Permission granted: 50s Women win historic case to judicial review on pension rights

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50s women dancing in front of the Royal Court of Justice after the judge granted their request for a judicial review

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A High Court judge  yesterday gave the Back To 60 campaign permission to bring a judicial review against the Department for Work and Pensions over the raising of the pension age  for 3.8 million women born in the 1950s.

The Hon Ms Justice Lang – who is also known as Dame Beverley Ann Macnaughton Lang – ruled in favour of all the issues raised by barristers Catherine Rayner and Michael Mansfield on behalf of the women.

The ruling by the 63 year old judge obviously stunned the Department of Work and Pensions whose barrister, Julian Milford, asked for  66 days ( instead of the normal 14 days)  to prepare a fresh case against Back To 60. They were granted 42 days.

The  ruling means that a future  hearing BackTo60 have the right to argue their case that the government’s decision which affected the 3.8 million  women was both  a matter of  gender and age discrimination. In addition they can argue that the total failure of successive governments to review the arrangements to look at the hardship faced by many of the people made  matters worse.

As is stated on the lawyer chambers site:

” the taper mechanism used to raise the date on which women receive state pension, in combination with a failure to properly inform women of the changes was unlawful because it discriminates on grounds of sex, age and sex combined and age.”

Catherine Rayner told the judge that there had been no fewer than 60 changes to the date  when a 50s woman could get a pension  and that the main driving force for the government was to save money. She said the equivalent of £5.3billion had been taken from this group of women. She described it as an ” historic inequality ” which was made worse by the lack of knowledge among the women themselves  because the government never informed them directly about the changes.

Julian Milford for the DWP, admitted that this was part of a cost saving for the government but also said it was about equalising the pension age between men and women.

He argued that there should be no judicial review of this because it was about primary legislation which had been widely debated in Parliament in 1995 and it was far too late to call it into question.

He also argued that a ruling by the European Court  of Human Rights which meant that pensioners who had retired to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were not entitled to uprated pensions meant that the women had no case to ask for a judicial review about changing their pensions.

Both these points were rejected by the judge who said that even though the act was passed 23 years ago the fact that its impact was causing problems for the women now meant  the review could go ahead.

The government also revealed that the private pensions industry is  uneasy about the women winning their case because it could force them to pay out occupational pensions five years earlier to some women – if their contract with companies meant it was payable on the day they could collect their state pension.

As the 7BR website says:

“The hearing will allow a detailed examination of complaints made by made by women born in the 1950s, and championed by groups such as #backto60 and WASPIE, as well as their political representatives. The case raises legal questions about sex and age discrimination in the mechanisms chosen by government to implement a policy; the responsibility of Government to inform people of significant changes to State Pension entitlement and of the applicability of the EU directive on Equal Treatment in Social Security provision.”

My view is that it has significant implications for Westminster and Whitehall.

It means that a judge has quashed the views expressed by financial commentators  like  Frances Coppola and other people connected to the private pensions  and banking industry that there was no chance of a judicial review. It has also called into question the arguments they used over primary legislation and the  ECHR court ruling.

It will add to pressure on the Labour Party leadership to promise to do something for these women whose cause is championed  by Laura Alvarez, the partner of Jeremy Corbyn, and whose shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is well aware of the issue, and predicted the women would win a review.

It will put enormous pressure on Amber Rudd, the new works and pensions secretary, who is already having to cope with the backlash over the mess caused by universal credit and will now have to seriously address the plight of the 50s women. It is also a  blow to the reputation of Guy Opperman, the pensions minister, who all but nearly misled Parliament by telling them that the judicial review had already been rejected.

And I am afraid the All Party Group on State Pension Inequality for Women in Westminster will have to buck their ideas up and come behind this review rather than seeking small sums of compensation for the affected women.  By taking this radical stand  and going for the jugular BackTo60 have shown the way. They have not won yet but they have got much farther than anybody thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Exclusive: Case for Judicial Review for BackTo60 challenge to government on pensions set for November 30

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Royal Courts of Justice – venue for handing in the papers for a judicial review for the 50s women

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The High Court is to hear the case for a judicial review into the government’s mishandling of the raising of the pension age for 50s women on November 30.

The court granted a two hour hearing today.This means that Michael Mansfield and his team will argue the merits of the case for a judicial review.

The Department for Work and Pensions will oppose any judicial review.  The judge  will decide whether it can go ahead.

The granting of a two hour hearing  is significant in the sense that the court has decided that the merits of both sides of the argument  must be examined thoroughly. Previously the court had thought that 30 minutes was enough to hear the arguments – suggesting that it could be turned down without much debate.

