Exclusive: Parliamentary Ombudsman stalls maladministration investigation for 3.8 million 50s women denied pensions

Robert Behrens, Parliamentary Ombudsman

Robert Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, has halted his maladministration investigation until at least the end of next month leaving 3.8 million women who have delayed pensions having to wait even longer to find out whether he will recommend any compensation.

The women are all born in the 1950s who lost up to £50,000 each when their pension age was raised from 60 to 66 and were not properly informed by the Department for Work and Pensions. The Ombudsman found that for 28 months from 2005 they were victims of maladministration. This is contested by many of the women who believe that from 1997 when Peter Lilley was social security secretary and advised by his civil servants to launch a campaign to alert women what was to happen in 2010 so they could prepare for it. He ignored that and numerous women have told me they were not aware of the change then. The Ombudsman has refused to re-open the first stage of his investigation to look at this again.

Disclosure buried half way through updated website statement

The disclosure of the latest delay is buried half way through an update on the situation on the Ombudsman’s website published on February 18. The link to it is here.

The key words are:

“It is not possible to say how long it will take to reach a conclusion. How long an investigation takes varies depending on its complexity and the amount of evidence to review.

We have asked DWP to send us further evidence by the end of March 2022. We cannot progress stage two of the investigation without that evidence.” ( my emphasis)”

This statement was news to the six original complainants and many other women who assumed that the second stage of the inquiry – whether any of the women are entitled to compensation for this injustice – who assumed that the inquiry which has taken years was proceeding however slowly not that it had been halted.

In fact the whole situation surrounding this part of the Ombudsman’s inquiry is rather suspect. There is not supposed to be the need for more evidence so what have the DWP to provide.

The inquiry has also taken fresh evidence from Mps on the 50s Women State Pension Inequality APPG arguing that the Ombudsman should get a minimum of £10,000 each. Their submission goes over ground already covered by complaints from the original six women who raised the issue.

On top of that it appears that Waspi Ltd and the Pension Reform Alliance are trying to dictate the agenda and exclude any argument for full restitution for 50s women. Some of their members have argued that even if full restitution is mentioned they won’t get any compensation at all.

Some 60 MPs have now backed a Parliamentary motion by Labour MP Ian Byrne calling for full restitution which is the position of BackTo60 and ” We Paid In You Pay Out ” women’s justice group. Some of the MPs who backed this are said to have had calls from Waspi groups asking them to withdraw their names as they told them they didn’t want full restitution.

While all this is going on there is another issue of whether and when the DWP will reply to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is relying on outdated legislation to handle this case and he cannot compel the DWP to reply by the end of next month.

DWP ignored deadlines in previous cases

The DWP has ignored deadlines set by the Parliamentary Ombudsman in previous pension issues. The most notable was a case over compensation for people who had not been properly informed that they would lose their index related guaranteed minimum pension if they worked in the private sector.

Robert Behrens gave the DWP three months to arrange notices for people to apply for compensation after he ruled that two complainants were entitled to it.. The DWP ignored the Ombudsman and TOOK NEARLY TWO YEARS before doing anything about it. The ministry also ignored his proposals for a remedy.

I have asked the DWP whether they will reply by the end of next month but have had no response to my question.

Instead they issued this statement:

“The Government decided over 25 years ago that it was going to make the state pension age the same for men and women as a long-overdue move towards gender equality.

“Both the High Court and Court of Appeal have supported the actions of the DWP, under successive governments dating back to 1995, and the Supreme Court refused the claimants permission to appeal.”

Back to 60 came back last night criticising the statement saying that their arguments for a judicial review were granted at the time and the Supreme Court used the argument that their case was ” out of time” for the court to hear it -not that the original arguments were wrong or else the judicial review would never have been granted in the first place.

The DWP is understood to feel it is inappropriate to comment further while the Ombudsman is investigating.

All this is yet another blow for these badly treated women who may still have to wait years before they see any money. Indeed by then the Ombudsman will have left. Under the outdated legislation the Ombudsman should retire from his post at the end of next month. But the government appear to have extended his term in office for another two years against what is laid down in the 1967 legislation.

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Exclusive: Don’t call us, we’ll call you – the shambles inside the DWP as it struggles to cope with the pension underpayment crisis

Internal documents and screenshots reveal staff instructed to halt calls from worried pensioners and avoid complex cases to boost numbers

The Department for Work and Pensions is telling the public that it has set up well trained specialist teams to pay out up to £1 billion owed to at least 135,000 pensioners after huge underpayments were uncovered.

