As 1950s born women finally get their first pension at the age of 66 a new problem is emerging.
The chaos inside the DWP , which is coping both with new applications for pensions and having to pay back over 100,000 people who it cheated out of their pension in the past, has now spread to first time pensioners. As already revealed by this blog the DWP has secretly put through a ” drop and go” scheme and decided to prioritise simple cases – nearly always men – over complicated ones, such as widows entitled to past Serps payments to their husband’s pension and divorced women.
As a result the pension help line can’t cope, staff handling cases have not been properly briefed, and barely properly trained. People are starting to wait months beyond the due date when they get their pension. And when they get it the calculations can be wrong.
To illustrate this scandal one of my blog readers, Pauline Hinder, a 1950s born woman, who has kept meticulous records of her pension entitlement, and is a supporter of BackTo60, kept a diary of her trials and tribulations with the Department for Work and Pensions in trying to get her correct pension.
The story does have a happy ending but only because a former Liberal Democrat pensions minister, Sir Steve Webb, intervened on her behalf. Until then she was at a dead end.
DWP’s pension estimate was less than half Pauline was entitled
If that hadn’t happened she would have lost tens of thousands of pounds over the lifetime of her pension. They offered her a pension of just under £69 a week. Her real pension entitlement was £141.84 a week -more than DOUBLE the money they offered her.
Unlike many people she had records which could prove what they should pay her. But getting through to the DWP proved impossible.
As her diary reveals : “
“rang 08007310469 opt 2 then opt 4then opt 2
Spoke to Lee 10.20 He said I had to ring 08007317898 ‘new claim’ option – even though I’ve already made my claim!
Rang 08007317898 New claim opt 2 Then Hold for advisor
“Spoke to a polite man Anthony He was working from home ..but saw they’d received my letter of 6 pages of evidence to prove my entitlement was double their official pension quote yet couldn’t say when they’d received it. He said he’d flag it up to check but it would take 4 weeks…..I asked when 4 weeks started – he said today!
“I said no! Unacceptable – I’d phoned and written early in January and it was a 6 week response time then..
“I insisted a manager call me back I explained that the DWP had already underpaid a raft of earlier womens’ pensions and made amends/still making, without interest or compensation. Have they learned nothing – or are they committing corporate fraud as they are now repeating the same mistakes with a new generation of applicants.
” He was polite but batting me off with hogwash”
“He requested a callback within 24 hours for me. He was polite but batting me off with hogwash about no one to speak to, no supervisor blah blah. ..but he did put me on hold for a couple of minutes so I guess he was contacting someone from his home. “
As she says: “The DWP telephone line was useless….working from home, no managers, no access to screens telling them where matters were at. I sent all copies of my historical records supporting my correct position and their error in January and to date I have had no acknowledgement of that correspondence receipt but I know they’ve had it because I asked in one of the several pension helpline calls I made! The last helpline call I made I insisted a manager called.
” They called about an hour later but I think I was dog walking and missed the call. You can phone the number but it has a pre-recorded message saying they wanted to speak to me but they’ll call if they need to. They didn’t call again….”
In desperation she turned to Sir Steve Webb, the former pensions minister in the coalition government.
He intervened by calling the DWP on her behalf.
Sir Steve went to a Pensions Customer Care Manager called David at the DWP. He was very helpful and genuinely empathetic.
Sir Steve was involved and job done in under 24 hours. Written apology in 48 hours and revised pension award in 72 hours.
Sir Steve told me: “I’ve generally tried to help a small number of existing and new state pension recipients where they have got stuck on a complex issue or where there appears to be an unresolved underpayment.
“In Mrs Hinder’s case she had clearly understood the rules and spotted when a more recent state pension forecast (and award) was far below the correct amount. I passed her details on to DWP who quickly accepted that an error had been made.
“I do remain concerned that despite all the focus on historic state pension errors, errors are still being made on new claims. Whilst Mrs Hinder’s case relates to quite a narrow and specific issue (a special concession for women who paid the ‘reduced stamp’) a more common error I still come across is newly retired widows who are not getting the inherited SERPS they are due from a late husband on top of their own new state pension It’s a trickle rather than a flood, but, as we know, only a small percentage of a very big number is a lot of individual cases.”
My take on this is that Pauline Hinder showed amazing initiative and finally got her pension. But Sir Steve Webb cannot be expected to intervene in every case as he wouldn’t have time to do his day job. What we need is proper system with enough trained staff to do the job. It is quite clear we haven’t got one and ministers are to blame, They should sort it.
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