell and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, both Labour, on the maladministration complaints over the delay in paying 3.6 million 1950s born women.

On Stage 2 of the report, which has already been leaked on this website see here, she said: “We have not
finalised that stage of the report yet. We are in the process of receiving and analysing the very extensive comments that we have had from the Department and from the complainants who have brought the complaints to us”

RONNIE Cowan, SNP MP for Inverclyde

Under further questioning she added: “We are looking at how those will need to change the
provisional views that are not yet public but that some individuals have had sight of. We will do that as soon as possible.” She would not commit a date for this report and the proposed remedy will be published except ” hopefully” between January and March next year. She was also quizzed on the level of compensation. Ronnie Cowan pointed out it could be anything from nothing to £10,000 but if it was maladministration only the top level was much less than £10,000 .She would not be drawn on how much this is likely to be.

John McDonnell reflected the frustration among MPs about the long delay in the Ombudsman producing a final report. “You can understand the scale of interest and concern there is amongst Members of Parliament. You will have seen that from the early-day motions. There is not an MP without a constituent who has been affected. The concern that people have is because of the age of many of our constituents. Some of them have already passed away. Others may not be here to receive any form of redress, if we delay beyond the next quarter of next year.”

There is another elephant in the room that was not discussed. If the DWP is refusing to pay 118,000 benefit claimants their compensation, why should they pay any of the 3.6 million 50swomen a penny beyond the six test cases who complained?

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Updated Direct Discrimination: Former Judge Jocelynne Scutt’s report published on the 50swomen pension delay

Former judge Jocelynne Scutt today published her full report on the plight of 1950s women who have waited up to six years to get their delayed pension. As expected it provides copious arguments why the women have been cheated, why the 50swomen were the first group targeted and contains some heart rending cases. You can download the report here. It is a large file as the report runs to 155 pages including appendices.

Here is the entire speech by Jocelynne Scutt to MPs in Parliament this week. This explains the logic of her argument.

The full speech from Jocelynne Scutt to MPs

Some 3.8 million women suffered direct discrimination by the Tory government’s decision in 1995 to raise the pension age, of women to 65 and then 66, MPs and peers will be told at a briefing in Parliament today.

This is the main finding of a big report by Jocelynne Scutt, a former Australian judge who served on the Fiji bench and was Tasmania’s first Anti Discrimination Commissioner. She now teaches law at the University of Buckingham and is a member of both the Australian Labor Party and the British Labour Party and is a Labour councillor in Cambridge.

Her report followed a hearing by the CEDAWinLAW People’s Tribunal last July which specifically looked into the plight of 50sborn women where some of the women and Dr Elgun Safarov, vice chair of the UN Convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls (CEDAW) from Geneva, gave evidence. The UN committee is currently challenging the UK government to explain its failure to write the convention into UK law some 36 years after Margaret Thatcher ratified it.

The ruling in the report to be published in due course is much tougher than the case put forward by two members of BackTo60 in the court hearings following the judicial review. Then lawyers argued that the women had suffered indirect discrimination as their opportunities to pay contributions into the National Insurance fund, among other issues, to qualify for a full pension were not equal with men.

Jocelynne Scutt argues that this was not indirect discrimination but direct discrimination of a specific group of women who had been singled out to wait for their pension while everyone else was unaffected. It has also to be taken into account that 9.8 million men over 60 who decided not to claim unemployment benefit were given free auto-credits which ensured that nearly all got a full pension for life. It was going to be offered to women until 2018 but that idea was swiftly scrapped.

Every one of these women – many who have worked since the age of 15 as well as bringing up a family- was promised by the government when they started work that they could retire at 60 and planned to do so. And given the Department for Work and Pensions told the courts that it was not obliged under the 1995 Act to tell them personally this had changed – this only came in when men were affected by a rise in their retirement age.

Jocelynne Scutt has already delivered the report to Rishi Sunak at Downing Street. She argues that 50s women were treated unfavourably from the start. The 1995 decision did not affect any women born in the 1940s, targeted the 1950s women while those born in 1960s and 1970s onwards had much longer to adjust. The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report agrees there was partial maladministration in that 50s women were not properly informed. In fact hardly anyone was properly informed until it all changed with men and women facing a rise in their pension age to 66.