The real picture is one of overworked staff desperately trying to calculate with outdated computers how much money people will get while creating a knock on effect for new people applying for their first pension.

Now documents and screen shots seen by this blog reveal that staff have been instructed to ” close calls” from pensioners if they don’t fit the profile and even drop investigating complex claims for simpler ones to artificially boost the number being helped.

A new telephone message has been put on the pension helpline telling people NOT to call them and wait to be contacted instead. ” please be patient as this may take us some time.” Sometime in the worst case scenario could be December 2023. And for people who may not have long to live that is bad news. Note also it blames media coverage for the volume of calls.

Document showing the telephone message
Document showing when staff are instructed to end the call. But if someone insists they want to give them the information they have to take it down. It also shows that none of the staff can tell people hen they will get an answer and they are told not to call back. At least the ministry admits it has a large volume of calls.

Yesterday the Department launched from Newcastle-upon-Tyne its SP [state pension] Challenge – a slick management exercise to try and instill team work among thousands of staff who are trying to cope.

Screenshot showing management in difficulty with old computers in tracing pension cases

However some of the screenshots reveal how management haven’t necessary got all the information because of outdated computers.

Probably the worst example of the problems they face is the ” drop and go ” policy – where staff to boost numbers are told to abandon the case and find another simpler one. This was used during the challenge yesterday.

How they were prioritising “easy” cases to build up numbers

The official response which I got before I saw these documents is:

“Resolving the historical State Pension underpayments that have been made by successive governments is a priority for the Department and we are committed to doing so as quickly as possible.

“We have set up a dedicated team and devoted significant resources to processing outstanding cases, and have introduced new quality control processes and improved training to help ensure this does not happen again. Those affected will be contacted by us to ensure they receive all that they are owed.”

The DWP will have to respond soon to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee which has already called out the whole process as a shambles. It will make interesting reading to see how top officials and ministers spin their replies. Whatever they say the situation can’t be good if the ministry continues to emphasise it doesn’t want people to ring them.

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Exclusive: The great DWP rip off – Not one person out of a potential 11 million has won compensation for losing thousands of pounds of extra pension

Peter Schofield, DWP permanent secretary Pic credit: gov.uk

Those who follow my blog may remember I have been highlighting a horrendously complicated story of the plight of people who contracted out of SERPS but were told they would receive an index linked guaranteed minimum pension. This arrangement was scrapped when the new state pension was introduced in 2016 for anyone in the private sector – but remains for public sector workers.

This decision was never debated in Parliament or included in the Pensions White Paper and has meant the government got away with not paying out anything from a £1000 to tens of thousands of pounds over the lifetime of their pension, depending on how long they were contracted out by their employer from the old SERPS scheme. The numbers could be as high as 11 million and women would be the worst affected.

Rob Behrens Parliamentary Ombudsman

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Robert Behrens, was asked to investigate and concluded that there had been maladministration and two people shared £1250 compensation. Unlike the row over the 50s and 60s born women who lost out by not being informed by the government over the rise in their pension age, no record exists, as far as I can find out, of the ministry repealing this provision in the 2014 Pensions Act.

In September 2019 the Ombudsman gave the ministry three months to sort out this issue. He asked the ministry to “review and report back on to us on the learning from this investigation, including action being taken to ensure that affected individuals receive appropriate communication from the DWP about their state pensions. “

The DWP ignored the Ombudsman’s request and only last August -in the middle of the summer recess – put up a fact sheet to inform people. There is no reference to the Ombudsman’s report, and the fact that people could be entitled to compensation. There is no mechanism for people to apply for the compensation and the notice was not even accompanied by a press release. The figures used to say how much people underplayed what people lost. And the Ombudsman wimped out of pressing the government to do anything.

Stephen Timms MP, took up the case and sought answers from the DWP

Now this month the results of these devious ploys have been revealed in a letter to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee after Stephen Timms, its chairman, took up their cause.

Not ONE person in the UK has received any compensation and only four people have written to the Department about it. None of the four were entitled to extra money. Given the deliberately obscure way the fact sheet was constructed and the lack of a mechanism to apply for compensation – it is hardly surprising. The Department is also insisting that these people are better off- because the triple now double lock – has given them more money. But that is a universal payment and pales into insignificance when you think of thousands of pounds many of the people have lost.

I expect Therese Coffey, the Secretary of State and Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, were probably holding a joint celebratory karaoke session in their offices – as they had avoided paying out an extra penny to the people they had deprived of compensation.

