Ombudsman slams DWP failures in telling women about pension age delay

Campaign: WASPI has protested about the ‘unfair’ way state pension age changes were implemented

Women whose state pension age was raised to 66 have renewed calls for compensation after the Parliamentary Ombudsman accused the Government of ‘maladministration’ over delays to informing them about the changes.

In a report published today, the Parliamentary Ombudsman highlighted government failures to write to affected women directly earlier and to act on internal research on improving and targeting its communications.

Women Against State Pension Inequality – or WASPI – said the findings reinforced what it ‘knew all along’ about the Department for Work and Pension’s failure to adequately inform 3.8million 1950s-born women that their state pension age would be increasing.

‘We are calling on the Government to agree fair and adequate compensation for WASPI women rather than allow what has become a vicious cycle of Government in-action to continue,’ said the WASPI group, adding that it was consulting its legal advisers to decide the best way forward.

At the urging of the WASPI group, thousands of women lodged official complaints over failures to notify them about state pension age hikes.

But the Ombudsman put a decision on hold during a judicial review, brought by the separate BackTo60 group, which was ultimately unsuccessful. 

WASPI said the courts could not make a judgement on maladministration because that was the role of the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman said women should should have had at least 28 months’ more individual notice of changes to their state pension age, an opportunity to adjust their retirement plans that was ‘lost’, and it will now move on to consider ‘the impact that injustice had’.

What does the DWP say? 

‘Both the High Court and Court of Appeal have supported the actions of the DWP, under successive governments dating back to 1995, and the Supreme Court refused the claimants permission to appeal,’ says a spokesperson.

‘In a move towards gender equality, it was decided more than 25 years ago to make the state pension age the same for men and women.’

After that stage of its investigation, it is expected to make recommendations to remedy what happened.

However, it remains unclear whether the Government will have to stump up some kind of compensation to women, many of whom have suffered financial hardship after remaining unaware of the delay in when they could draw a state pension.

They were also affected by a decision by Chancellor George Osborne in 2011 to bring forward the timing of changes to women’s pension age, and a rise to 66 for everyone, to 2018 and 2020 respectively.

This hit women particularly hard because their increases happened both sooner than expected and in quick succession.

The WASPI campaign has said in the past it agrees with equalising women’s and men’s pension ages, but not the ‘unfair’ way the changes were implemented. 

What did the Parliamentary Ombudsman find?

Between 1995 and 2004, accurate information about changes to the state pension age was publicly available in leaflets, through the DWP’s pensions education campaigns, through DWP’s agencies and on its website, according to the Ombudsman.

But it identified failures to act on research in 2004 and in 2006 recommending ‘appropriately targeted’ information be sent to women.

After 2004, it says: ‘DWP explored options for targeting information but, having considered the options, what it ended up doing was what it had already done.

‘DWP failed to take adequate account of the need for targeted and individually tailored information or of how likely it was doing the same thing would achieve different results.

‘Despite having identified there was more it could do, it failed to provide the public with as full information as possible. DWP failed to make a reasonable decision about next steps in August 2005 and failed to use feedback to improve service design and delivery.

‘It therefore failed at this point to ‘get it right’ and ‘seek continuous improvement’. That was maladministration.’

After 2006, the Ombudsman says: ‘DWP failed again to “get it right” and “seek continuous improvement”. It did not act promptly enough on its November 2006 proposal to write directly to affected women to tell them about changes to state pension age.

‘And it failed to give due weight to how much time had already been lost since the 1995 Pensions Act. That was also maladministration.’

What does the WASPI campaign say?

The group says it is vindicated, even though throughout its campaign and despite support across Parliament it has been ‘dismissed’ by successive governments.

It claims ministers consistently refused to meet with the women affected, and insisted in Parliament that sufficient notice was given about the state pension age change, when their Department knew this was not the case.

WASPI called on the Government to ‘urgently compensate all women affected rather than making them wait even longer’ while the Ombudsman completes further rounds of its investigation.

Chair Angela Madden and communications director, Debbie de Spon said in a joint statement: ‘Today’s findings reinforce what we, unfortunately, knew all along; that the DWP failed to adequately inform 3.8million 1950s born women that their state pension age would be increasing.

‘The DWP’s own research showed that women were not sufficiently aware of the changes, yet they failed to act. This inaction had devastating and life-altering impacts on women across the country.

‘These women have been waiting for many years for compensation. We cannot wait any longer.’

What do pension experts say?

‘Millions of women were affected by increases in their state pension age originally put forward in the 1995 Pensions Act,’ says Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell.

‘It was reasonable for these women to expect the Government to provide as much information as possible to communicate changes which would have such a profound impact on their retirement plans.

‘While the Ombudsman found the information provided between 1995 and 2004 was accurate and of a reasonable standard, those affected have every right to be angry that evidence provided to the DWP in 2004 that improvements to communications could be made was not acted on swiftly.

‘What we still don’t know is what, if any, compensation will be provided to women as a result of this finding. 

‘The Ombudsman now plans to look at the impact this injustice had, which will undoubtedly lead to more pressure for a resolution.

‘Given the parlous state of UK finances, calls in some quarters to compensate women affected in full – which could amount to six years of state pension payments – are likely to fall on deaf ears.’