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on the Department for Work and Pensions to calculate their pension accurately the auditors reveal a sorry picture of outdated IT systems, civil servants reduced to making manual calculations and mistakes galore with no proper system to identify the errors in the first place.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It says: ” The errors occurred because State Pension rules are complex, IT systems are outdated and unautomated, and the administration of claims requires a high degree of manual review and understanding by case workers.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, 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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