Therese Coffey, Secretary of State Pic credit: Twitter

The level of deception was heinous given that Chris Thompson, a reader who has enormous knowledge about GMP, had put in a freedom of information request to find out how many people had contacted the DWP to request compensation. He was told it was ” too expensive ” to give him the information. What mendacity by officials, how expensive is it to tell them that nobody got it and just four applied.

This sorry tale bodes ill for the 50swomen who are fighting for compensation for a similar pension maladministration – it is obvious that officials and ministers in this case have perfected a procedure to be as obscure as possible and not create any mechanism to claim compensation. Also they can’t rely on the Ombudsman to stick by them – in this case he wimped out and didn’t even hold the DWP to the fire to do what he asked them.

This is yet another example of a ministry that has no interest in justice and can rely on bamboozling the public and fake excuses for not replying to freedom of information requests.

Peter Schofield, permanent secretary at the DWP, has promised a review of the fact sheet now. I am not holding my breath.

The letter – the horrendous disclosure is at the bottom

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Treasury to save hundreds of millions as DWP scheme to help the young get jobs misses target

This blog often criticises the Department of Work and Pensions for its treatment of pensioners and the disabled. The ministry often responds by saying it is balancing this by helping young people. So how well is it doing on that front?

Not very well according to a National Audit Office report published today. It looks into the running of the Kickstart programme – a jobs programme aimed to take young people aged 16 to 24 off Universal Credit and into work. It has the laudable aim of getting the most unemployable youngsters into a job and off benefit.

Launched in September last year with the aim of helping 250,000 young people and employers get £1500 a person to help them run the scheme and pay the young the minimum wage. Some £1.9 billion was allocated by the Treasury to do the job.

The target was to reach this number by the end of this year. Instead the NAO reveals it has been extended to next March and will only help 168,000 of them. The target was hindered by the double whammy of the pandemic. As the report said; ” Repeated lockdowns meant many of the young people who started to claim Universal Credit at the start of the pandemic were on Universal Credit for over a year before the scheme could get going at scale. As the programme did begin to scale up, the economy was reopening, which increased the risk of government subsidising jobs that would have been created anyway. “

The government’s logo for the scheme

Indeed this was not the only target missed. It was aimed at whose who would find it difficult to get jobs, yet anybody aged 16 to 24 could get a place. The ministry didn’t evaluate what sort of jobs the young people got and whether it was good value for money . It didn’t entirely help the ” levelling up ” process either. The largest number of jobs created were in central London though including poor boroughs like Tower Hamlets and Lambeth. One area in the North East did get a good share but job offers were sparse in rural areas notably Lincolnshire, Cumbria, Norfolk, Powys and the Scottish borders.

The largest number of jobs offered were in admin, the desperate hospitality sector and the retail trade. The lowest number of placements were with law firms, transport operators, animal welfare and beauty treatments.

Firms caught cheating the young

Where company checks were made by local DWP managers there was a disturbing number of firms caught cheating the young by not paying them or putting their health and safety at risk. The report found “As at 20 October 2021, the Department had made 30 decisions to cap an employer or Gateway’s grant, [ limit the numbers a firm could employ]and 165 further decisions to end a grant agreement, including 105 decisions to remove an employer from a grant agreement with a Gateway.”

The DWP did not investigate whether the jobs would be filled anyway without the scheme either.

The result is that by no means all the £1.9 billion allocated by the Treasury will be spent and it is not known whether the rest has been spent wisely.

To be fair to DWP staff the report says the work coaches employed to help young people were enthusiastic about getting young people into work. It notes one or two individual successes including a young person with a criminal record and a drugs problem, getting a job and another unconfident young person getting an enjoyable job..

The report said: “When a Kickstart vacancy in dog daycare came up they wanted to apply, but lacked confidence in their application. Following discussion with their work coach they volunteered for an online course on animal care, after which they were successful in their job interview. Their work coach reports they are really enjoying their job, and would not have succeeded in getting it without Kickstart.”
The NAO praises the DWP for getting the Kickstart programmer off the ground but is not happy aboujt the evaluation of the project by the ministry.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said:

“At the start of the pandemic, DWP acted quickly to set up Kickstart to help young people into work when youth unemployment was predicted to rise significantly.

“However, DWP has limited assurance that Kickstart is having the positive impact intended. It does not know whether the jobs created are of high quality or whether they would have existed without the scheme. It could also do more to ensure the scheme is targeted at those who need it the most.”

