Yvonne Hooper: ‘I feel like I have won the lottery’
A 77-year-old woman who assumed she did not qualify for a state pension says it feels ‘like I have won the lottery’ after she received a £60,000 backpayment.
London-born Yvonne Hooper was widowed as a young woman and twice divorced by the time she reached pension age in 2004.
The retired shopowner, who remarried 17 years ago and now lives in Spain, says: ‘It had never occurred to me that I could get a pension on my ex-husband’s contributions and never that it could be so much.
‘To all the women out there without a pension make a claim to see if you are owed a pension. I am really grateful to all the people that have helped me achieve this.’
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb, who intervened in Mrs Hooper’s case to get her the lump sum and a full basic state pension of £137.60 per week, also urged divorced women to check their state pension is correct.
Mrs Hooper says she didn’t claim her state pension at 60, explaining: ‘I was still running my business which was doing well and it wasn’t till I was 65 that I first made enquiries and I was told I didn’t have enough credits.
‘So, as I was still working and OK I didn’t bother with it again for several years. Then whenever I did try they gave me the same answer.’
>>>Divorce and the state pension: Scroll down to find out if you are missing out, and what to do
In 2017, Mrs Hooper had a serious car accident, damaging her skull and lower spine, and hasn’t been able to work since then.
After Webb and This is Money revealed that some women have been losing out on large sums in state pension for decades, she contacted him for help.
And she says after he raised her case with the DWP, the staff who dealt with her claim ‘went the extra mile’, as divorce cases can be complex and she lives abroad.
She had to make important choices about how to take her ‘deferred’ pension, and says staff were patient and helpful to her in getting this sorted.
‘After 17 years of no pension, I will now get back pay of over £60,000 and a regular pension going forward,’ she says. ‘I feel like I have won the lottery.’
Webb, who is now a partner at LCP, says: ‘I would urge any woman who was divorced when she reached pension age, or who has divorced since retiring, to make sure she has claimed her pension and notified DWP of her divorce.
Why are some women being underpaid state pension?
An estimated 134,000 women have been underpaid state pension in a £1billion scandal uncovered by Webb and This is Money more than a year ago.
The huge bill results from a failure to increase some women’s payments when their husbands reached state pension age or died, or when they themselves reached the age of 80.
We have reported many stories of women receiving payouts of tens of thousands of pounds – and in a couple of cases more than £100,000 – after being deprived of the correct state pension due to DWP errors.
Meanwhile, our sister publication Money Mail highlighted last year how older women who got divorced later in life could be missing out on thousands of pounds in state pension.
Have you been underpaid? Find out what to do here.
‘I’m delighted that Mrs Hooper has received this large windfall, but I have no doubt that there are thousands more divorced women who are not getting what they are due.
‘It is vital that they claim a pension if they have not done so and that they notify DWP if they divorce in retirement.’
Webb describes the information currently on the gov.uk website for people who divorce as ‘scant, to say the least’.
His firm LCP has created a website where divorced women can find out more details about the rules here.
Why are some divorced women missing out on state pension?
Steve Webb says the issue affects women who come under the ‘old’ state pension system – before it was revamped from April 2016.
That means those who were born before 6 April 1953.
State pension payments to divorced women do not affect the amounts received by their ex-husbands.
Should a husband have a worse National Insurance record than his ex-wife, he could claim a higher state pension on that basis too.
Webb identifies two groups of divorced women who are most likely be missing out.
1. Women who were divorced at the point of retirement
These women can get a state pension based on the NI contributions of their ex-husband, even if they have a poor record of their own, explains Webb.
‘Those who are divorced when they reach pension age can ask DWP to ‘substitute’ the NI record of their ex-husband up to the date of the divorce.
‘Those who divorce later in life are therefore particularly likely to benefit as they can substitute their ex-husband’s record for a longer period of time.’
If they put in a claim and tick ‘divorced’ on the state pension claim form this should in principle happen automatically – but this depends on them making a claim in the first place, says Webb.
‘A woman who never claimed at pension age can claim now and have her pension backdated to state pension age.’
2. Women who divorced after retirement but have never notified the DWP
These women can have their basic state pension reassessed using their ex husband’s contributions, but they must notify DWP of their ‘change of circumstances’, says Webb.
‘Those who are married when they retire but then divorce post-retirement can also ask to have the NI record of their ex-husband ‘substituted’ for their own.
‘But because DWP is not notified of divorces, any pension increase is not backdated, which means such women should notify DWP as soon as possible.’ Find contact details below.
State pension: Divorced women who come under the ‘old’ state pension system – before it was revamped from April 2016 – could be missing out
Former Pensions Minister Ros Altman says: ‘It is really important that women make sure they check what state pensions they are entitled to, especially if their own pension is low, perhaps because they were relying on a husband to provide for them in retirement.
‘Whether divorced or widowed, many women are losing out because the rules are so complex and they may not have anyone to help them navigate the system.
‘Women’s state pensions are significantly lower than men’s and the oldest women have been particularly disadvantaged by the state system.
‘I would urge all women to ensure they are receiving what they are entitled to as soon as possible. Checking with Citizens Advice, AgeUK or The Pensions Advisory Service may offer them help with understanding the system.’
Steve Webb: ‘I have no doubt that there are thousands more divorced women who are not getting what they are due’
What does the DWP say?
‘We encourage people to contact us if they get divorced or their civil partnership is dissolved and every year we remind people about doing so alongside the uprating notifications we send out,’ says a DWP spokesperson.
‘We want everyone to claim the benefits to which they may be entitled and we urge anyone of state pension age – or their family and friends – to check if they are missing out on financial support.’
Those not receiving a state pension at the moment who may be entitled to one have to make a claim, and the DWP’s contact information is here.
The free Government-backed service Money Helper has more detail for older people who are divorced or separated here, and the DWP has further information here.
The DWP says many pensioners can boost their income by claiming pension credit, and a calculator to check if you qualify and what you might receive is here. Details of how to claim are here.
If you need help applying for pension credit, you can ring the charity Age UK which has details here.
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