The announcement is a victory for the lawyers arguing the  case and for BackTo 60 in taking such an uncompromising stance. The government has so far refused to budge an inch in recognising the grievances of the 3.8 million women who have lost out – some of them living in dire poverty as a result.

The case will be backed up by the paper from Jackie Jones, a law professor at the University of the West England She has produced the report,  which shows that this group of women have suffered discrimination contrary to an international  convention signed by successive UK governments. It is not a legal document but it is an expert opinion.

 

Judicial Review of government’s handling of 50s women pension changes lodged at High Court

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Royal Courts of Justice – venue for handing in the papers for a judicial review for the 50s women

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Back to 60, the campaigning group  who are supported by 738,000 of the 3.9 million 50s women waiting up to six years to get their pensions, lodged a claim  at the High Court against the  Department for Work and Pensions yesterday.

This is the first stage of taking real action to put right the injustice suffered by the women ever since the government embarked on a policy of continually raising the pension age.  It will be followed by a High Court hearing where a judge will be asked to allow the review to go ahead. It is bound to be challenged by the government which is determined not to pay up but ministers will have to justify their actions.

Backto60 lodged the documents with only 48 hours to spare as the courts  start their  summer recess tomorrow and  the courts will not hear cases  until  after October 1.

The move is the culmination of action taken by the group which now involves support  on the issue from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which intends to raise the issue at the United Nations, the Fawcett Society and  other ampaigners.

A legal statement from Binberg Peirce & Michael Mansfield QC reads:

“The basis of the legal challenge is that the pension policy implemented by successive governments in respect of women of a particular age group (those born in the 1950s) constitutes a gross injustice and is discriminatory.  The impact on the economic, social and mental well being of these women, who rightly enjoyed a perfectly legitimate expectation of satisfactory provision in retirement, has been devastating.

“The extent of individual distress and hardship is only now becoming evident through real stories of women around the UK. It is deeply ironic that all of this is done in the name of equalisation and equality, when the very means employed to achieve this are themselves discriminatory.

“It is intended that the current pension policy be subjected to both public and judicial scrutiny and, therefore, steps are now being taken towards mounting a judicial challenge.”

At the same time Stephen Lloyd, Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne, whose coalition government made matters worse for 50s women by backing an acceleration of the rise in pension ages, has finally got a meeting on behalf of Waspi with the Ombudsman to discuss whether there was maladministration in not informing women.

His comment is picked up by Frances Martin:

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The government is going to face challenges from all sides this autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

Whitehall’s shameful database of women’s pathetic state pensions

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Department for Work and Pensions – still misleading  the public on the huge gap between men and women pensioners

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In May this year  Which? Money published the  results of access the consumer organisation had  to the entire  Department for Work and Pension database on pensions. The headline result press released by Which ? Money here  was that women  are worse off now than men  by a staggering  £29,000 over a 20 year old period.

The disclosure led Harry Rose, Which? Money editor, to warn : “Our evidence shows how variable people’s state pension payments still are. Many pensioners will be shocked by the differences in average payouts to men and women and those qualifying under the old and new systems.”

The issue is worth raising because just last week the Department of Work and Pensions published its annual report ( more to come in a future blog) which despite Which? Money findings  from the DWP’s own database perpetuates the myth that some how today’s pensioners are living the high life with little or no housing costs and longer and longer life expectancy.

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The agenda is clear – paving the way in five years time for yet another rise in the pension age – and totally ignoring the present plight of 50s women denied pensions for up to six years . Add the fact that it could take decades now before men and women receive an equal pension. The average , despite the new state pension, is still 18 per cent, below a typical male pension.

The figures revealed by the Which? Money from the DWP are extremely  alarming if you are a woman. If you are a man you can be complacent – not only did you get a  good deal under the old system you are the main beneficiary of the new one.

The biggest  group of beneficiaries (8.4 million) – getting on average £142 a week- are today’s pensioners who have a long national insurance contributions and qualified for an earnings related pension. Of these 4,958,000 are men and  3,417,000 are women.

Above this on an average of  £174 a week are the spouses of these recipients who died. and they inherited their spouses NI contributions to top up their pension They are 1,454,040 women and 276,960 men – the only category where women  do better. Sadly  they have to lose a partner  to achieve it.

Much lower at £145 a week are those whose spouses died but they themselves did not have a pension  – again most are women –  679,995 to just 2045 men.

Those unfortunate enough not to be entitled to get a pension get just an average of £63 a week  based on their partner’s NI contributions – again there are 545,905 women to 1095 men.