A similar view is expressed by Meg Hillier, the Labour chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

So once again a good idea is spoiled by a ministry that does not evaluate whether its programme – one of the most expensive run by the department costing around £7,000 per participant,- is doing its job.

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Exclusive: Benefits watchdog wants tougher punishment for jobless and disabled claimants after DWP bungles new sanctions system

New sanctions to be imposed in Jobcentres

From November 3 the Department for Work and Pensions introduced a new tough regime for people claiming the new Jobseekers Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance. They will like those already on Universal Credit have to sign up to a ” claimant commitment ” to undertake whatever work coaches at the DWP demand from them to get a job, Failure to do so leads to a rising number of financial penalties ultimately leading to the withdrawal of all benefits.

The new regulations like the ones dealing with domestic abuse should have been scrutinised by Parliament but the main body that vets them is the little known Social Security Advisory Committee,(SSAC) a watchdog which is expected to see whether the benefit regime is fair and equitable.

Minutes and correspondence released by SSAC show that it has been doing its job since September and is currently involved in discussing the new regulations with Mims Davies, the employment minister.

Mim Davies, Parliamentary undersecretary at the Department for Work and Pensions

But people might be surprised to know that SSAC’s main focus has been on increasing the penalties on claimants rather than reducing them.

The reason is that the watchdog spotted that the tabled regulations had a big loophole which, in their view, made them less effective. The hideously complicated benefit system means that there are people who claim both Universal Credit and Jobseekers Allowance or the Employment and Support Allowance. Where they claim both the new regulations say only one penalty can apply on Universal Credit alone – and the Jobseekers Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance remain untouched.

SSAC want the penalties to apply to both.

Dr Stephen Brien

Dr Stephen Brien, the chair of SSAC wrote to the minister: “in circumstances where the value of UC element of the benefit was lower than the sanctioned amount, the claimant would be in a more favourable position than a claimant solely in receipt of either UC or a new style benefit who would be impacted by the full force of the sanction. As it is possible that the UC element of a dual claim
could be zero, this presents a significant inconsistency.”

He went on: ” the Committee is of the strong view that this inconsistency be reviewed and addressed at the earliest opportunity.” The ministry went ahead with regulations as they stand and is still discussing what it should do while it looks at the effectiveness of the new sanctions.

Since the sanctions system depends on the views of the DWP work coach it looks like the fate of many claimants will decided by individual civil servants. Now it so happens that SSAC has done some serious work on the ” claimant commitment ” rules under Universal Credit which decide whether sanctions will be applied.

The report two years ago is a somewhat idealistic document which expects a parity of esteem between the civil servant handing out the sanction and a desperate claimant getting the benefit. It says the commitment should be accessible, clear, tailored to the claimant’s needs and the state of the local labour market, and agreed by both the claimant and the DWP. It also says claimants should be properly informed.

Real world not the same as the idealistic picture of claimant commitment

However in the real world SSAC found it was pretty mixed picture. It found some good practice but also examples of lone parents not being informed of their right to reduced work searches, re-assessment interviews lasting just ten minutes and “not all work coaches are using discretion fairly or reasonably and opt for generic, rather than tailored, actions. We saw examples of work coaches copying and pasting actions from a shared document which had become standard in their local Jobcentre.”

As usual the DWP itself didn’t seem to have an overall picture of what was happening as it couldn’t be bothered to put together a national picture. So it is rather strange that the present SSAC committee is concentrating on punitive measures. Or is it?

The present committee under Stephen Brien, who worked for Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Policy Studies and now works for the United Arab Emirates funded Legatum Institute is more inclined to want to correct inefficiency in the DWP than to take tough action over the welfare of claimants.

What is deeply worrying is that many claimants – particularly more elderly disabled claimants now looking for work in their 60s and suffering poor health could get some very harsh treatment. They might be lucky and get a really sympathetic work coach or they could be landed with a jobsworth or worse a power maniac who enjoys putting the disadvantaged down. Will SSAC be bothered? Documents referred to in this article can be found on the SSAC website here.

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Too expensive to tell you – the DWP cover up on whether they are really compensating millions who lost out on a Guaranteed Minimum Pension

The Department for Works and Pensions has compounded the big scandal over millions of people who are entitled to compensation for the ministry’s hidden decision to scrap an annual increase worth anything up to £27,000 over the lifetime of a pension for those, particularly women, who were contracted out of Serps by private companies.

Previous blogs highlighted this scandal after the Parliamentary Ombudsman ruled that there was maladministration in not telling millions of people that they would lose out when the new state pension was introduced in 2016. Only two people were compensated with sums of £500 and £750.