Full restitution must be honoured – Jocelynne Scutt

Jocelynne Scutt says “Government and Parliament have a responsibility to face up to and acknowledge the grave wrong done. There is no room for obfuscation or quibbling. Historical discrimination requires relief. There is a moral imperative to right this wrong. The law is on the side of the 1950s-born women. 1950sborn women alone are the group targeted. This is a debt of law and honour. Full restitution is the only proper legal, ethical and moral outcome. Full restitution must be honoured.

The briefing is in the House of Commons at 2.0pm today.

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How the Tories keep our Parliamentary Ombudsman powerless – while telling the rest of the world they back the highest standards

Rob Behrens Parliamentary Ombudsman

A high powered peer review of the Parliamentary Ombudsman has exposed the hypocrisy and double standards of the present UK government towards people having the right to redress from bad and unfair public and NHS treatment.

The report released from an international panel of Ombudsmen , an academic and a UK housing ombudsman concludes with a polite but damning assessment of the failure of the government to keep its word to strengthen the Ombudsman’s powers. Members of the panel included both the Greek and Israeli Ombudsmen and a respected academic, Professor Robert Thomas, Professor of Public Law, University of Manchester.

The UK is a member of the Council of Europe Venice Commission which lays down what are known as the ” Venice Principles” – an international standard to guarantee the independence of the Ombudsman and the human rights of people to have direct access to the Ombudsman to make complaints about their treatment by public services.

The UK then co-sponsored a UN resolution incorporating these standards for the entire world – telling every country that Britain was in the lead on this issue.

But then under successive Tory governments of Boris Johnson, Elizabeth Truss and Rishi Sunak nothing has not only been done but ministers have taken active steps to thwart reform.

The most obvious example is Michael Gove, who used his power in the Cabinet Office, to block any bill-even a draft bill- coming before Parliament to the despair of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (Pacac) which under a Tory MP wanted this to happen.

The situation is remarkably similar to the government’s attitude towards the UN Convention on the elimination of all discrimination against women and girls (CEDAW) which Margaret Thatcher ratified in 1986 and had still not been properly implemented 40 years on . This is now the subject of a review from the convention in Geneva which criticises the UK for not implementing it properly and is demanding answers.

The conclusions of the peer review couldn’t be clearer:

Professor Rob Thomas Pic credit: Administrative Justice Council

“The ‘Venice Principles’ lay down a set of international standards and principles on the protection and promotion of Ombudsman institutions. These have been accepted by the UK, as a member of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe in 2019. They were also adopted by the UN in a motion co-sponsored by the UK Government in 2020.

” In several respects, PHSO’s legal framework complies with the ‘Venice Principles’, but not in other respects. PHSO’s statutory framework is now out of date and widely seen as being unnecessarily restrictive. PHSO is also out of line with other UK Ombudsman offices, which possess powers that PHSO does not.
“This means that citizens in some parts of the UK do not have the same rights as others. We are aware that reform of the Ombudsman is a long standing and unresolved issue, although it has become an increasingly urgent matter which makes the work of PHSO more difficult. PHSO is doing everything it can reasonably do to make the argument for reform. What is required is action from the UK Government and Parliament. Any reform must maintain PHSO’s direct reporting line into Parliament to preserve its absolute independence from Government.

Andreas Pottakis, Greek Ombudsman and President the International Ombudsman Institute -Europe

The report backs this up with a traffic light (red, amber, green) system of points where it measures the consistency and performance of the Ombudsman with the Venice principles.. Nearly all the red and amber points are caused by the failure of the government to legislate to strengthen the Ombudsman.

The government does not meet the principle that “Any individual or legal person, including NGOs, shall have the right to free, unhindered and free of charge access to the Ombudsman, and to file a complaint.” Instead a complaint has to be filtered by an MP or in the case of the NHS there has to be a “safe space” for administrators to look at the complaint before the Ombudsman can act.

There is no legal provision to protect whistleblowers who contact him. He, unlike his Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland Ombudsmen cannot initiate investigations. It is not clear whether he has full powers to force people to respond to him and certainly his recommendations don’t have to be followed by the government if he finds maladministration. There is not proper protection for his position by law and even the recruitment of a successor is limited, so not all people can apply.

Venice Principles give Ombudsman right to recommend changes to the law

The Venice Principles give him the right ” to have the power to present, in public, recommendations to Parliament or the Executive, including to amend legislation or to adopt new legislation” and this is definitely not allowed in England – otherwise he could go further on the case of the 50swomen who lost their pensions for up to six years.

