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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DWP dumps on benefit watchdog and ignores plea for more help for victims of domestic violence

The Department of Work and Pensions has rejected any changes to its new minimalist regulations to exempt victims of domestic violence -mainly women – from paying the ” bedroom tax ” and helping them to find out how they could qualify to keep more of their benefits.

Ministry turns down plea from social security watchdog

As I reported ten days ago the release of minutes from the little known Social Security Advisory Committee revealed in July the body chaired by Stephen Brien who worked for Ian Duncan Smith’s think tank had written to the ministry criticising the proposed regulations for being too narrow and the ministry for not running a prominent campaign to let victims know they will now be exempt.

The exemption applies to anybody who wants to stay in their own home and has thrown out an abusive partner and enrols in a sanctuary scheme – which provides extra locks, a fireproof letterbox and in extreme cases a reinforced door to a ” panic room” should the abusive partner return and break into the house.

The problem is that not all women know about this and the exemption only applies to council homes and flats. Also abuse from stalkers or strangers is not covered by the new regulations.

Mr Brien wrote: “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.”

Ministry rejects plea to change the regulation

But the DWP has told me not only will there be no changes but they had already implemented the regulations which came into force on October 1.

A DWP spokesperson said:

“The Department offers support to victims of domestic abuse, whether in the private rented sector or not. The benefit system acts as a safety net for people who find themselves in need of financial support with living and housing costs for a variety of reasons. A range of Universal Credit measures are designed to support victims of domestic abuse, including special provisions for temporary accommodation, same day advances, easements from work-related requirements and signposting to expert third-party services.”

Now for these regulations to become law they have to be scrutinised by Parliament. So I looked up what had happened.

It turns out the ministry laid the regulations before the House of Commons and the House of Lords on September 9 – a Thursday evening just before MPs and peers went off for the weekend. They were laid under what is known as a negative statutory instrument – which means that unless a peer or a MP objects they automatically can become law three weeks later.

Not one MP or peer spoke up about this

The regulations were laid alongside numerous other regulations including changes to Covid 19 pandemic regulations. Not one MP or peer objected or even spoke about it.

They would not have known about the criticism from the watchdog body because its minutes had not been published then. Nevertheless this shows up the ineffectiveness of MPs and peers – who have more time – in scrutinising what the executive is doing.

Given the high profile issue of violence against women after the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met Police officer it is pretty deplorable that a ministry can get away with this.

Benefits watchdog keeps mum

I sent the ministry’s response to the watchdog body – which regards scrutinising regulations as its main priority – and it decided not to comment, preferring to keep silent about its advice being ignored .I haven’t had a reply from the House of Lords on why the new regulations were missed.

However I have discovered the ministry has issued new advice six days ago to its housing benefit officers. It is here and victims of domestic abuse should challenge officials about getting an exemption.

For those in England I would suggest contacting Shelter. The charity has a comprehensive guide for victims of domestic abuse here. It includes a list of other charities who can help.

So if the ministry, the social security watchdog and Parliament are so ineffectual, at least this blog can highlight some information so more people know about it.

Previous Blog

https://davidhencke.com/2021/10/03/exclusive-half-baked-and-half-hearted-dwps-help-for-women-facing-domestic-abuse-and-violence/

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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.

Exclusive: “Frightening” DWP letter to pensioners: Report for telephone interview or we can stop your pension

The ” frightening” DWP letter ( the telephone numbers of the pensioner and the official and his name have been blacked out

This a picture of the offending page 2 of the DWP letter

The headline in this story is a paraphrase of an extraordinary letter to be sent out to 15,000 people randomly chosen by the Department for Work and Pensions. Some 180 pensioners are being contacted this month.

The ministry has mounted an exercise to check fraud and error in payments for the state pension alongside universal credit, attendance allowance, PIPs, carer’s allowance, pension credit, housing benefit, and the employment and support allowance. It is run by the Performance Measurement Team. The ministry are asking people on other benefits to send them original documents showing their savings, pay slips, rent books and tenancy agreements.

It comes as the ministry faces a potentially damning report from a National Audit Office inquiry into the underpayment of state pensions to tens of thousands of women under the old state pension system replaced in 2016.

The NAO want to know how these mistakes occurred , what is being done to put them right and what lessons have been learnt. The NAO made it clear yesterday it had nothing to do with this exercise mounted by the DWP.

This also comes on top of a finding of “maladministration” by the Parliamentary Ombudsman over the ministry’s failure to inform 3.8 million 50swomen adequately about the rise in the pension age from 60 to 66.

The letter reproduced above is pretty insensitive to say the least – since it will be going to elderly people aged anywhere from 66 to their 80s and 90s.

Onus put on pensioners not the DWP

As you can see it puts the onus on pensioners to answer questions correctly-with the threat of prosecution or fines if they don’t.