But the Ombudsman wimped out in enforcing the compensation for millions by allowing the DWP two years to take action to compensate people and then allowing them to create a factsheet which didn’t tell the full story.

Suspicious that the DWP was still avoiding to do anything a campaigner on this issue, Chris Thompson, put in a freedom of information request to the DWP to find out how many people have asked to be compensated,

The answer has now come back. The DWP said:

We can confirm that we hold information falling within the description specified in your request. However, we estimate that the cost of locating, retrieving and extracting the information for these requests, when aggregated, would exceed the appropriate limit of £600. The appropriate limit has been specified in regulations and for central Government it is set at £600. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3½ working days in determining whether the Department holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information.”

This was only asking about emails and letters the ministry had received since August 12 this year – a matter of a few weeks- it is rather suspicious if not laughable that this would take more than 3.5 days to find out. Surely the department would have a simple database to do a computer search.

Suspicion that nobody or few people have contacted the DWP

Mr Thompson suspects there is another reason.

” I think the reason the DWP don’t want to give me the information is that no one has contacted them or only a few which would show up by putting it on GOV.UK so that people only find out by happenchance which is not very satisfactory. For GOV UK to be a suitable way for people to find out about loss of GMP indexation then a majority of the 11 million people should see it. I wonder if they did any sort of assessment to find out how many people they thought  would find the fact sheet on the GOV.UK website.”

Again this bodes badly should the women born in the 1950s and 1960s achieve compensation for maladministration over the up to six year delay in receiving their pensions when the age was increased from 60 to 66. It sounds like the government won’t be very helpful in telling people how many were compensated.

However they may be another way to get hold of what is happening or rather what is not happening.

Stephen Timms MP to press DWP over numbers

Following some lobbying by Mr Thompson and myself Stephen Timms, the Labour chair of the Commons works and pensions committee, plans to tackle the government over this omission.

He has been promised a six month review by the ministry on how the use of the factsheet is working.

He told us that he intends to write to the ministry in December demanding that as part of the review they disclose how many people have applied for compensation.

This means whether they like it or not the DWP will have to spend some money and time finding out – unless they are going to tell Mr Timms that it is too expensive to do the exercise. We shall wait and see but for some of the people who don’t know they are entitled to this money – it could be a matter of life and death – as they may already be in bad health and could die before they realise.

Previous blogs on this:

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EXCLUSIVE: Half baked and half hearted: DWP’s help for women facing domestic abuse and violence

With the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer dominating the headlines by coincidence the government’s benefit watchdog this weekend released minutes of a meeting with officials from the Department for Work and Pensions on tackling domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse Pic credit: HelpGuide.org

The little known Social Security Advisory Committee was examining new regulations from the ministry due to come into law on payments and help for victims (usually women) of domestic abuse.

You might not think the DWP would have any role in domestic violence but actually it can help by removing benefit penalties and also open the door to money to improve security measures in a victim’s home.

The ministry must have been pretty tardy in doing anything about this as the reason for the new regulations stemmed from a government defeat at the European Court of Human Rights.

At the centre of this case was the much loathed ” bedroom tax ” where 14 per cent of your housing benefit payment can be clawed back if you have more bedrooms than you need.

Women who throw out an abusive partner or grown up member of the family could find themselves liable for this ” tax” if they want to stay in the family home. This regulation exempts them.

No relief from benefit penalties if you are pursued by a stalker

But as the committee found it is a pretty narrow concession. If you are being abused by a stranger or a stalker you can’t escape the penalty. The ministry has decided they are not ” family” even if they are being as violent or frightening as any member of the family.

And it only applies if you live a council house or flat – is you live in private rented accommodation you have to apply for a discretionary housing payment – and given it is discretionary you may not get it. And that applies whether it is family or a stalker.

That’s why I think the change is half hearted and half baked -designed to help a minimum number of people.

But the meeting also disclosed much more. To qualify for these payments and removal of penalties you have to enrol in a sanctuary scheme. This is service which can protect you in your home -by installing extra locks, fireproof letterboxes and in some cases a ” panic room” with a reinforced door where you can flee from attack from an abusive partner or intruder and call the police.

But guess what? The onus is on the claimant to find out about the sanctuary scheme – not on the Department to tell them about it. Just like the millions of 50swomen over their pensions and the millions of people opted out of SERPS who have lost out on a guaranteed minimum pension, the ministry is not bothered to ensure they know. Both of these issues led to rulings of ” maladministration” against the ministry by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Department for Work and Pensions hasn’t a clue

But it is even worse than that. The ministry hasn’t a clue how many people are in sanctuary schemes because there is no central record.