Now you might think the Ombudsman would make a great deal out of this report to press the government to expand his powers or show up ministers for failing to keep their obligations to an international agreement they signed.

But the heading on his website is “World’s first official international ombudsman review finds UK service is robust and good value “. Yes the report does make good points about improvements in the running of the Ombudsman’s |Office but its fundamental objection is given muted coverage – buried down in the copy.

Further down the press release Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, says: “The peer review rightly says that the UK is out-of-step with other modern Ombudsman services in terms of our statutory framework. Without powers of own initiative, I am hamstrung from investigating many systemic issues that no one is looking at. Legislative reform of the UK Ombudsman service would mean fewer barriers to justice and more opportunities to prevent injustice happening in the future.”

I think a more gutsy Ombudsman would fight his corner better -particularly as this government is on the back foot when it comes to defending decent public services and upholding standards in public life.

A more cynical explanation is that the government don’t want the public to have greater rights to complain as they are fearful of more bad administration and scandals coming to light But they want the rest of the world to think Britain is a beacon of good government in this area -knowing this is a lie.

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Andreas I. Pottakis

Delivered to Downing Street: Jocelynne Scutt’s tribunal report on the horrors facing #50swomen who faced delayed pensions

Jocelynne Scutt, president of the Convention for Ending all Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Tribunal, yesterday delivered her report on the plight of 50s born women to Rishi Sunak, the new Prime Minister, at Downing Street.

The report, to be officially published at the end of this month, is the latest move to press for full restitution for the women who had to wait 6 years to get their pension. It is timely reminder to the government which is about implement big tax rises and spending cuts that this issue will not go away for the 3.6 million people who lost out.

Jocelynne Scutt, President of the CEDAW Tribunal; Janet Chapman, Ian Byrne’s Parliamentary Assistant, and Ian Byrne, Labour MP for Liverpool, West Derby, who tabled a Parliamentary motion call for full restitution, pictured outside Parliament

Jocelynne Scutt gave a speech outlining the main issues and Ian Byrne wholeheartedly backing the campaign. See it on a video here.

Ian Byrne’s Parliamentary motion now has 75 signatures from MPs. The latest MPs to sign include more Labour MPs such as Qureshi Yasmin, Bolton, South East; Karl Turner, Kingston-upon-Hull, East: Dan Jarvis, Barnsley Central; and Khalid Mahmood, Birmingham, Perry Barr and Clive Betts, Sheffield South East.

Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse and MP for Bath is the first member of the party to sign.

The issue is very popular in Northern Ireland with all MPs in the Democratic Unionist Party signing plus a member from Social Democrat Labour Party and the Alliance. Eight MPs from Scottish National Party have signed and two from Alba Party. There are also a number of ex Labour MPs now Independents have signed, the latest being Dr Rupa Huq, MP for Ealing Central and South Acton.

It is noticeable that not a single Conservative MP has signed the new motion though many signed the motion in the last Parliament calling for full restitution.

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Pension Justice stalemate: WASPI and Backto60 step up rival campaigns just as the new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt plans new spending cuts

Jeremy Hunt, the new chancellor of the Exchequer

And a Parliamentary Petition is laid to change another pension injustice affecting millions

The chaotic and collapsing government of Liz Truss is facing rival demands to settle the long running dispute affecting 3.6 million 1950s born women demanding compensation for maladministration and inequality over the six year delay in paying their pension.

Ian Byrne, the Labour MP for Liverpool, West Derby, has tabled a motion supporting Backto60’s demand for full restitution of the lost money – up to £50,000 in some cases- payable through a special temporary Parliamentary measure – to avoid changing the 1995 Pensions Act which set the higher retirement age for women.

Ian Byrne MP

Some 35 MPs have backed him including the former Labour shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who got Labour to back a £58 billion compensation package in the 2019 election campaign; former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn and host of other Labour MPs, including Ian Lavery, Tony Lloyd, Mike Amesbury, Richard Burgon and Clive Lewis. It is also supported by Alison Thewlis, the SNP Treasury spokesperson and Chris Stephens, SNP Fair Work and Employment spokesman. Two members of the Democratic Unionist Party, Jim Shannon and Gregory Campbell, also backed the motion. The full list is here.

Chloe Smith, work and pensions secretary

The initiative from Waspi involves getting its members to send a template letter to their MP asking them to back their version of compensation for 50s women. For avoidance of any doubt here is the full text which would be sent to Chloe Smith, the new work and pensions secretary.

