State pension: DWP missed six separate chances to pay 73-year-old right sum (stock image)
A divorced elderly woman on a meagre state pension has received nearly £17,000 from the Department for Work and Pensions after it repeatedly botched her payments.
Josephine Cameron, 73, was ignored or misinformed by staff who failed to spot she was on the wrong amount six separate times since 2015.
Tens of thousands of women have been underpaid state pension in a £1billion scandal uncovered by This is Money and our columnist Steve Webb early last year.
Despite eventually confessing to the vast blunder – and being in the midst of a correction exercise involving hundreds of staff – the DWP sent Ms Cameron a letter this summer stating her £85-a-week payment was correct.
The former care home worker, who lives in Bedfordshire, contacted This is Money and Steve to ask for help last month.
After he asked the DWP to investigate, the error was discovered and Ms Cameron has now received arrears and an increase in her state pension to nearly £140 a week.
She says: ‘It’s awful. You have to be persistent. I kept thinking I am going to try again. I thought what have I got to lose.
‘It’s life changing. Over £50 a week extra to me is life changing. On the odd occasion I could afford to go out with friends, I had coffee. They would have cake. I didn’t have cake. I can buy cake now.
‘All my clothes come from charity shops. The only thing I buy new is underwear. I cut my own hair. This Christmas I can get my children something.’
The DWP correction exercise will not cover divorced women like Ms Cameron, where the department might have a record of their divorce but they are being underpaid state pension, warns Webb.
The former Pensions Minister, who is now a partner at pension consultant LCP, is calling on the DWP to reconsider and carry out checks on old cases.
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.
Webb has previously urged divorced women to check their state pension is correct, after helping a 77 year-old woman who assumed she did not qualify for one to secure a £60,000 backpayment.
However, Ms Cameron’s experiences suggest DWP staff make mistakes even when divorced women raise valid concerns about the amount they receive.
‘The pension system is particularly complex for people who divorce, so it is especially important that the DWP takes care to get these calculations right,’ says Webb.
‘In this case Ms Cameron repeatedly challenged DWP about her pension but was repeatedly told everything was fine, including in writing as recently as the summer of 2021.
‘It should not be necessary for people to have to badger the Department to get what is rightfully theirs and this raises serious questions about how many more divorced people have been fobbed off and are continuing to receive an incorrect amount.’
A DWP spokesperson said: ‘We are sorry we did not take action to amend Ms Cameron’s state pension as soon as we should have. We have now issued backdated arrears to the time Ms Cameron was divorced.’
>>>Divorce and the state pension: Scroll down to find out if you are missing out, and what to do
Matt Rodda, Labour’s Shadow Pensions Minister, said: ‘This is a shocking case.
‘The scale of the historic underpayment shows how badly this woman was treated by the DWP and it is deeply concerning that thousands more women may be in this position.
‘Ministers need to get a grip of this to make women are receiving the state pension that is rightfully theirs.’
What a distressing story and of great concern to any woman who is struggling through retirement on a pitifully low state pension.
Ros Altmann – pensions campaigner
Former Pensions Minister and campaigner Ros Altmann says: ‘What a distressing story and of great concern to any woman who is struggling through retirement on a pitifully low state pension.
‘I would like to see an urgent investigation by the DWP into what has gone wrong here, why this lady was wrongly assured her state pension was correct, even though it wasn’t and plans to remedy the failings in customer service.
‘Clearly, this lady’s letters were not taken sufficiently seriously and those responding to both written and telephone communications were not properly trained or instructed to ensure each inquiry was properly investigated.
‘The state pension is so complicated, with rules differing for all the various parts of the past state pension and women particularly having some reliance on a partner and some of their own pensions this means almost nobody can know whether the amount they are paid is correct.
‘That means the public is wholly reliant on the DWP to get the figures right.
‘I would also urge all women in such situations to contact their own MP and ask that they request a review by the DWP for their constituent.