Only next year will local authorities have a duty to collect this information but otherwise it is being left to charities, the police and other bodies to tell claimants. The minutes say: “A number of ways to identify claimants in scope of the measure were attempted – requests were made to local authorities, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office – but the information is not available”

Details of the sanctuary scheme are here – it is aimed at charities.

Stephen Brien;:Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee

Such a situation has led the chair of the committee, Stephen Brien, to write to the DWP:

“Given the vulnerable situations of those affected, there is a compelling case for the Department to examine what options exist in terms of proactively identifying those potentially affected. This should be supplemented by a strong communications strategy that sets out clearly the criteria for this exemption, along with guidance on how to access it.”
“There is a risk that a number of claimants entitled to take advantage of this scheme, particularly those who have already benefitted from a sanctuary scheme security adaptation prior to these regulations coming into force, will be unaware of this change.

” A number of claimants will be unaware “-Stephen Brien

“Given the vulnerable situations within which this group finds itself, there is potential risk of harm should these claimants remain unaware of the support available to them resulting in their leaving a home where additional security has been installed.”

He also said the definition of who could escape the penalty was too narrow and should be extended to stalkers and that there was not enough being done to support people in private rented accommodation.

“The narrow focus adopted by the Department could lead to inconsistent treatment of people at risk of violence because their circumstances fall outside of those defined by the regulations.”

The SSAC has not formally objected to the new regulation but is seeking some improvements.

This seems to be yet another example of the ministry not informing people of their rights and in this case in an area where public concern has been heightened by the issue of male violence makes it doubly important that something is done. Will the DWP do it though?

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National Audit Office reveals DWP’s “almost inevitable” errors in calculating your pension as £1 billion is owed to 134,000 pensioners

Woman pensioner. pic credit: Which?

A highly critical National Audit Office report today exposes major shortcomings in the running of the country’s state pension system.

With some 12 million people relying on the Department for Work and Pensions to calculate their pension accurately the auditors reveal a sorry picture of outdated IT systems, civil servants reduced to making manual calculations and mistakes galore with no proper system to identify the errors in the first place.

The NAO investigation was triggered when former pensions minister Liberal Democrat Sir Steve Webb and Tanya Jefferies of ThisIsMoney.co.uk, last year started to refer a number of cases to the Department of women who had been underpaid. On 26 May 2020 Sir Steve published an estimate of the level of underpayments using the
information obtained from the Department combined with public information from the Family Resource Survey that at least 220,000 women had been underpaid including 131,000 married women, 56,000 widows and 35,000 divorcees.

90 per cent of the losers are women

Now the department has admitted that 134,000 people have indeed been given underpaid pensions and it will cost £1.053 billion to compensate them. This figures excludes those who have already died because the department wipes them from its records after four years

Once again 90 per cent of them are women, and only 10 per cent men.

What is particularly alarming is the summary in the report about the whole pensions system.

It says: ” The errors occurred because State Pension rules are complex, IT systems are outdated and unautomated, and the administration of claims requires a high degree of manual review and understanding by case workers. This makes some level of error in the processing of State Pension claims almost inevitable.

The Department’s caseworkers often failed to set (and later action) manual IT system prompts on pensioners’ files to review the payments at a later date, such as their spouse reaching State Pension Age or their 80th birthday. Caseworkers also often made errors when they did process prompts because frontline staff found instructions difficult to use and lacked training on complex cases.

Worse the department seem to have a top down approach to find out about errors – rather than a bottom up from the pensioners themselves who might challenge their pension awards. Therefore it never picks up a large volume of similar complaints.

Wrong assumption that there are no errors

As a result there always been the assumption – and it was taken until now by the National Audit Office- that there was virtually no fraud or error in the payment of the £100 billion plus to pensioners every year. This has now been proved wrong.

The ministry is recruiting 544 people – at a cost of £24.3 million – to chase up and pay out the money to people who have lost out. But it is going to take some two years to do this with priority being given to the over 80s and widows. It has no plan on how to compensate relatives of dead pensioners owed money- and the NAO think it should create one.

Meg Hillier MP

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said

“Many pensioners – most of whom are likely to be women – have been short-changed by thousands of pounds which they are still yet to receive many years later.

DWP must provide urgent redress to those affected and take real action to prevent similar errors in future.”