Chloe Smith MP

Secretary of State

Department for Work and Pensions

Caxton House

Tothill St

London, SW1H 9NA

XX October 2022

Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State!

I write in the hope that you may be able to ‘reset’ the government’s relationship with the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign, whom I met during the Summer Recess.

Parliamentary answers (see UIN14559) confirm that no Minister in your department has met the campaign since 2016, which is something I am hoping that you and colleagues will be prepared to put right.

As you will know, last year the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has found that the Department was guilty of maladministration, in failing to communicate significant changes to the State Pension Age, which were legislated for in 1995.  Specifically, the PHSO has concluded “the opportunity that additional notice would have given them to adjust their retirement plans was lost…DWP failed to take adequate account of the need for targeted and individually tailored information… Despite having identified there was more it could do, it failed to provide the public with as full information as possible.

While the PHSO is continuing to investigate the harm caused to women born in the 1950s, as a result of this maladministration, CEO Amanda Amroliwala has also made clear that the government need not wait for further reports before making an offer of compensation.  In a letter to our parliamentary colleague, Andrew Gwynne, she said, “We must now consider the impact of these failings on the women affected and what recommendations may be needed to remedy any associated injustice. We have suggested to the Department for Work and Pensions that they consider being proactive in this respect”.

Meanwhile, WASPI have recently commissioned research which establishes that, by the end of this year, 220,000 women will have died waiting for compensation since their campaign began in 2015.  Sadly, another woman dies every 14 minutes.

I have been struck during my conversations with the campaigners that they are therefore extremely pragmatic about achieving a resolution quickly.  They are not looking for a long fight with the government, preferring to accept a fair, fast one-off sum for those whose retirements have been devastated by mistakes made at DWP.  Specifically, they are not looking to receive ‘lost’ pension amounts, but rather to be compensated for the maladministration at DWP, which caused them to take decisions they might not otherwise have taken, had they been given proper notice of changes to the law.  Quite sensibly, they are suggesting higher levels of compensation for those given the shortest notice of the longest delay to receipt of their State Pension.

They have been through four stages of complaint at DWP and now face two further stages of the PHSO process.  All the while more of the women affected die waiting, so they are keen to see the proactivity suggested by the PHSO from your department.

Would you prepared to meet with me and with Angela Madden, the Chair of the campaign, together – both so that you can understand the (surprisingly reasonable and pragmatic) position of the campaign, and that they can hear directly from you?

While both they and I recognise that you could not make immediate commitments in any such meeting, I do believe it would be helpful to open a dialogue now rather than have the group getting more and more frustrated that government will not talk to them.  The PHSO’s ongoing investigation is not a reason to postpone discussion, since the substance of maladministration has already been confirmed.

At some point, government (of whichever political stripe) is going to be required by the Ombudsman to make an offer of compensation, so it makes sense to begin the conversation now rather than brooking further delay, during which time – sadly – more and more of the affected women will pass away.

WASPI want compensation for maladministration and nothing for restitution

The letter is a massive reduction on the demands made by the MPs. For a start they want NO rather than FULL restitution for the up to £50,000 lost by 3.6million pensioners. Instead they want an unspecified payment before the Ombudsman decides what level of compensation for maladministration. There is no mention of the £10,000 to £20,000 a head compensation promised by Angela Madden to the 50 people attending the Labour Party fringe meeting last month.

There also is a misconception that the Department for Work and Pensions is required by the Ombudsman to meet them after he has issued his report. This is not true the Ombudsman has no power to require anybody to follow his decisions – as has been shown ( see below) in another case where millions of pensioners have been cheated out of a Guaranteed Minimum Pension also promised in the 1990s.

Finally the letter speaking for the 3.6 million people say they are “reasonable and extremely pragmatic people” quite happy to accept a fast buck settlement of few quid to end this dispute. This is not reflected in the comments I receive on this site.. People are livid, angry, despairing of politicians and feel deliberately cheated by the Establishment of what they see rightly as their dues. They are fed up about being thought to be a soft touch just because they are older women. They are prepared to take on the government and refuse to vote for any politician determined to deprive them of their lost pensions.

New petition on Guaranteed Minimum Pensions

Meanwhile a Parliamentary petition has been tabled by Chris Thompson, a retired pensions expert, to restore indexation for a guaranteed minimum state pension for people outside the public sector.