” You have a personal responsibility to make sure all the information you give during the call is correct and complete.

If it isn’t and we pay you too much money you may have to pay the money back. You also risk being prosecuted or having to pay a financial penalty.”

But it gets worse. Under the heading What will happen if I do not hear from you it says:
If you fail to be available for this review and do not contact me, your entitlement to State Pension may be in doubt and your payments may be stopped. ( Bold type my emphasis).

This is “coercive and threatening language”- Rosie Brocklehurst

Pensioner Rosie Brocklehurst

Rosie Brocklehurst from St Leonards, is one who got the letter and contacted me.

She saId: “There could be 15000 terrified pensioners receiving this letter all of whom are being threatened with having their state pension. stopped if they do not “make themselves available.” This is abusive coercive and threatening language in my lexicon.”

She is 71.  She said: “The letter they send out is couched in language that is designed to frighten and certainly frightened me. I am not well and have had a chronic condition for 18 months. I have no other income but state pension and pension is not means tested. I am married and claim nothing else but my pension..”

Two points First you have to claim your pension but the calculations are done by the DWP. So if the figure is wrong it is not your responsibility, it is theirs and there is a history of the ministry getting things wrong.

The second is you are entitled to your pension. There is no way the DWP or anybody else can take it away from you. Whoever drafted that letter should have changed it for pensioners. I suspect that it may be illegal for the government to stop pension payments which they have already calculated. Certainly if the grounds are not agreeing to be interviewed.

I have contacted the DWP press office but they took over two days to reply. This is their reply;

“We urge people not to worry. We would only suspend payments in very specific circumstances such as where a pensioner has died and we are continuing payments.

“These reviews, introduced in 1997, take a sample of claims from across several benefits to help us identify cases where the department has paid the wrong amount.”

“The wording of our letters is kept under constant review.”

However what does it not say is that the state pension was exempt from all reviews since 1997. A decision to include it was taken in February this year. No explanation was given why the ministry suddenly decided to include it.

Worst audit report for the Department for Work and Pensions in 33 years

A damning loss of control of Universal Credit payments has meant that the Department for Work and Pensions has received a drubbing from the ministry’s auditors, the National Audit Office, and led to its accounts being qualified for 33rd year in succession.

While the ministry has been praised for its swift response to the pandemic by uplifting Universal Credit by £20 a week and coping with a doubling of people on the benefit, the grim costs to the ministry’s finances are revealed in its annual report.

Overpayments on Universal Credit have skyrocketed, criminal gangs have targeted business payments and the ministry has had to set aside £1 billion to pay 132,000 pensioners who have been underpaid their pensions for up to 30 years.

A new problem of identity theft of some 5000 claimants has also hit Universal Credit leaving some claimants losing benefit for weeks.

Overpayments hit record £8.3 billion

DWP estimates it overpaid £8.3 billion of the £111.4 billion that it spent on benefits in 2020-21, an increase of £3.8 billion on the previous year. The rate of overpayments increased from 4.4% in 2019-20 to 7.5% in 2020-21. Nearly all of the increase in fraud and error was on Universal Credit. DWP estimates it overpaid £5.5 billion of Universal Credit (14.5%) and underpaid £540 million (1.4%).

The NAO reports: “DWP has identified four key fraud and error risks within Universal Credit that it needs to tackle, as they are the largest causes of fraud and error. It is looking to improve controls over incorrectly reported self-employment earnings, savings, living arrangements and housing costs. It has also identified several organised criminal attacks during the pandemic, with fraudsters targeting Universal Credit in particular and making claims in other people’s names.

The Department is owed £5 billion of overpayments, placing additional strain on its resources and potentially causing uncertainty and hardship to claimants. It is not sure how much of its estimated loss of £8.4 billion in 2020-21 it will recover, as it has attempted to recover only 10% of the estimated loss in the last 5 years.”

The ministry is now having to bring in more staff to sort out the fraudulent claims and a criminal investigation has been launched.

On the underpayment of pensions the ministry has promised to pay the people by the end of next year.

Gareth Davies, NAO head ” fraud and error at record levels”

The NAO report says: “The Department commissioned a root cause analysis to understand the cause of these underpayments. This analysis identified a range of process and control issues including poor staff training, instructions and quality review that led to the underpayments. These issues have also affected the Department’s initial work to quantify and rectify errors. The Department has asked the Government Internal Audit Agency to review State Pension legislation to ensure there are no further entitlements that may be underpaid.”

“The impact of this underpayment on the individual pensioners is significant, and it is vital the Department learns lessons to avoid systemic underpayments in the future and correct past underpayments.”

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said:

“I am concerned that the level of fraud and error in the benefits system continues to increase year on year, now reaching its highest level since records began. This has a real impact on public funds and on those who face deductions to their income due to overpayments.

