State pension delays: We continue to hear from readers about being fobbed off and given misleading information by DWP staff
State pension chaos at the Department of Work and Pensions has led to one widow, 82, waiting more than a year for her money and ending up being owed £75,500, This is Money can reveal.
A service meltdown has seen pensioners face phone logjams, empty promises of help by staff when they do get through, and in the worst cases hardship or hunger while trying to get payments started.
The problems were first brought to light by our investigation at the start of September 2021.
Parveen Adams found out after being widowed in autumn 2020 that her late husband had not claimed his state pension.
The retired lecturer and her family struggled for more than a year to sort this out, including making a formal complaint that went ignored.
Within days of This is Money raising her case we were told she was due a staggering backpayment of tens of thousands of pounds, or a significant rise in future weekly payments, though the latter would be be offset by her husband’s contracting out record.
Meanwhile, we have continued to hear from readers who are furious at being repeatedly fobbed off and misled by DWP staff over delays to their state pension.
‘In what appears to be a common problem within the Government, I have not been told the truth and just been fed false promises,’ says a retired civil servant, who turned 66 in April 2021 and was still waiting for his pension this January.
‘My experience has shown that the helpline is nothing of the sort, can only provide answers to the most basic of queries and their main task appears to act as a buffer to the people who can solve problems and make decisions.’
A retired nurse, who was 66 in November and lives in the US, was informed by the DWP before Christmas she might have to wait another half a year for her state pension.
She says: ‘Any claims that have been made in the House of Commons about issues being “resolved” are downright lies.’
>>>Are you still waiting for your state pension NOW? Find out what to do below
Pensions Minister Guy Opperman previously said normal service would resume by the end of October.
He blamed state pension delays on the pandemic and ‘staffing issues which have now been rectified’, and said hundreds of additional staff would be redeployed.
We asked the DWP to respond to our readers’ accusations that Mr Opperman has broken his promise, and that DWP staff are misleading people who ring up about callbacks that don’t happen and escalation of their cases.
A spokesperson says: ‘We are committed to delivering an excellent level of service and ensuring the right outcome for our customers. The Department is continuously learning and improving from situations where errors happen.’
Regarding the individual complaints we highlight today, the spokesperson says: ‘All of these cases have now been resolved and we are sorry for any inconvenience caused.
These delays are completely unacceptable. Ministers said they had solved this problem in the autumn and they quite clearly haven’t
Matt Rodda, Shadow Pensions Minister
‘There were various reasons for these claims not being processed, some of which were beyond our control.’
The DWP is considering whether to refer them to its team which decides on compensation.
Meanwhile, the DWP maintains that anyone making a claim today should not experience delays, and it notes some international state pension claims may take longer than UK claims.
Former Pensions Minister and This is Money columnist Steve Webb, who is now a partner at LCP, says: ‘We are increasingly finding that unless cases are completely standard or “vanilla”, DWP is taking an extremely long time to deal with them.’
Regarding the wait Ms Adams faced to resolve her and her late husband’s pensions, he adds: ‘In this case a family was owed a fortune in the form of a lump sum for a state pension that was never claimed, yet they had to battle for months to get someone to process their claim properly.
‘DWP needs to increase the capacity of its state pension claims department to make sure that claims like this are handled swiftly and efficiently.’
Shadow Pensions Minister Matt Rodda says: ‘People who have worked hard and contributed all their lives have every right to expect their pension to be paid on time, when they retire.
‘To make matters worse, the delays are not only completely unfair, they are causing very real hardship.
‘To be quite frank, these delays are completely unacceptable. Ministers said they had solved this problem in the autumn and they quite clearly haven’t. The Government must get a grip on this issue and treat pensioners with the respect they deserve.”
‘What is the point of taxpayers paying for helplines, call centres or response services, if the public do not receive the help they need and are left for months trying to get answers or waiting for call-backs and answers
Ros Altmann, former Pensions Minister
Former Pensions Minister and campaigner Ros Altmann says: ‘These cases are most concerning, because it seems the promises that the state pension delays had all been fixed are not correct.
‘Of course there will be problems with any system involving large numbers of members of the public, an overly complex pension system and call centres which seem to have operators who either have insufficient knowledge to help callers, or insufficient authority to ensure others respond and follow up on promised call-backs.