“I want the Government to change the law to reinstate uprating of state pensions in respect of contracted out occupational pensions known as Guaranteed Minimum Pensions (GMP).

“I believe it is not fair that the DWP ceased to uprate state pensions in respect of certain pension entitlements when the new state pension was introduced. I believe this with done without adequate consultation or notice, and should be reversed. “Sign this petition

This followed a victory for two people after they complained of maladministration ( sounds familiar) by the DWP in not informing them of the change depriving them of indexation when the new pension came into force. The Ombudsman laid down what the DWP should to inform people of their rights, but the DWP has not followed this through properly and refused to engaged with anyone. Over a lifetime this could be worth thousands of pounds of lost pensions – and I urge 50swomen to sign this to put more pressure on the DWP. You might be entitled to extra compensation as well as your claim for your lost pensions.

Finally I don’t like to be the harbinger of bad news -but the total disaster of Liz Truss’s government – means we are now going to be faced with a further two years of austerity after she wrecked the British economy.

Sadly this will mean that the government will be extremely reluctant to compensate other people on top of subsidising people’s energy bills and introducing measures to balance the books. I see Angela Madden has managed to get a meeting with former Tory leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt, the current leader of the Commons, who appears to be involved in a plot to topple Truss with Rishi Sunak. The trouble is it is the DWP who are the ministry who will decide this – and they have just been asked by Jeremy Hunt to impose more cuts on top of long term savings to sack 91,000 civil servants across Whitehall. I can’t see them having any interest in settling this at the moment.

One bright spot will be a report by Australian judge Jocelynne Scutt is expected to pull together all the injustices in this case following the tribunal earlier this year. The report is imminent.

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That confidential Ombudsman’s report on 50swomen pensions summary in full: For the benefit of all WASPI members

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary Ombudsman

My reporting and coverage of the confidential provisional Parliamentary Ombudsman’s Report into the maladministration has caused considerable controversy particularly among the people at the top of Waspi. People who follow me on Backto60 have been very grateful for keeping them informed. People on Waspi have objected to me publishing it at all and have kept their members in the dark about its contents. Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, is constrained by law from publishing it while his investigation continues. People at the top of Waspi have accused me of only publishing snippets which undermine Waspi’s case.

To dispel any doubts here is the full summary of his findings (the report is 298 paragraphs long) – though there is a link in a comment on my previous blog to the full report in the comments section. You can see the Ombudsman makes it clear that maladministration over a 28 month period ” caused complainants unnecessary stress and anxiety and meant an opportunity to lessen their distress was lost.  For some complainants, it also caused unnecessary worry and confusion.” But it rejects that ” this maladministration led to the financial losses complainants claim.”

In other words it has no intention of compensating people who have lost up to £50,000 through the changes or anywhere near this. Need I say more. Here is the summary.

Provisional views

Reference: SPA (stage 2) Complained about:           Department for Work and Pensions                           Independent Case Examiner

The issues we are considering and our provisional views

  1. In July 2021 we issued the report for stage one of our investigation into complaints about the adequacy of DWP’s communication of changes to State Pension age, and associated issues.  We found that maladministration led to a delay in DWP writing directly to women about changes to their State Pension age. 
  • We are now working on stage two of our investigation.  This stage is considering complaints about:
  • DWP’s communication of changes to the number of qualifying years National Insurance contributions required for a full State Pension
    • DWP’s complaint handling
    • the Independent Case Examiner’s (ICE’s) handling of complaints about DWP’s communication of State Pension age changes.  
  • It is also considering the impact of any failings by DWP and ICE, including the injustice arising from the maladministration identified during stage one of our investigation.   
  • This document sets out:
  • a summary of our provisional views
    • the evidence we are considering
    • our analysis so far of DWP’s communication of changes to National