“I recognise that the pandemic and the resulting surge in the number of claimants has increased DWP’s exposure to fraud and error. It must now review all cases that could have been subject to fraud during this time, whilst continuing to progress our past recommendations on how to reduce fraud and error.”

A scandalous cover up: The DWP and Ombudsman let down millions of people promised an indexed Guaranteed Minimum Pension for life

Steve Webb, former Liberal Democrat minister, who piloted the change in pension law in 2014

Only two people given a total of £1250 compensation out of millions who lost out

This is a complicated story but bear with me. Under the old pension arrangements (abolished in 2016) employers who decided to contract out of the old SERPS scheme would save on their national insurance contributions (NICs) but promised whatever happened they would still maintain a Guaranteed Minimum Pension for their workers.

But they would not pay for the indexation of the pension once people retired. That money would be paid by the state. and still is for those who have the old state pension.

But from 2016 with the introduction of the new pension that would cease with the exception of people who received an occupational second pension in the public sector – and that includes ministers, MPs, civil servants as well as other public sector workers. This exception even covers any public sector worker who moved abroad to places like Canada and Australia where their basic state pension is frozen.

This change which could lead to people losing thousands of pounds over their retirement – was spotted independently by two knowledgeable people who having got nowhere with the Department for Work and Pensions complained to the Ombudsman. 11.5 million people affected had opted out of the scheme between 1978 and 1997.

Some 21 months ago the Ombudsman reported that they had been right to spot this. The report noted:

“The National Audit Office (NAO) and the Work and Pensions Select Committee considered that the DWP had provided insufficient and limited information to individuals about the potential negative impacts the new State Pension could have, particularly in relation to indexation on the GMP. The NAO said that some people were likely to lose out and could not find the information they needed.

DWP information was misleading

It concluded:

“The DWP communicated the impact of the 2014 Pensions Act legislative change to the public. ln communicating this change, the DWP said that individuals could increase their starting amount of new State Pension. However, people who were to reach SPA shortly after April 2016 were in fact unable to make significant additional NlCs to do this. The DWP’s information was thus misleading.”

Indeed the DWP gave the impression that the change would make a mere 36p a week difference when in fact people, especially women, would lose over their course of their retirement, thousands of pounds. It is very difficult to estimate how much, but a Treasury estimate on how much money those in the public sector will GAIN by keeping this right – suggests, if inflation stays at 2 per cent, it is £13,000 for every man and £18000 for every woman over their average life span. If it is 3 per cent, it is £19,000 for a man and £27,000 for a woman. Not 36p!

Once they had retired they could do nothing about it. The Ombudsman’s report says that between 2016 and today two million people have already been affected. The bulk of the people have still to claim their pension.

The ministry to confuse matters said that the new triple lock provisions for the basic state pension meant that on average people affected would only be between £2 a week worse off and £4 a week better off. But in fact that has nothing to do with the indexation of GMP, it was part of package of measures for the new pension.

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary Ombudsman

If that change wasn’t bad enough the last 21 months nothing has happened. The Ombudsman made straightforward recommendations and wanted the ministry to report back in three months. He was ignored.

“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 negatively affected by the changes.
“The DWP should direct individuals to check their circumstances. Further, the DWP should provide details to the public about how they can check their circumstances.. We have recommended that the DWP should ensure that anyone with a complaint of injustice arising from the same maladministration can have their concerns fully considered.”

Ombudsman has no power to compel the DWP to redress the injustice

Well so far the DWP has only offered to produce a fact sheet and not made any attempt to contact a single person who was misled . And the Ombudsman – who has no power to compel people to follow his recommendations – looks like letting them get away with it by agreeing to the offer. So only two people – the complainants Mr Smart and Stephen Kenny – have been compensated -offered £500 and £750 each respectively.

Despite some heroic efforts by Stephen Timms, the chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee and some questions from me the ministry has stonewalled in providing detailed information. Both the Ombudsman and the DWP are also silent on how the law was changed in 2014 -since the money was paid out before under the old system and those in public sector rather than the private sector now get it through their occupational pension.

Some readers might find this story eerily familiar. If you are a 1950s or 1960s woman it sounds like a rerun of the denial of pensions to millions of women between 60 and 66. Misleading information, nobody being told, and then no redress.

But there is also something alarming in this tale for the WASPI women who have placed their faith in the Ombudsman to save them. First compensation for the potential loss of tens of thousands of pounds is just £500 and £750. Secondly it could suggest if maladministration is proven that the DWP will just compensate the six women involved in the complaint and ignore the rest of the 3.8 million. Thirdly it looks like the DWP may ignore the Ombudsman’s recommendations -knowing he can’t compel them to do anything – or make it so difficult and obtuse for the women to claim that they will get nothing. After all you can’t prove you never had a letter!

A thank you to one of my readers Christopher Thompson who contacted me about this and helped with unearthing some of the key facts in this story.