‘This is surely something that needs to be addressed urgently. The public has a right to expect much better service than this, especially when it relates to their state pension, which many will be wholly reliant on for their later life income.
‘If they expect their pension to start on time and it does not arrive, this can cause serious hardship.’
Lady Altmann adds: ‘The DWP has contracts with outside call centres and also has its own staff who handle customer phone inquiries, letters or emails.
‘If those paid to respond to the public are not performing adequately, surely there should be penalties on them and redress offered to people who are being treated so badly.
‘What is the point of taxpayers paying for helplines, call centres or response services, if the public do not receive the help they need and are left for months trying to get answers or waiting for call-backs and answers.
‘It is really shocking. It seems that too often the only way to achieve progress is when Peers, MPs and the media intervene directly, which is clearly not right.’
‘Trying to ring them is impossible’: Widow and her family struggle for A YEAR to get pension
Parveen Adams, 82, ended up being owed £75,500 after the DWP failed to sort out her late husband’s state pension for over a year.
She could opt to receive £154 a week extra for the rest of her life instead, and although this will be offset by a separate reduction in her own payments, she will be better off overall. See the box below.
Why do state pensions sometimes go DOWN after a spouse dies?
When a late spouse was ‘contracted out’ of the second state pension and has a large work pension, a surviving partner’s state pension is sometimes reduced to take account of that.
This is Money’s pension columnnist Steve Webb explains here.
The former lecturer, who is a writer on art and lives in London, lost her 72-year-old husband in September 2020.
When her brother, Darius Daver, was helping to sort out the estate he realised his late brother-in-law had never claimed a state pension.
Mr Daver says he spent half a day and made four phone calls to the DWP that November, and eventually got through to someone helpful.
He was told a separate department would investigate, his sister would receive an offer of a lump sum or additional pension for herself together with a widow’s pension, and this would take up to 10 weeks.
Mr Daver sent a letter by registered delivery that December giving the details asked for and enclosing a marriage certificate, which was later returned.
However, over the year that followed, the marriage certificate was requested and returned again, and a form sent out and returned, but no action was taken to sort out Ms Adams’s state pension.
She made a formal complaint by letter last November but received no response, then rang in December and was told she would get a call back within 10 days but this did not happen.
He brother then turned to This is Money for help, saying: ‘It’s now over a year since the matter was first raised and in the circumstances seems unkind and thoughtless.’
A family was owed a fortune in the form of a lump sum for a state pension that was never claimed, yet they had to battle for months to get someone to process their claim properly
Steve Webb, former Pensions Minister
He told us: ‘The biggest worry is there has been no response from anyone. It took months to get a form and then nothing. Then a formal letter to the complaints department, nothing. Trying to ring them is impossible.’
He says that luckily his sister is not short of money, but adds: ‘Some people must be desperate.’
After our intervention, the DWP initially wrote to Ms Adams about the reduction in her state pension – for the reason explained in the box above – rather than ring her with an apology and a full explanation of her options regarding a lump sum or an increased weekly payment.
She was forced to call, and fail to get through, then email only to be told to call again, in a further delay she told us was making her ill.
This is Money had to chase up the DWP a second time to get the situation resolved.
The DWP subsequently told us that it would not seek to recover overpayments worth £2,700 which Ms Adams received between September 2020 and now.
‘They haven’t been upfront with me’: Call centre staff are just a buffer and fail to help
Roger Harrison turned 66 last April but was still waiting for his state pension nine months later despite repeated calls to the DWP.
He didn’t receive the usual letter people get sent just before state pension age, but rang to request a claim form the day after his birthday and submitted it in early May.
He was told in June his form had been completed correctly and no further information was needed – a message that turned out to be wrong, but which he was not informed of during his calls in August, September, October and November.
Instead DWP staff kept saying that he would receive a call back within two weeks, but this did not happen until November.
On that occasion, he says: ‘I called again to be initially told my claim had not been received but after explaining my previous calls the form was eventually located.
‘A supervisor did return my call the following day but was unable to offer any reason as to the delay, identify any problem or be in a position able to expedite my claim.’
After another subsequent broken promise of a call back within two weeks and an escalation of his case, Mr Harrison says he was on the verge of making another ‘probably fruitless’ call to the DWP in December.