The best off are the new state pensioners – after changes came into force in 2016  and they also had protected money to top up the new pension. They get £181 a week. But 79 per cent of these are men – 142,080 to 17,920 women. The reason for this is directly due to the plight of the 50s women who ceased to qualify for pensions at 60 and many are still waiting for one.

As anyone can see this is woefully unfair to women.  It suggests there is a long way to go to get equality  with men even when women eventually get their pension.

There is also a divide where the money is paid out – highest state pensions – between £153 and £154 a week – are paid out in East Hertfordshire, High Wycombe and Aberdeen. Lowest ( between £128 and £140 a week) – are paid in the London borough of Newham, Leicester, Manchester and Cornwall.

And there are huge differentials if you go abroad. Expatriats living now in Australia, Canada and New Zealand get frozen pensions averaging between £41 and £44 a week.

Those in Europe get pension increases every year  – bringing Spain to an average of £107.76 a week and France to £104.39 a week.

Curiously 10 UK nationals who retired  to Azerbaijan – part of the old Soviet bloc – get  an average of £127 a week.

Don’t ask me why but I did discover this website which tells you how to avoid pension  taxes by putting your money into an Azerbajiani off shore fund. According to the article 2400 British expats have done this and they don’t have to live there and participate in traditional Azerri sports such as ox wrestling or javelin throwing either. They can live in Malta and have the money paid into Azerbaijan to avoid tax. My guess is these must be high rollers who qualify for  a state pension.

Perhaps the government  should investigate this instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revealed: The £200,000 food bank warehouse in Amber Rudd’s Hastings constituency caused by the Universal Credit debacle

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Amber Rudd- former home secretary and MP for Hastings as the Universal Credit debacle rolls out in her constituency

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The  billion pound plus failure of the implementation of Universal Credit is rightly condemned by the National Audit Office in a report published today.

Aimed to save money, get everybody back to work, simplify a complex benefit system and to be easily implemented.  Instead it is going to cost more, is years behind schedule, discriminates against disabled and poorly educated people, and the government has plans to force the elderly not entitled to a pension to have to use it when it  changes entitlement to pension credit ( see my earlier blog here)

But it is also having appalling consequences for food banks, landlords, council and housing association tenants – as the example in Amber Rudd’s constituency ( details down below show).

In the meantime ministers today were patting themselves on the back today how successful it is while senior civil servants behind  it were awarded  bonuses worth up to £20,000 each for its botched introduction ( see an earlier blog  here and  an article in the Sunday Mirror).

The statistics are appalling. According to the NAO :

“In 2017, around one quarter (113,000) of new claims were not paid in full on time. Late payments were delayed on average by four weeks, but from January to October 2017, 40% of those affected by late payments waited in total around 11 weeks or more, and 20% waited almost five months. Despite improvements in payment timeliness, in March 2018 21% of new claimants did not receive their full entitlement on time with 13% receiving no payment on time.

The Department does not anticipate payment timeliness to improve significantly in 2018. On this basis, the NAO estimates that between 270,000 and 338,000 new claimants will not be paid in full at the end of their first assessment period throughout 2018. Those with more complex cases are more likely to be paid late.

The Department expected most claimants would have enough money to cope over the initial waiting period after their claim is submitted (previously six weeks, now five). In reality, nearly 60% of new claimants (around 56,000 a month) receive a Universal Credit advance to help them manage before receiving their first payment.But they have to pay it back which means deducting an average £43 a month from their benefit. 

But while the statistics are bad, the examples are worse.

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Hastings Foodbank

Appendix 5 of the report  reveals In  Amber Rudd’s Hastings  constituency for example, according to the NAO Hastings foodbank has increased its opening hours, needs around two tonnes of stock each week to meet demand, and is considering building more storage space, costing £200,000.”

Hastings Citizens Advice pays staff to deliver Universal Support delivered locally. It therefore needs to pay providers regardless of the number of people
that are referred for support. But its income from the Department is not guaranteed so it can’t plan

Hastings Citizens Advice is considering scaling back on what it does in order to cope with increased demand.

Similarly NHS Hastings and Rother Clinical Commissioning Group funds its local advisory services. But this takes time to identify and secure. This hampers the ability of organisations to employ high-quality advocates because of the uncertainty of future funding.

.Hastings and Rother Credit Union no longer accepts Universal Credit claimant because of the complications in dealing with the new benefit and the long time waiting for people to be paid it.

Other areas have also got problems.Landlords are carrying extra debt – Croydon’s rent
collection rate has fallen from 92% to 58%, and its bad debt provision has doubled to £8 million.
Sedgemoor Council  in County Durham reported an increasing unwillingness, even with social landlords, to take on low-income tenants or those claiming Universal Credit.