Insurance qualifying years, including o background 

  • what should have happened – the relevant standards 
    • what did happen o our provisional views
    • our analysis so far of DWP’s and ICE’s complaint handling, including o what should have happened – the relevant standards
      • what did happen o our provisional views

our analysis so far of injustice

Summary of our provisional views

  • The evidence we have seen so far suggests timely and accurate information was available about the change in eligibility criteria for a State Pension, including how someone’s National Insurance record links to how much State Pension they can claim once they reach State Pension age.  Research showed the majority of people knew about the changes.
  • However, research also showed that too many people did not understand their own situations and how State Pension reform affected them.  The gap between awareness and understanding was highlighted by the Work and Pensions Committee and the National Audit Office. DWP does not appear to have used research and feedback to improve its service and performance.  In this respect, DWP does not seem to have demonstrated principles of good administration.  We think that was maladministration. However, we do not think this maladministration led to the financial losses complainants claim.
  • Before 2016, people built up ‘qualifying years’ towards a Basic State Pension by paying National Insurance or through, for example, receiving benefits credits towards their National Insurance record.  Some people paid National Insurance to build up entitlement to an earnings-related State Pension on top of the Basic State Pension.  The earnings-related State Pension was called the Additional State Pension.  
  • Not everyone paid National Insurance towards the Additional State Pension.  Some people who joined personal or occupational pension schemes ‘contracted out’ of the Additional State Pension when they joined those schemes. While they continued to build up qualifying years for a Basic State Pension, they gave up their entitlement to the Additional State Pension. So, a person who had always contracted out would have been entitled to the Basic State Pension and their personal or occupational pension when they reached State Pension age, instead of being entitled to the Basic State Pension and Additional State Pension.
  • From April 2016, the new State Pension replaced the Basic State Pension and the Additional State Pension.  The full rate of the new State Pension is higher than the full rate of the old Basic State Pension.  People who were contracted out of the Additional State Pension before April 2016 but have reached or will reach State Pension age after April 2016 may not be eligible for the full rate of new State Pension.  A ‘contracted out deduction’ is made when calculating their starting amount of new State Pension to reflect the fact they contributed less into the National Insurance system in return for a personal or occupational pension. 
  1. Transitional arrangements introduced with the new State Pension mean that none of the complainants – or people like them – will get less State Pension under the ‘new’ rules introduced in April 2016 than they would have got under the ‘old’ ones.  DWP compares what they would have been entitled to under the old system and what they are entitled to under the new system, and they get the higher of these amounts.  The transitional arrangements also allow them to do things to add to their starting amount of new State Pension if it is lower than the full rate.  Having considered the complainants’ individual circumstances, we do not think they have lost any opportunities to add to their starting amount. 
  1. We also do not think maladministration in DWP’s communication of changes to State Pension age more likely than not led to all the financial, health, domestic and emotional consequences complainants claim. Complainants told us they made choices they would not have made if they had known their State Pension age had changed, and described the financial, family and health consequences those choices have had.  However, some of their choices had already been made by the time DWP should have written to them about changes resulting from the 1995 Pensions Act.  We do not think women lost opportunities to make different decisions, if those decisions had already been made by the time DWP should have written to them.
  1. However, we think an additional 28 months’ notice would have given complainants opportunities to consider, for example, saving, looking for work or changing job.  While there is too much we cannot now know for us to be able say what would have happened, it seems that some women are left not knowing whether they could have been in a different financial position, and whether they could have avoided the health and emotional consequences they claim.  We think that not knowing is an injustice resulting from maladministration in DWP’s communication about State Pension age.
  1. We also think the anger and outrage complainants feel about not having as much notice of their State Pension age as they should have, could have been avoided if DWP had written to them when it should have.  Their sense of anger and outrage is a further injustice resulting from maladministration in DWP’s communication about State Pension age.
  1. We think some aspects of DWP’s complaint handling reflected applicable standards.  But, DWP does not appear to have adequately investigated or responded to the complaints it was considering, or avoided unnecessary delay.  In these respects, DWP does not seem to have demonstrated principles of good complaint handling.  We think that was also maladministration. 
  1. We think maladministration in DWP’s complaint handling caused complainants unnecessary stress and anxiety and meant an opportunity to lessen their distress was lost.  For some complainants, it also caused unnecessary worry and confusion.
  1. We think ICE’s complaint handling reflected applicable standards and guidance.  ICE appears to have acted within the scope of its remit, which is set out in its contract with DWP. We note, however, our view that the contract meant ICE could not address complainants’ key concern that they did not have as much personal notice of changes to their State Pension age as they should have.
  1. Finally, we think ICE should have said that it could not determine whether or not DWP had written to individual complainants who said they had never received a letter about their State Pension age, instead of telling them it was more likely than not they had been sent a letter.  But even if ICE had appropriately balanced the evidence in this way, we do not think the shortcoming in its handling of this issue was significant enough to be a failure to ‘get it right’.

