This is Money continues to receive messages from people struggling to get their state pension started – find out what to do below if YOU are affected
Older people are still suffering nightmare ordeals when trying to get state pension payments started.
This is Money has covered many cases of readers struggling to get by or even forced into hardship due to a service meltdown at the DWP, and it promised to get on top of problems by November.
Yet, it’s almost Christmas and we continue to hear horror stories from readers, including one woman whose claim vanished into thin air, and another whose application was shut down by staff against her wishes.
Poll Park, who signed up online and received an email confirmation in April, chased up the DWP twice to ask what had happened to her state pension after she turned 66 in the summer.
No one discovered or told the business owner in Scotland that her claim had gone missing until This is Money raised it with the DWP.
After that, she received a call from a staff member who told her it was a case of ‘the computers not talking to each other’.
The DWP subsequently denied to This is Money there was a service delay issue in Dr Park’s case, as it had no record of her claim.
Ellen Scott-Thomas, who was 66 last July, was furious to be told while on the phone with a staff member her state pension claim was being ‘closed’ because of her ‘non-communication’ with the DWP.
By the time this occurred in mid-autumn, the retired administrator from London had made a string of calls to the DWP and given all the information asked for on several occasions.
Ms Scott-Thomas explained she was suffering hardship while waiting for her pension, but was told to contact her local council for help, and never informed the DWP can issue advance payments in such cases.
>>>Are you still waiting for your state pension NOW? Find out what to do below
Another reader told us about being given the runaround for months just to get hold of a state pension claim form, because the DWP’s system didn’t allow an online application.
People living overseas, or who are in the UK but have worked abroad, report their applications stalling or going round in circles for months.
And as with previous cases we have covered, many people say they have made repeated calls to the DWP, but the information they gave was not passed on, and they were made empty promises action would be taken – read their stories below.
A DWP spokesperson said: ‘All these cases are now resolved and where we have not processed claims as quickly as possible we have apologised.
Serious administrative failings mean people have waited months for their money and might still be waiting but for intervention by This is Money
Steve Webb, former Pensions Minister
‘There were various reasons for these claims not being processed, some of which were beyond our control.’
Pensions Minister Guy Opperman has previously blamed state pension delays on the pandemic and ‘staffing issues which have now been rectified’.
He said hundreds of additional staff would be redeployed and normal service would resume by the end of October.
Former Pensions Minister and This is Money columnist Steve Webb, who is now a partner at LCP, said: ‘There is worrying evidence that DWP assurances about state pension claims being handled promptly cannot be taken at face value.
‘In some cases, serious administrative failings mean people have waited months for their money and might still be waiting but for intervention by This is Money.
‘And it is also clear that anyone regarded as “non-standard” by the Department may find themselves waiting well beyond pension age for their money.
‘The Department needs to do a thorough audit of all outstanding claims and ensure that these are treated promptly and efficiently.
‘It also needs to investigate the apparently repeated problem of information provided over the phone to call handlers not being properly used.’
This is something Ministers really should be able to get right. Their failure shows a staggering level of incompetence which is having a dreadful effect and is letting down people who deserve to be treated properly
Matt Rodda, Labour’s Shadow Pensions Minister
Another former Pensions Minister, Ros Altmann, expressed dismay at the experiences of This is Money readers, saying: ‘What a litany of tales of woe.
‘I must admit that I find it shocking to see so many pensioners being left without their pensions, unable to reach the DWP on the phone, sending applications which seem then to disappear, or being told all is in hand and then still nothing happens.
‘Of course it is not easy to administer hundreds of thousands of state pension claims, with such a complicated system there are bound to be a few errors or problems arising, however the most worrying aspect is that we were assured all the backlog would be fixed many weeks ago and still there are so many people who did not receive their state pension.
‘When people find the money they were relying on does not arrive, they can be left trying to borrow at high interest rates, or going without basic essentials.
‘If it was not for This is Money intervening, one can’t help wondering whether these individuals would still be waiting.
‘I would urge anyone living in the UK, whose state pension does not come through on time, to contact their MP and ask them to get in touch with the DWP to look into the problem swiftly. MPs should be able to represent their pensioner constituents and help sort out these kinds of problems.’
Matt Rodda, Labour’s Shadow Pensions Minister, said: ‘Pensioners who have worked hard all their lives deserve to be paid their pensions on time.
‘Paying the state pension promptly is a basic function of Government, this is something Ministers really should be able to get right.
‘Their failure shows a staggering level of incompetence which is having a dreadful effect and is letting down people who deserve to be treated properly.’
State pension claim vanished, but was NOT delayed: DWP defends its blunder
Poll Park is mystified as to why her state pension claim disappeared.
‘I had a letter inviting me to apply, and the email acknowledging my online application, both from last April,’ she told This is Money – she has shown us both documents.
‘In neither of my two phone calls to the DWP did anyone suggest that there was no record of my application for my pension, so it is not clear that it would ever have been sorted without your intervention.’
Dr Park, who is joint owner of an optical design company with her husband, Dr Mike Hammond, and lives on the Isle of Bute, should have started receiving her pension four weeks after she turned 66 in August.