So the government has piled on misery upon misery for the claimants,. voluntary organisations, food banks, landlords, credit unions, local authorities and health services. Meanwhile ministers on excess of £100,000 a year go home to expensive houses, enjoy fine wines, expensive meals out and luxury holidays while boasting how they are helping the poor. Some sick joke. As Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today:

“The Department has pushed ahead with Universal Credit in the face of a number of problems, but has shown a lack of regard in failing to understand the hardship faced by some claimants.

“The benefits that it set out to achieve through Universal Credit, such as increased employment and lower administration costs, are unlikely to be achieved, yet the Department has little realistic alternative but to continue with the programme and hopefully learn from past mistakes.”

 

The £20,000 benefit bonus rewards for the metropolitan elite at the Department of Work and Pensions

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Neil Couling – £145,000 a year

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Last week I had a story in the Sunday Mirror about top bonuses and pay rises for five of the most senior  and well paid civil servants at the Department of Work and Pensions over the last two years.

The information was published in the annual report and accounts  of the DWP released last month. These same accounts were qualified for the 29th year  running according to the the National Audit Office – because of fraud and error in payouts to claimants rendered them inaccurate and wrong.

 

 

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Sir Robert Devereux – £190,000 a year Pic credit : Twitter

The bonuses announcement came at the same time as 31 Labour MPs had called for a pause in the roll out of the ministry’s new Universal Credit  programme – which replaces five benefits – because of reported chaos in its administration leaving some claimants without money for up to six weeks. One of those 31 MPs, Kevan Jones, who represents Durham North said the bonuses were a ” reward for failure”.

He described them as “an insult to many of my constituents who are already living on the breadline. In my constituency they plan to introduce this in November which could leave thousands of people without money in the run up to Christmas.”

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Mayank Prakash £220,000 a year including £20,00 bonus Pic credit: DWP Digital

Within days of the publication of the story the FDA ( the First Division Association) which represents the top civil servants attacked the article in a report in Civil Service World.

Jawad Raza, FDA national officer for DWP, said officials should not be used as targets by political opponents of the system simply for doing their jobs.

“The suggestion that these civil servants have been ‘rewarded for failure’ shows a blatant disregard for the facts regarding their pay and

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jeremy moore – £135,000 plus £20,000 bonus

wilfully misrepresents the true complexity of their roles,” he said.

“Senior civil servants have delivered billions of pounds worth of savings since 2010 with an ever reducing workforce. These are highly skilled professionals working in challenging circumstances and they deserve to be adequately remunerated without having their names and faces spread across news pages.”

Sorry Jawad I think there is more to this.

The five civil servants are Sir Robert Devereux, permanent secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions; Neil

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Andrew Rhodes – £140,000 a year plus £15,000 bonus

Couling, director general of universal credit; Jeremy Moore, director of strategy; Mayank Prakash, director general of digital technology and Andrew Rhodes, director of operations have received between £10,000 and £20,000 each .They are nearly all paid more than Theresa May, the PM.

The bonuses were awarded for “ top performance “ and “ leadership “when the rest of Whitehall is limited to one per cent pay rises and many benefits have been frozen.

Sir Robert last year received up to £20,000 extra on a salary of up to £185,000 a year. This year he hasn’t received any bonus but his basic salary has moved to £190,000 a year.

Neil Couling, who is directly responsible for universal credit, got a bonus of up to £20,000 last year on a salary of £125,000 a year. This year instead of a bonus his salary has jumped by £20,000 to £145,000 a year.

Mayank Prakash, director of digital strategy has received a bonus of up to £20,000  this yearon top of salary of £200,000 taking his annual salary to £220,000 .

Jeremy Moore, director of strategy, has received bonuses two years running –  totalling up to £40,000 over the two years – taking his total salary to £155,000 a year.

Andrew Rhodes, director of operations has received a £10-15,000 bonus this year, taking his salary to £155,000 a year. He also claimed £37,600 in travel expenses.

The ministry insist that all these pay rises were decided objectively by line managers.

In a statement it said:

Line managers are required to make an evidence-based and objective assessment over whether objectives have been met, not met or exceeded. 

 Individual performance is assessed by the individual’s line manager through an appraisal discussion, with supporting evidence from a range of stakeholders.

But apart from Sir Robert – whose bonus was decided by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary – the Department declined to say who these line managers are and which outside organisations and people recommended they should get bonuses. The bad news for the DWP is that Kevan Jones plans to table a Parliamentary Question next month to find out who.

Now the FDA has a point that compared to the top of the  private sector they are badly paid. A report put out by the House of Commons library revealed that the top 3000 bankers are ALL earning over £884,000 a year – which makes £20,000 sound small beer. But if anything that reflects that huge growth of inequality in Britain.