A DWP spokesperson said:

“We are fully committed to ensuring the historical errors that have been made by successive Governments are corrected, and as this report acknowledges, we’re dedicating significant resource to doing so. Anyone impacted will be contacted by us to ensure they receive all that they are owed.

“Since we became aware of this issue, we have introduced new quality control processes and improved training to help ensure this does not happen again.”

Fourth pensions scandal to hit DWP

However one must comment that this is the fourth scandal to hit the DWP over the payment of pensions and women are by far the worst treated. First we had the 3.8 million 50swomen not being properly informed about the raising the pension age which the Ombudsman has found there was maladministration. Then we had the complicated story of people losing their guaranteed minimum pension uprating which could affect 11 million people, mainly women. Again the Ombudsman found maladministration but only two people have been compensated. And now we are also having delays for people claiming their pension for the first time in getting paid.

Cynics might conclude the ministry is almost misogynist in its approach – and also all these delays is ensuring more people -particularly in the age of Covid- will be dead before they get the money that is owed to them.

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Whitehall’s rip off ministry: The DWP dodges paying compensation to millions of pensioners – and the Parliamentary Ombudsman lets it off

Department for Work and Pensions or Department for Deviousness and Dishonesty?

You may remember I wrote a long article on a decision taken by the Government to no longer provide an index linked guaranteed minimum pension to millions of pensioners when they new pension came into force. The blog is here.

This decision never debated in Parliament meant the government has got away with not paying out anything from a £1000 to tens of thousands of pounds over the lifetime of their pension, depending on how long they were contracted out by their employer from the old SERPS scheme. The numbers could be as high as 11 million.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Robert Behrens, was asked to investigate and came to the conclusion that there had been maladministration and two people shared £1250 compensation. Unlike the row over the 50s and 60s born women who lost out by not being informed by the government over the rise in their pension age, no record exists, as far as I can find out, of the ministry repealing this provision in the 2014 Pensions Act.

Steve Webb: Ducking responsibility

And the man responsible for piloting that legislation, Liberal Democrat minister Sir Steve Webb, while publicly championing millions of women pensioners who have been underpaid by the ministry, is strangely silent about this issue which is he must be responsible.

What has happened since has taken morality and standards in Whitehall to new depths and exposed a level of deviousness and dishonesty among civil servants and cowardice in the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s Office that fittingly goes with a government headed by a serial liar.

In September 2019 the Ombudsman gave the ministry three months to sort out this issue. His proposals were quite clear. He asked the ministry to “review and report back on to us on the learning from this investigation, including action being taken to ensure that affected individuals receive appropriate communication from the DWP about their state pensions.

“ln particular, the DWP should ensure that their literature clearly and appropriately references that some individuals, who have large GMPs and reach State Pension Age in the early years of the new State Pension, may be negativity affected by the changes. The DWP should advise individuals to check their circumstances, and should provide instructions for how to do this;”

Sweet nothing happened

So what happened? Sweet nothing. The DWP ignored the deadline and then produced a factsheet which I know from correspondence the Ombudsman clearly felt did not fit the bill. But after one attempt to get this changed the Ombudsman dumped the issue and wimped out of getting the ministry to implement their recommendations.

Their press office told me: “

“We closed this case in November 2020 after working with the Department for Work and Pensions on compliance. At this point we referred the case to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, to oversee DWP’s ongoing work in this area. They will hold the Department to account on the actions it has agreed to take.

Actually the communication got lost and the committee knew nothing of this to the following April.

The DWP to cover its back claimed when challenged said:

“Working with the Ombudsman, we have now published information on gov.uk about this complex policy area and welcome anyone who wants to know how they have been affected by the policy change to contact us.

“Publishing this factsheet is the final step in the DWP meeting the requirements of the PHSO findings in relation to the way the GMP indexation policy change was communicated.”

It turns out that the Ombudsman agreed to this tardy response.

23 month delay

What finally happened was on August 12 in the middle of the Parliamentary recess, the department 23 months after being asked put out a publication notice amending its guidelines. The link is here.

I can’t imagine a more devious method about informing people and Parliament about this – in the middle of the August holiday. It is designed not to be seen.

Furthermore it does not comply with the recommendations which is why I say it is dishonest. There is no reference as you will see to the Ombudsman’s report, and the fact that people could be entitled to compensation. There is no mechanism for people to apply for the compensation and the notice was not even accompanied by a press release.

The losses are considerable for some people – about £27,000 for some women over the lifetime of their pension – but the information does not spell that out properly. Indeed all the DWP had to do was copy and paste as I have – a table from the Government’s Actuary Department ( at the bottom of this blog) which provided an ” oven ready ” guide to the losses.

