Cheated Again! MPs blast Department for Work and Pensions for not acting fast enough to reimburse £1.46 billion to pensioners

The DWP is attacked today by MPs on the powerful Commons Public Accounts Committee for not having a credible plan to reimburse hundred of thousands of pensioners who have been shortchanged billions of pounds in pension payments.

The scheme is the only programme where the DWP admits it has made gigantic mistakes by underpaying pensioners and is committed to return the money owed to them. It is obvious at the moment that ministers and civil servants have no intention of reimbursing people who have been denied a guaranteed minimum pension when they were contracted out by their employer.

Nor do they appear to be remotely interested in compensating the 1950s women who lost six years of their pensions despite it being clear that the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Robert Behrens, has found maladministration in not telling the women properly about it, let alone even considering whether women were unfairly discriminated by the decision. The fact that not a single minister has talked to anybody about 50swomen since 2016 speaks volumes.

What is clear from a report by the MPs ( which also tackles benefit fraud) is that they are distinctly unimpressed by the DWP’s handling of this despite assurances from Peter Schofield, the permanent secretary, at the department during a committee hearing earlier this year.

Peter Schofield Pic credit:

The Department’s efforts to correct the systemic underpayment of State Pension are too slow to meaningfully put things right. The Department now estimates that 237,000 pensioners have been underpaid a total of £1.46 billion in their State Pension.
“Despite these underpayments going back as far as 1985, the Department’s overall exercise to correct this issue is delayed from the end of 2023 to the end of 2024. The Department cannot be certain that its plan to deliver the exercise on schedule is achievable, as it is dependent on assumptions around recruitment, retraining, and automation.

“We are not convinced that the Department has done enough to ensure its communications to potentially affected pensioners are sufficiently clear. We are concerned that this may leave many pensioners lacking reassurance that they will receive meaningful and timely redress.

We remain unconvinced about the DWP – MPs.

“The Department does not yet know the full extent of the underpayment relating to Home Responsibilities Protection, and it is dependent on HMRC to evaluate the impact of these underpayments on pensioners. The Department cannot be certain that it has identified all the underpayments implied by the results of its annual measurement exercise. Overall, we remain unconvinced that the Department’s control systems are adequate to detect further underpayments before they build up into major issues in future.”
Sounds familiar. Anyone trying to ring the department already knows what lousy communicators the ministry is- that is, if you can get through to them..

And it looks like there is worse to come. The report said:

“The NAO [National Audit Office] reported that the Department cannot rule out that there may be further groups of pensioners, as yet unidentified, that have been affected by a historic underpayment.
It concluded that this was in large part because the Department had not set out plans to revise its control processes for State Pension cases to ensure that underpayments are detected and recorded at the point of payment.”

Yet again through delays and failure to get a grip pensioners are being cheated of their rightful dues and many may die before they receive them. Is there no part of the DWP that can function correctly?

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” Darth Vader” mandarin’s unstellar performance on crime mustn’t pay

home affairs committee christmas-cards

Mark Sedwill as Darth Vader centre right next to Theresa May


Earlier this month I railed about the extraordinary findings of a report by the National Audit Office which showed Whitehall’s abject failure to confiscate the stolen assets of  criminals.

Theresa May’s claims that crime musn’t pay were torn into tatters by a report which showed  what a woeful record the present government has in confiscating them.

You would think that her top Home Office civil servant – permanent secretary Mark Sedwill – would do everything to make amends for this poor performance.

But think again. When he came to account for missing almost every target set by Parliament a few years before his complacent response so angered MPs on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that he was sent packing by the chair Labour Mp, Meg Hillier.

I have written about this in Tribune magazine.

Now Mark Sedwill has a stellar nickname – thanks to a jokey reference in a  recent Christmas card put out by the Commons Home affairs Committee, which monitors the home office.

He is proud to be depicted as” Darth Vader ” the evil figure in the Star Wars movie – to Theresa May’s Princess Leia as part of cast of characters on their Christmas card ( see picture above.)

As he told Civil Service World  ” It’s always better to be one of the stars, even if you’re the dark lord, than to be disregarded. I think he’s the coolest character in the pantheon – so I’m not that bothered.”.

His performance before the committee was anything but stellar. And the criminals would be delighted that the man representing the Dark Side was happy to pretend he had recovered their loot.

He obfuscated, denied reality and pretended that he had never agreed with the report’s findings in the first place. He even started quoting government propaganda that  ministers were delighted with his efforts – which left at least £203m worth of assets uncollected.

So angry was one Tory MP, Stephen Phillips, a QC and member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, that he accused him of turning the hearing into ” a farce”and said his performance was ” an exercise in Sir Humphreyism.”.

And the committee abruptly halted the hearing – an almost unprecedented event- when Meg Hillier told him:” I do not think we have any option but to adjourn this. This is something I never wanted to do in this Committee. As Mr Phillips said, we want to get answers. This is a hugely important area and I am really disappointed that we are going to have to take this form of action. I do not think we are going to get very much further today.”

He has a chance to redeem himself next Tuesday when he will have to come up with some real answers at a resumed hearing.  We have to hope  this time the  MPs will turn into Jedi knights to get some explanations.

You can watch the hearing here..