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Labour Conference: WASPI promise £10,000 minimum compensation for 3.6 million women pensioners but nobody is negotiating with them

WASPI held a fringe meeting at the Labour conference in Liverpool this week. The organisation is campaigning to end women’s state pension equality and wants women born in the 1950s s to be compensated for them failure of the government to properly inform them of the effects of the six year delay from 60 to 66 in raising their pension age.

The meeting offered a great selection of Canapés-including dairy free ones for not a very big audience of 50 people- but I doubt anyone left any wiser on what would happen next. It took place with a running total banner showing over 203,573 of the women had died and the Treasury had saved over £3.1 billion by these deaths

Baroness Glenys Thornton the main guest pic credit Chris McAndrew

The meeting began with a statement from Angela Madden but it was difficult to hear her clearly at the back of the room because of the acoustics and early on the organisers asked her to speak up. My understanding at the beginning was that she was talking about six million women which would cover those born in the 1950s and 1960s.

But after another journalist who was reporting the meeting and some people from Waspi say compensation was only for the3.6 million people I have amended my earlier report. I have received no statement from her only some coverage from Waspi members who object to my coverage revealing the contents of the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s second provisional report wh ich looks at the case for compensation for partial maladministration.

Angela Madden, Waspi’s campaign leader did put a figure on compensation for the pensioners for a one off payment -from £10,000 to £20,000 at a cost of £40 billion to £50 billion.

She told the audience that WASPI was still proceeding with a case with the Parliamentary Ombudsman to get compensation. But even with the support of the All Party Parliamentary Group for state pension inequality the maximum would be £10,000.

She gave the audience a very heavily edited version of the Ombudsman’s position saying he backed maladministration which boosted their case.

WASPI economical with the truth

In fact this was being very economic with the truth. The Ombudsman’s published first report backed only partial maladministration which would automatically reduce compensation and was never challenged by Waspi. She made no reference to the second unpublished report which reduces compensation even further by saying people do not need to be compensated for financial loss only worry and confusion. And she made no reference to WASPI’s investigation into the alleged decision of the DWP’s Independent Case Examiner to destroy 2500 of the letters from complainants about their pension delay. You can read the still confidential report and the scandal at ICE on this site.

Worse she disclosed that Waspi had tried to meet government ministers to press their case but ministers would not even see them.

Labour were more diplomatic since the main speaker at the fringe was Baroness Glenys Thornton, the Lords shadow equalities minister. She repeated that Keir Starmer was sympathetic and wanted to compensate the women. But when it came to a £50 billion price tag she was not going to commit to that. Afterwards she told me she had to be “very cautious” in mentioning any sum at all.

She was much stronger on the plight of cold pensioners failing to keep warm during the present cost of living crisis and gave some advice on how campaigners could raise issues. This does seem to suggest that the pre 2019 election £60 billion compensation package promised by John McDonnell, Labour’s former shadow chancellor, is being quietly dropped.

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Adding Insult to Injury: How another regulator dumped on 50swomen pensions complaints

Joanna Wallace, Independent Case Examiner for the DWP Pic Credit: Ombudsman Association

This is Joanna Wallace. She is the Independent Case Examiner for the Department for Work and Pensions.

Her latest annual report for 2020-21 – the one for the last financial year has not yet been published promises “a free independent complaints review service for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and their contracted services “. It says it will “act as an independent adjudicator if a complainant considers that they have not been treated fairly or have not had their complaints dealt with in a satisfactory manner; and to support service improvements by providing constructive comment and meaningful recommendations.”

Her report also boasts “To deliver a first rate service provided by professional staff.”

For its handling of 50swomen pension complaints it has provided nothing of the sort. To investigate this I have drawn on the findings of the confidential Parliamentary Ombudsman’s second report into maladministration over the delay in the payment of women’s pensions. There has also been an alleged development that suggests that she has destroyed all the evidence submitted by complainants.

For a start its claim to be independent is questionable. It works under a contract set by the DWP and has to apply DWP rules set by ministers in Parliamentary legislation. It has no independent web address using the dwp one. It is based in Bootle round the corner from Liverpool jobcentre and in the same road as the Health and Safety Executive.

But more serious is its record. In 2020-21 4,205 people complained to it about the DWP everything from pensions, universal credit, disability benefits to child maintenance. Of these nearly 3000 were rejected without any investigation and only 146 of the remaining 1013 cases were fully upheld. Another 338 were partial upheld and 350 were rejected. A number of others fell by the wayside.