Instead, when he read This is Money’s last story about state pension delays he decided to contact us and his MP, Sajid Javid, who also agreed to help him.
Mr Harrison, who lives in Worcestershire, told us: ‘I had planned my retirement, after 42 years of public service, to take into account my state pension and although I do have my occupational pension, I find I am increasingly having to use my savings to maintain the standard of living I had hoped for.’
He added of his treatment by DWP staff: ‘I am frustrated. They haven’t been upfront with me. They keep fobbing me off by saying they will send an email and promising to phone me back in two weeks, and afterwards nothing.’
After This is Money raised his case with the DWP, a staff member called Mr Harrison to say he had made an error in his National Insurance number on his claim form, and there was a discrepancy in his date of birth on the system.
He questions why this was never picked up during his many phone calls, and tells us: ‘The conclusion I draw from the “explanation” I have been given is that without the intervention of yourself and Sajid Javid I would not have been able to speak to anyone who approves applications and would still be in limbo over my claim.’
Mr Harrison has been paid arrears of around £5,550 and now started getting his state pension. He says: ‘I hate to think of the stress and strain this would have caused someone who was reliant on receiving the pension for day to day living.’
Claims backlog NOT resolved: Retired nurse says ‘denial of the facts is outrageous and disrespectful’
Deborah Thelwell turned 66 in November, so was appalled to be told the following month that she might have to wait another half a year for her state pension.
She does not have an MP because she lives in the US, so she emailed Pensions Minister Guy Opperman’s office direct to say this was ‘unacceptable’.
Deborah Thelwell: ‘I was widowed in 2012, my late husband died at age 57, so he will never see his pension’
Mrs Thelwell wrote to him: ‘I will not belabour the point that I am one of the unfortunate women who was not informed of the increase to age 66 until 20 months prior to my 60th birthday.
‘So in addition to the six years I have already waited I am now forced to wait even longer. There is clearly no thought given to one’s personal financial situation during this wait.
‘I would also appreciate the cessation of some members of the House [of Commons] continuing to insist that the backlog of claims is now resolved – clearly it is not.
‘This continued denial of the facts is outrageous and disrespectful to the people who you are actually employed to represent. Please do your job and ensure that the departments for which you are responsible do theirs efficiently.’
Mrs Thelwell told This is Money that a six-month state pension delay, on top of a six-year wait, was ‘adding insult to injury’.
She says: ‘I am not trying to make out that I am some kind of impoverished wretch who is asking for a handout. I have a good life, am in good health and merely want what is (and has been) due to me.
‘I know that there are millions of women in a far worse situation than I, and it is also for them that attention needs to be brought to this issue.
‘I was widowed in 2012, my late husband died at age 57, so he will never see his pension. There are thousands of men and women like him.’
Mrs Thelwell has received arrears of £885.18 and started getting her state pension. The DWP says it regrets there was a delay in processing her claim.
‘I have no faith in them’: DWP staff gave conflicting info during six-month wait for pension
Brenda Keneghan, who lives in Ireland, was 66 last July but her state pension claim was still stalled in January.
She applied through the Irish Department for Social Protection as she was advised to do this in the country where she was resident.
STEVE WEBB ANSWERS YOUR PENSION QUESTIONS
It told her that it had passed on her details in July, and it was up to the DWP to process her UK state pension, but she got nowhere when trying to raise it with staff at the international pension centre.
She also contacted Emily Thornberry MP, who represents the London constituency she previously lived in, and who agreed to help.
Mrs Keneghan, a former museum staff member, told us she has a small work pension but she was dependent on her husband without her state pension.
‘This situation is causing me severe hardship,’ she went on.
‘I was depending on my pension for day to day living. I don’t understand how they have accessed my records and given them to the department in Ireland without having sorted out my pension full stop.’
She says DWP staff gave her conflicting information, and kept telling her don’t worry you will get your pension. She adds: ‘I have no faith in them.’
After This is Money intervened, Mrs Keneghan received arrears of around £3,950 and started getting her pension. The DWP says it regrets there was a delay in processing her claim.
The DWP adds that some international state pension claims may take longer than UK ones. Readers are emailing This is Money from overseas to say they have received messages from the DWP that delays are running at 24 weeks, or sometimes at 26 weeks.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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