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.
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.
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.
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.
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