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary Ombudsman

So it is perhaps not surprising that 50swomen would be given short shrift by Ms Wallace. The Ombudsman’s report about their handling of the women’s complaints is very revealing. The report says:

“ICE told us it received ‘an unprecedented volume’ of complaints about DWP’s communication about State Pension age, and it received no additional resources to deal with them. ” In other words the DWP made doubly sure it did not have the money to properly investigate

The report said; ” the vast majority of complainants used a standard template. ICE selected a ‘lead case’ (one of our sample complainant’s complaints) for investigation and then applied its findings in that case to each of the cases it investigated.” In other words just one complainant was examined in detail and its findings applied to the rest. Altogether 192 were looked at, the remaining 2300 complaints were never examined once a judicial review was granted by the courts to look into the failure of the DWP’s actions and inequality of its policies towards 50swomen over this issue.

The complainants case fell at the first hurdle since ICE took as standard what the DWP later justified in the judicial review that the 1995 Pensions Act made no provision for it to tell anyone. Once the DWP took that view ICE had to abide by its contract with the DWP.

As the Ombudsman reports : “It found there was no requirement for DWP to inform women of changes to their State Pension age, and that DWP had no standards for communicating changes about State Pension.”

It concluded: “as DWP had not committed to communicating changes to State Pension age individually to those affected, and given that accurate information was available on request, DWP not notifying women personally from 1995 onwards did not amount to maladministration. “

Women complaining to ICE thought they were being treated as liars

What is worse is ICE’s attitude towards 50swomen who complained they had never received the letter

which some complainants saw as treating them as liars.

The Ombudsman reports: “ICE concluded that it was more likely than not letters had been sent to complainants, at the correct address,” citing when people were written to in 2012 – some 17 years after the legislation was passed.

The ombudsman reports: “DWP has no record of who it wrote to or when, meaning that information was never available to ICE.  So, there is not enough evidence to support ICE’s conclusion it was more likely than not DWP wrote to complainants who have said they never received a letter.  What ICE should have said in the circumstances is that it could not determine whether or not DWP sent letters to the individual complainants at the time it wrote to people in their age group. “

The Ombudsman then lets ICE off the hook by saying ,” we do not think the shortcomings in its handling of this issue were significant enough to be a failure to ‘get it right’ on this occasion.”  

There is one extraordinary allegation following this report which is being investigated by WASPI.

According to Kay Clarke, who is the founder member of 1950sWOW (Women of Wales)and beyond, co -founder PP4J & Cardiff WASPI, ICE have now admitted in a letter that it has destroyed all 2,500 records of complaints.

She told me: “I can give assurance that the letter exists and quite categorically affirm the facts.”

I have not seen the letter but I have contacted ICE for a comment about this. They have not replied nor even acknowledged the email I sent.

If this is the fact the combination of the DWP not recording who complained to them and ICE destroying all the evidence of their complaints will make it very difficult for any of the 50swomen to claim anything should eventually they be awarded compensation by the Ombudsman.

Yet another hurdle in this sorry saga has been put in place.

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Backto60 takes The Great Pension Robbery to the Edinburgh fringe

Backto60 brought their campaign for full restitution to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe over the Bank Holiday weekend with the help of two Scottish women actors and comedians.

For half an hour at Edinburgh’s St Andrews Square Sandra McNeely and Julie Coombe, who are well known on Scottish TV, tell the tough story of the fight for 3.8 million 50s born women to get full restitution for their lost pensions when successive governments increased the pension age from 60 to 66 with all the facts, interspersed with songs, poetry and jokes.

The no holds bar performance castigated everyone from George Osborne, the former Chancellor to Guy Opperman, the current pensions minister, and of course, Boris Johnson. It gave a really good synopsis of injustice facing this group of women ending with the sad fact that during the half hour performance two more women would have died without ever receiving their pension.

Sandra McNeely has appeared in the TV series, Taggart, Happy Hollidays, Scot Squad, and the drama Ashes available on Amazon Prime.

Julie Coombe has appeared on TV in Hope Springs and on stage recently in Lena! and Hormonal Housewives.

Both are very supportive of the Backto60 campaign and gave pro bono performances with the aim of spreading the word to festival fringe audiences. You can watch the video above.

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