‘In my experience, letters from MPs are treated more carefully than those from ordinary members of the public.’
Appalling pension saga caused a 73 year-old unnecessary hardship for six years
Sir Steve Webb: ”It should not be necessary for people to have to badger the Department to get what is rightfully theirs’
The DWP missed six separate opportunities to pay Josephine Cameron the correct state pension in a shocking catalogue of errors that forced her to struggle financially for years.
She was made to scrimp, unnecessarily, on everything from essentials like clothes to small treats like ordering cake as her friends did on the rare outings she could afford.
Ms Cameron received a £16,700 backpayment and had her state pension hiked from around £85 to £140 a week last month, when former minister Steve Webb raised her case with the DWP.
She should have received a substantial hike in payments immediately after she rang up to notify the DWP of her divorce in 2015.
However, although a staff member took her details they failed to act on them, the first in the series of blunders.
Ms Cameron received a letter from the DWP a few months later about her ex-husband’s death, but this second interaction did not prompt action on her state pension either.
At that point, the DWP appeared to think Ms Cameron was still married, since the letter offered her arrears on her former husband’s winter fuel payment. As a widow, she would have been entitled to a much larger state pension too, but that didn’t tip off the DWP either.
Ms Cameron responded to the DWP about her ex-husband’s death by letter, saying she did not qualify for his final winter fuel payment, and informed the DWP again they were divorced.
She included change of address details and her National Insurance number in the letter, but for a third time no action was taken about her state pension.
Several months later, Ms Cameron rang the DWP to say she believed she wasn’t getting the right amount of state pension.
I kept thinking I am going to try again. I thought what have I got to lose. It’s life changing. Over £50 a week extra to me is life changing
But she got the brush off from a staff member, who asked her whether she had got a letter, and that whatever was in that letter was what she was entitled to receive.
The staff member didn’t ask for Ms Cameron’s details, and so a fourth chance to pay her correctly was missed.
Earlier this year, after reading our stories about the state pension scandal, she realised her concerns about being underpaid must have been justified.
Ms Cameron wrote a letter to the DWP in April this year to question her payments again, in what was by then her fifth interaction with the DWP since her divorce.
She repeated again that she was divorced, and enclosed a copy of her decree absolute, but received no response.
Ms Cameron rang the DWP in June to raise her concerns again, in her sixth contact with the department. A DWP staff member attempted to look into her case and called her back twice that day, once to say there were no records of her and next to say her records had got mixed up with her ex-husband’s.
Ms Cameron wrote again last July, reiterating her concerns about her state pension, but this crossed with a letter from the DWP saying her state pension was correct.
This is Money has a copy of the July letter – see the excerpt below.
DWP letter wrongly telling Ms Cameron her state pension was correct
In November, Ms Cameron contacted Steve Webb and after he asked the DWP to look into her case the error in her state pension was discovered.
Ms Cameron says she is grateful to Webb and This is Money for helping her, and adds: ‘I am just glad it’s all over.’
She goes on: ‘I am not asking for something that doesn’t belong to me. I feel I am entitled to a pension. I worked. I don’t feel I have asked for something that doesn’t belong to me.
‘I am very lucky that I have found a partner and he has helped me. If he hadn’t supported me I don’t know what I would have done. No one can live on £85 a week. I have never had benefits, that’s all that I had.’
This is Money has asked the DWP whether it will consider paying compensation to Ms Cameron, and we are waiting to hear back about this.
Why are some divorced women missing out on state pension?
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 to 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.
Lady Altmann: ‘I would urge all women in such situations to contact their own MP and ask that they request a review by the DWP for their constituent’
‘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.’ The DWP’s contact information is here.
Are you divorced and worried you are being underpaid state pension? Write to This is Money and Steve Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org,uk – but please be aware that we receive many messages and can’t reply to everyone. If you are concerned about your state pension, you should notify the DWP, and you can also contact your MP as suggested above.
Can you claim pension credit?
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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