Pathetic consultation using ignoramuses

A pathetic consultation process was held by the DWP – where they sought out the most ignorant people about pensions to comment- and only found seven out of 40 who agreed.. We only know this because the Commons Works and Pensions Committee published the details – the ministry itself has not published it.

There are probably millions of people who should at least get £500 in compensation but Therese Coffey, the secretary of state, is determined that nobody should know about it. It does not bode well for the 50s and 60s born women over their pensions compensation. She has already said the Labour Party should compensate the women not the taxpayer.

Bad news for fighting Climate Change: How Whitehall bungled first Green home insulation scheme

Sarah Munby, permanent secretary, BEIS, clearly not to up to the job over this

In a few weeks time Britain will be playing a pivotal role by hosting the Cop 26 international climate change conference in Glasgow.

Tight targets are going to be set which if not met will mean even more dramatic weather catastrophes than we are seeing now as the planet warms up.

So is Whitehall up to the job? If one takes the first example of action to save energy the answer is a resounding no.

A damning National Audit Office reveals an extraordinary poor performance by BEIS – the business and energy ministry – in getting 600,000 homes – mainly owned by low income families updated with new home insulation to cut their fuel bills and save energy.

The Treasury had earmarked £1.5 billion. The ministry ended up spending only £314 million. Its 600,000 homes target was missed by over 550,000. The administration costs were astronomical – for a scheme that provided grants of up to £5000 or £10,000 for low income income families – it cost over £1000 per house. Instead of of 600,000 saving up to £600 a year in fuel bills – only 47,500 will benefit.

And it should have provided a much needed job boost providing work for 82,500 people during a time when work was in short supply Instead it created just 5,600 jobs before the scheme was closed down last March.

Worse still both customers and contractors were badly treated. Delays paying contractors and customers getting their vouchers led to over 3000 complaints.

Why Sarah Munby is to blame for this fiasco

Who is to blame for such a mess? The answer must lie with the permanent secretary, Sarah Mundy. She is supposed to be this new business friendly appointment bought into government by the Tories to shake up Whitehall. Her biog on the gov.uk website said: “Sarah joined BEIS in July 2019 as Director General, Business Sectors. Before that, Sarah worked at Mckinsey, where she led their Strategy and Corporate Finance practice in the UK and Ireland.

“She has worked with some of the UK’s largest companies to change their strategic direction, and led much of McKinsey’s work on productivity across the UK economy.”

But she in no way lived up to her billing. To be fair HM Treasury gave the Department an over-ambitious 12-week timescale to design the scheme, consult with stakeholders and procure an administrator.

This came at a time when the Department was supporting vaccine procurement, and undertaking activities related to EU Exit. The Department accepted that delivering the scheme within this timescale posed a high risk, but judged it was justified by the need to support businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A US global company’s cheapskate bid

But it is at the back of the NAO report that her real failings show up. She was obviously entranced by business to use a new state of the art digital voucher system and gave the contract to ICF, a US global consulting and technology company, based in Fairfax, Virginia. The report reveals they put in a cheapskate bid. Their technology was not up to the job as shown by repeated reviews of failures in the digital voucher scheme. This led to the scheme having to managed manually- which is why it cost £1000 per house.

The NAO said: “ICF’s proposed costs for the development of the digital solution were less than half that of the second cheapest bidder, triggering the need for a review under government contracting guidance. The Cabinet Office review concluded there was not enough information within the bids to understand specific costs, and thus whether any adjustment should be made for a low bid.”

But it came back to Sarah Munby. She ignored the Cabinet Office. Having chosen the contractor she was then warned by every single contractor asked to undertake the work that it couldn’t be done in time. But she still went ahead.

Whitehall sceptics ignored

And the same came from inside Whitehall. The Department presented the Scheme’s full business case to its Project and Investment Committee on the 28 September, ahead of the Scheme’s final approval for launch on 30 September last year. The Committee decided not to approve the full business case, raising concerns that the digital systems for the Scheme were not yet fully developed and tested. They were right but still she ignored them and went ahead. Within six months it had to be abandoned and it is largely her fault. As a result hundreds of thousands low income families have lost the chance of cutting their energy bills this winter.

One can only agree with the verdict of Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

“The Green Homes Grant scheme was set up to fail, with an undeliverable timetable and overly complex design which took little account of supplier and homeowners’ needs….

Government cannot hope to achieve its net zero ambitions if it doesn’t learn the lessons from this botched scheme.”