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My wife is denied state pension but was a ‘stay at home’ mother, is that fair?

My wife was a ‘stay at home’ mum during my RAF career, and now she’s been denied state pension – is that fair? Steve Webb replies

I joined the RAF in 1969 and served for just over 27 years. I married in 1972 – we’re celebrating our 50 year anniversary this year.

We have three children, first born in 1973, second born 1974 and the third born 1976. My wife was a ‘stay at home’ mother and, consequently, has never worked.

With the frequent moves during my service career, including two tours (six years) in Germany, this also made employment for my wife a difficulty.

On approaching retirement age (66) my wife completed the forms for State Pension and in reply was informed that she had no entitlement. Is this really right? Is this fair? I receive a Military pension and at age 65 I received my state pension.

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Denied state pension: My wife was a stay at home mother and could not work, also because of my frequent moves during my RAF career, is that right?

Steve Webb replies: Under the new state pension system, it is necessary to have a minimum of ten years of National Insurance contributions or credits in order to receive any pension at all. 

It seems likely that this is the reason why your wife has been told that she has no pension entitlement.

However, there are three possible ways in which this might be addressed.

The first is a special scheme for military spouses with service abroad. As you point out, it can be hard for the spouse or partner of someone in the services to get employment overseas and this can have a damaging effect on their own National Insurance records.

In response to this, the Government created a system of National Insurance ‘credits’ for the spouse or partner of military personnel during periods of service overseas.

Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below

Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below

These credits are not awarded automatically so your wife should claim any credits to which she may be entitled. It is possible that this will be enough to get her up to the ten year minimum contribution record. 

You can read more about these credits here.

A second thing to investigate is whether your wife is getting all the credits she is due for time out of paid work bringing up children. 

From 1978/79 onwards she is potentially entitled to National Insurance credits if she was getting child benefit for a child aged under 16. 

If your youngest child was born in 1976, then this could potentially entitle her to well over ten years of (post 1978) credits towards her state pension. (Prior to 2010 these credits went by the name of ‘Home Responsibilities Protection’ or HRP).

If this is not showing on her NI record this would be worth checking.

The two most common explanations are that the child benefit was not in her name, or that she was paying the ‘married woman’s stamp’ which disqualifies you from these credits. 

As you say she never worked, the most likely explanation is that the child benefit was in your name. If this is the case you can apply to have the credits transferred to her name. 

You can find more details on how to do this here.

Did my wife lose some state pension while I was a soldier in the 1970s? 

Steve Webb replies to a previous question from a reader who was concerned his wife lost some state pension while he was a serving soldier in the 1970s here. 

Finally, if after all of this your wife is still just short of the 10 years she needs to get any pension, you might want to consider paying voluntary NI contributions to get her up to the 10 year mark. 

This could be especially attractive if she is just a year or two short of the target. Even if she is now above the 10 year mark, there might be potential for topping up her pension at attractive rates.

To give an example, suppose your wife has 9 years of contributions or credits and qualifies for a state pension of zero. With 10 years she would suddenly get 10/35 of the full rate or around £2,750 per year. 

One year of voluntary (class 3) NI contributions currently costs just under £825, so you would get your money back in a matter of months.

If you had additional money to spare, each extra year of contributions (at £825) would add a further 1/35 to your wife’s pension – around £275 per year – and could also be very good value.

Ask Steve Webb a pension question

Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is This Is Money’s Agony Uncle.

He is ready to answer your questions, whether you are still saving, in the process of stopping work, or juggling your finances in retirement.

Steve left the Department of Work and Pensions after the May 2015 election. He is now a partner at actuary and consulting firm Lane Clark & Peacock.

If you would like to ask Steve a question about pensions, please email him at pensionquestions@thisismoney.co.uk.

Steve will do his best to reply to your message in a forthcoming column, but he won’t be able to answer everyone or correspond privately with readers. Nothing in his replies constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.

Please include a daytime contact number with your message – this will be kept confidential and not used for marketing purposes.

If Steve is unable to answer your question, you can also contact MoneyHelper, a Government-backed organisation which gives free assistance on pensions to the public. It can be found here and its number is 0800 011 3797.

Steve receives many questions about state pension forecasts and COPE – the Contracted Out Pension Equivalent. If you are writing to Steve on this topic, he responds to a typical reader question here. It includes links to Steve’s several earlier columns about state pension forecasts and contracting out, which might be helpful.  

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