She chased up the DWP after reading its assurances in the press that delays were all sorted by the end of October, and that everyone either had their pension or had been contacted for more information.
‘I rang up again. It was a shorter time on hold this time, but basically the same conversation. They were sending an urgent memo, and couldn’t give me a timescale. The person on the phone gave no information about what was wrong, and would answer no questions.’
Dr Park then wrote to us, saying: ‘As I am still working, and also have a couple of occupational pensions, I don’t personally have a problem with the lack of cash.
‘I have a lot of sympathy with those who do have problems. I just find it outrageous that my state pension should not start on time, and that no one has contacted me to explain or apologise.’
When we flagged Dr Park’s case to the DWP, we were told there had been no service delay issues with her claim as the department had no record of it.
She has now had an apology from a staff member, and has received a backpayment of more than £2,200 and started getting her pension.
I was told I’d failed to communicate with the DWP, while ON THE PHONE to the DWP
Ellen Scott-Thomas told This is Money her treatment by the DWP was a ‘debacle’ and said: I would hate the same thing to happen to someone else.’
She was 66 in July, but waited for her state pension for months despite many calls to the DWP.
I would urge anyone living in the UK, whose state pension does not come through on time, to contact their MP and ask them to get in touch with the DWP to look into the problem swiftly
Ros Altmann, former Pensions Minister
Ms Scott-Thomas was outraged to be informed by a staff member during a phone call that her claim was being ‘closed’ due to her ‘non-communication’ with the DWP.
She vehemently denies failing to give information, and says she was asked for and gave her bank details to the DWP numerous times.
The closure of her claim prompted her to send a complaint letter by recorded delivery in mid-October, to which she received no response.
She had told DWP staff she was struggling financially, and belatedly discovered she could have asked for an advance payment.
In her complaint letter, she wrote: ‘Each and every one of your caseworkers/advisers failed to routinely notify me I could have had an advance payment to financially tide me over until all my paperwork is completed.
‘When pressed in regard to issues of financial duress, I was told by your adviser that there is nothing you at the DWP can offer me, but if I did need some financial assistance, it was suggested I get in contact with my local council as they may have some hardship funds I could claim.’
Ms Scott-Thomas eventually wrote to This is Money, saying the delay to her state pension was ‘causing me much duress and financial hardship’.
After This is Money intervened, the DWP told us delays were due to insufficient bank details provided, and after attempts to contact Ms Scott-Thomas her claim was deemed closed.
When we got in touch on her behalf, her claim was sorted out and she was given arrears of nearly £800.
DWP kept ignoring large pension record built up abroad
Lidia Karwecka was 66 in September but her state pension claim stalled because her work record in Poland needed to be included in her payments.
STEVE WEBB ANSWERS YOUR PENSION QUESTIONS
She was sent round in circles between the UK and international pension departments of the DWP, and repeatedly given conflicting information.
Ms Karwecka, who lives in London, has UK and Polish dual nationality.
She had paid five years’ National Insurance in the UK and 37 years into the equivalent system in Poland, with which there is a reciprocal state pension agreement.
She says: ‘One month after I reached my state pension age I received a letter stating DWP cannot pay me my pension as I don’t have enough qualifying years.
‘I tried calling and explaining that someone has to look at my years worked abroad, but I was constantly being told by DWP that I do not qualify.
‘Eventually one of the agents I spoke to mentioned the International Pension Centre to me. I called them and within minutes they were able to confirm the DWP made a mistake and that no-one looked at my years worked abroad when they were considering my application for state pension, despite me stating this on my initial application.’
The IPC reopened her state pension claim, but although she made two calls a week for updates her pension didn’t start.
‘Every time I am told that the agent is sending an email to DWP asking to set this case as “urgent”, and that I will hear back within 48 hours. And then nothing happens,’ she told us.
Ms Karwecka was forced to carry on working as a cleaner and rely on help from her daughters and food banks to make ends meet.
In early December she was finally contacted by the DWP, but only to wrongly tell her again that she did not qualify for a state pension, sending her back to square one.
She protested again that her work record in Poland needed to be taken into account, and persuaded the DWP staff member not to close her claim.
After This is Money raised her case with the DWP, it contacted the Polish pension authorities to confirm Ms Karwecka’s contribution record and in mid-December she was awarded a UK state pension.
The DWP also found she qualified for pension credit, and she was invited to apply and received £620 backdated to September.
Attempts to contact DWP from abroad hit a dead end
A retired nurse living in Egypt was left in limbo when her state pension failed to arrive as expected.
Sally Dunn (not her real name) received an acknowledgement of her application in June, but after she turned 66 in September she received no payments or further communications.
Ms Dunn, who is a volunteer teaching Egyptian children, struggled financially and was at a loss as to how get answers from the DWP.
She said in an email to us: ‘Due to coronavirus and lack of flights and mail to the UK, I had to forward the paperwork to the UK with Aramex, at a cost of £50 to myself.
‘In early October 2021, with still no further information from the UK, I travelled to Turkey and posted a further letter to UK Pensions for an update. This was due to there still being no postal service from Egypt to the UK, which I explained in my first pension application.