At other end of society how effective are these five top men ( note they are all men) in delivering what they are supposed to do. All are responsible in one way or another for the delivery of Universal Credit.

At present they are using Newcastle-upon-Tyne – to roll out the full effect of Universial Credit.

Catherine McKinnell , Labour MP for Newcastle North, said:“ My office has been deluged with complaints from constituents about a Universal Credit system that is clearly struggling to cope and failing to deliver the support that claimants need in anything like an orderly or timely fashion.”

Her debate can be read here.  Suffice to say it reveals a very sorry picture. The  new IT system means people can’t talk to a human. It has  a verification process that requires claimants to produce photographic identification such as a passport or driving licence, “which many simply do not possess and certainly cannot afford, even though some have been in receipt of benefits for several years.”

“I also have numerous examples of Universal Credit claims being shut down before they should be; of documentation being provided to the DWP, at the constituent’s cost, and repeatedly being lost or even destroyed; and of totally conflicting, often incorrect, information being provided to constituents about their claims.”

For a time the ministry effectively banned MPs from taking up cases by making impossible verification demands before they would talk about it.

What this shows to me is a growing disconnect between the people at the top – who are computer savvy, have nice centrally heated homes, no problems with bills, can afford expensive holidays, and can’t conceive of anyone not having a passport – designing a system for poor, dispossessed, desperate people without any understanding of how the world works for them.

It was this disconnect between the elite and the poor  in the USA that led to the rise of Donald Trump and I suspect this huge gulf between the Metropolitan elite – whom top Whitehall civil servants are part – and the provincial poor is in the end going to propel Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.

 

The £5 billion pay out to people who shouldn’t have received it

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Department for Work and Pensions – £3.5 billion of overpayments detected by auditors

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Here is a strange paradox. The government has imposed a tough and to many people unfair benefits and  tax credits regime which has squeezed the poorest – both the unemployed and those in work.

Yet this summer accountants have revealed that HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions has paid out £5 billion to people on benefits and low incomes who should not have received it. And they predict that even more will receive these payments next year. I have written about this in Tribune magazine this week.

The disclosure comes in the annual audit of both departments by Parliament’s financial watchdog, the National Audit Office, who have qualified the accounts of both departments – as not being a true and accurate description of public spending.

According to the NAO report: “HMRC estimates that the overall level of error and fraud that resulted in overpayments in Tax Credits in 2015-16 increased to 5.5% of Tax Credits expenditure (from 4.8% in 2014-15)

“HMRC estimates that the overall level of error and fraud resulting in underpayments in Tax Credits in 2015-16 remained at 0.7% of Tax Credits expenditure (0.7% in 2014-15). This equates to overpayments of £1.57 billion and underpayments of £210 million.

“HMRC has told us that it believes the level of error and fraud in Tax Credits will increase further when measured for 2016-17. Two main factors have been identified that will lead to this increase: the introduction of the ‘Commercial with a view to a profit’ self-employment test for those who are self-employed and the impact of the Concentrix contract. The impact of these factors on error and fraud levels will not be measured until June 2018, and so the estimate of error and fraud in 2015-16 remains the most up-to-date indication available of error and fraud in Tax Credits expenditure for 2016-17.”

Concentrix were sacked by the department after a privatisation programme went wrong – and they were not up to the job.

Worse are the figures for DWP.

The  NAO’s findings are: “Excluding State Pension, overpayments are at the highest levels since 2009-10, while underpayments are at the highest recorded levels.”

Overpayments amount to £3.4bn, excluding the state pension, an increase of £400 million while underpayments are £1.5bn In percentage terms this amount to an increase to 4.1 per cent of all overpayments and 1.9 per cent of all underpayments.

The report says: “Amongst benefits measured annually for fraud and error, Employment Support Allowance and Housing Benefit overpayments are at the highest recorded levels, and Jobseeker’s Allowance overpayments have returned to the highest levels since 2010-11.

The NAO questions some of the techniques used by the DWP to calculate fraud – saying it assumes that when people don’t get back to the department for a re-assessment that they have been fraudulently claiming. This may not be the case. Also, information is out of date.

“The absence of up-to-date information on error rates in large benefit streams creates a risk that the department is not targeting its fraud and error interventions effectively,” the report says. “For example, Disability Living Allowance, which accounted for £11.5 billion of expenditure in 2016-17, has not been measured for fraud and error since 2004-05.”

All this points to some serious mismanagement by the ministries – which have been squeezed by successive coalition and Tory governments. But it doesn’t mean that those at the top have suffered. I shall return to some interesting findings in their annual reports.