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25 Jul 2021

Women's state pension age increase was 'maladministered', rules Ombudsman - will it lead to compensation?

Investigation finds the government was too slow to tell women born in the 1950s about the changes

Women claiming they faced discrimination when their state pension age was increased have renewed calls for compensation after the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman accused the government of 'maladministration' over communicating the changes.

In a report published this week, the influential Ombudsman condemned the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for not providing 'accurate, adequate and timely' information about the hike in women's state pension age.

It follows an ongoing campaign led by two groups: Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) and BackTo60. They believe that women who were born in the 1950s were robbed of their state pension when the government introduced the changes to the state pension age (SPA) from 60 to 65, and then 66 in line with men.

Here, Which? looks at what the Ombudsman's report says, plus the response from Waspi campaigners and the DWP.

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What does the Ombudsman's report say?

The 1995 Pensions Act changed the law so that women would no longer be able to claim their state pension at 60.

In its report, the Ombudsman says it received a significant number of complaints about the way this was communicated by DWP. It notes that many women said that they were not aware of the changes, and experienced significant financial loss and emotional distress as a result.

The investigation concludes that from 2005 onwards, there were failings in the action taken by DWP to communicate the state pension age.

Amanda Amroliwala, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman chief executive, said: 'After a detailed investigation, we have found that DWP failed to act quickly enough once it knew a significant proportion of women were not aware of changes to their state pension age. It should have written to the women affected at least 28 months earlier than it did.'

Why the new report matters

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman's role is to make final decisions on complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England, UK government departments (like the DWP), and some other UK public organisations.

If it fully or partly upholds a complaint, it can make recommendations to the organisation or government department to put things right, which could mean:

  • Apologising
    Acknowledging their mistake
    Making a payment.

The Ombudsman's findings have held some influence in the past.

For example, in 2013 it published a report on midwifery supervision and regulation that found the safety of mothers and babies could be put at risk because supervisors of midwives have potentially conflicting roles. The Ombudsman recommended that midwifery supervision and regulation should be separated.

Since then, the government has introduced legal changes that implemented the Ombudsman's recommendations.

The Ombudsman's report on the state pension age increase has been laid before Parliament, and the Ombudsman is considering the impact of the failings made by the government and the action that should be taken to address them.

Will Waspi succeed in getting compensation?

The findings of the report are a positive step forward for the women affected and it has renewed calls from campaigners for compensation.

Waspi's chair, Angela Madden, said: '[The] findings reinforce what we, unfortunately, knew all along; that the DWP failed to adequately inform 3.8 million women who were born in the 1950s 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 can't wait any longer. 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.'

Waspi will now take time to consider the contents of the report with their legal advisers and decide the best way forward for their campaign.

However, while the recent developments are a step in the right direction, this is a battle that's been dragged to court and been rejected before.

In September last year, two women in their 60s, Julie Delve and Karen Glynn, went to the Court of Appeal to fight their case for state pension compensation, with support from the BackTo60 campaign group, but didn't get the outcome they'd hoped for. Judges at the Court of Appeal unanimously rejected claims of discrimination, after a High Court Ruling in October 2019, in which the same decision was made.

DWP told us: '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.

'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.'

'Likely to fall on deaf ears'

Tom Selby, a senior analyst at pension provider AJ Bell, says: '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.'

BackTo60 and Waspi: what spurred their campaign?

The Pensions Act 1995 provided for the SPA for women to increase from 60 to 65 over the period April 2010 to 2020.

The aftermath of this government decision led to the formation of two groups: Waspi - Women Against State Pension Age Inequality - who came together in 2015 and BackTo60, which has long been campaigning on the premise that pay for women was often lower than that for men, and many women took breaks from work to bring up children.

This means that not receiving their pension at 60 has had a disproportionately harsh effect, BackTo60 argues.

What was the government's argument?

The DWP had strongly opposed the original case. Governments have long argued that the age rise was justified on the grounds of intergenerational fairness, and addresses inequalities between men and women's state pension ages.

DWP told us at the time of the High Court verdict in 2019: 'The government decided more than 20 years ago that it was going to make the state pension age the same for men and women as a long-overdue move towards gender equality and this has been clearly communicated.

'People are living longer, so we need to raise the age at which all of us can draw a state pension so it's sustainable now and for future generations.'

What is my state pension age?

The age you'll start to receive the state pension will depend on when you were born.

You can use our state pension age calculator to work out when you're likely to qualify.