‘This is obviously extremely stressful for me. I live alone and am surviving on a very small pension. It is impossible for me to ring the pension helpline due to the ridiculous cost of phone calls from Egypt to the UK.’
When we raised her case with the DWP, Ms Dunn received a call from a staff member to finalise the details of her state pension.
The DWP told us international claims can face longer waits, that it had apologised to Ms Dunn for the delay in processing her pension, and that she would receive a backpayment of £540.
They say it’s sorted, but I might have to wait six weeks!
Stephen Harris, a retired electrician who was 66 in early September, made around half a dozen calls to the DWP about his pension but got nowhere.
During his last call, in mid-November, he was told by a staff member the DWP had all his information and he may hear back by the end of December.
Mr Harris, who is a carer for his 92-year-old father and lives in Birmingham, had fully stopped work in May.
When he contacted This is Money about his delayed pension, he said: ‘I can understand the pressure on them, but they say it’s been sorted, and there is no response from them.’
He believed his case could not be among those the DWP previously said it needed more information about, because he had supplied everything that was asked of him.
‘The only information they asked for was National Insurance number, address and date of birth when I’ve called them,’ he said.
The DWP told us that because Mr Harris was in receipt of Carer’s Allowance, it had required further information from that unit. A staff member called him to apologise for the delay in sorting out his pension and he has received arrears of nearly £2,000.
Quest to get a form involves frustrating phone waits
Relatives of an elderly man in serious ill health struggled unsuccessfully for months to get the DWP to send out a state pension application form.
Vincenzo Muglia moved from Italy 10 years ago, and now lives in Hertfordshire.
He qualified for an £82.45-a-week state pension when he turned 80 in late September.
His family, who have power of attorney for Mr Muglia, started trying to get hold of the form for this type of ‘category D’ pension in July and were still waiting by November.
His brother-in-law, Ashley Blake, told us he was cut off repeatedly when trying to call the DWP, once after waiting one and a half hours, and also because the line closes at 6pm.
He says: ‘When waiting you get a message that you can apply online but not the over-80s pension. I have applied three times for the form which has never arrived.
‘In desperation I filled in form BR1 [for standard claims] and sent it off. The call centre staff have to contact the pension centre by email to action anything.
‘In this day and age I don’t know why contact is so difficult. I have personally spent hours contacting them. Fortunately I have a hands free speaker phone. Beware if after three quarters of an hour you do not answer immediately – they will just hang up.’
After we got in touch, the DWP told us Mr Muglia’s claim had to be processed via a specialised over-80s team, causing what it described as slight delays.
It has now sorted the pension, apologised for the delay, and paid arrears of £500.
State pension delays: What we asked the DWP
This is Money continues to receive messages from people struggling to get their state pension started. Some are in distress because their benefits stopped at age 66 and they are suffering hardship.
We put the following questions to the DWP on our readers’ behalf.
Q On what grounds can the DWP close a state pension claim? Can it do this without informing the claimant, and without their consent?
A Aside from instances of death or imprisonment, state pension claims may be temporarily suspended or closed after numerous failed attempts to reach the customer (via post, phone or in person) and sufficient time has been allowed for the customer to make contact with DWP.
Q Readers living overseas say they have been informed that waiting time for their state pension application to be processed is 22 weeks, and in one instance 26 weeks – is this the case?
A Some international state pension claims may take longer than UK claims.
Q Readers have told us they called the DWP multiple times to ask for a state pension application form, which has then not arrived or taken a long time to do so. Why is this happening?
A We offer a variety of options to suit all needs when applying for state pension, including tele-claim, online and form requests.
Q Does the DWP have a system for identifying especially vulnerable or needy people making state pension claims, and prioritising those in danger of extreme hardship, ie those receiving benefits which are going to stop at 66?
A In cases where a claimant may be vulnerable, we can arrange home visits and offer additional support in making a claim.
Q Does the DWP inform people suffering hardship that they can apply for an advance payment of their state pension?
A We are committed to helping those in financial hardship and we have procedures in place to expedite payments.
State pension delayed? What should you do
The state pension is paid four weeks in arrears when it first begins, but delays have stretched for a further month and sometimes several more.
‘Anyone who has faced an unreasonable wait should definitely escalate the issue via their MP who should take it up with the DWP,’ said former Pensions Minister Steve Webb.
Another former Pensions Minister, Ros Altmann, advised the same, saying: ‘MPs should be able to represent their pensioner constituents and help sort out these kinds of problems.’
The Government will give an advance on a first state pension payment if you have made a claim and are in ‘urgent financial need’.
Details of how to apply are here, but there is no information on what criteria it uses to make decisions.
The DWP said: ‘We have procedures in place to escalate cases where a customer tells us they are in financial hardship and their state pension entitlement date is past due.
‘Customer contacts of this nature are typically cleared and urgent payments issued the same day. The Pension Service phone number is 0800 731 0469.’
If you are having trouble getting payments started, write to This is Money and tell your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please put PENSION DELAY in the subject line. We will not be able to respond to everyone, and you may also want to seek help from your MP.