‘DWP refusing to engage with state pension underpayment strugglers’ – MPs

By Sophie King

The Work and Pensions Committee chair Stephen Timms MP has said the DWP is still “refusing to engage” with pensioners who missed out on getting their rightful state pension entitlements and are struggling to find out more about the issue.

Last month in the Spring Budget, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) admitted it is set to make payments totalling £3bn over the next six years to address underpayments of the state pension to women dating back two decades.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) Economic and Fiscal Outlook said the DWP had identified “underpayments of state pension relating to entitlements for certain married people, widows and over-80s back to 1992” who are now due redress from the government.

However, in a letter sent on 20 April to Timms, and seen by Professional Adviser, pensions minister Guy Opperman MP revealed not much progress had been made in trying to tackle the problem. Timms wrote to Opperman in March and put forward several questions in a bid to find out what the DWP is doing to help pensioners.

In response to Timms’ question about departmental resourcing to help facilitate the back-payments to the women who have lost out, Opperman replied: “The department already has a dedicated team of over 150 people working on the correction activity.

“Throughout 2021/22 we intend to significantly increase the capacity of the team with the recruitment of an additional 360 staff. The additional resource will speed up the correction activity with the aim to complete the activity by the end of 2023.”

Opperman also said his department supported the OBR ahead of its publication that highlighted the state pension underpayments, consistent with normal procedures.

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For those state pensioners who have died but may be owed benefits, Opperman said the DWP only holds contact information provided to it by customers during the lifecycle of their award.

However, the DWP is currently investigating whether there are any other measures that could be taken to identify an appropriate contact if details are not held within its systems.

Commenting on the letter, Timms said: “The scale of this problem is staggering – it’s likely to affect tens of thousands of women and to cost some £3 billion pounds to fix. The government has a duty to be transparent with parliament and the public about the progress it is making on an exercise of this magnitude.

“The minister says that there will be more information at the next fiscal event – but that isn’t likely to happen for another six months or more.

“Having created this problem, DWP ought to be offering a gold standard service to pensioners and their families. Instead, the department refuses to engage with reports of people having difficulty getting through on the phone line or receiving incorrect advice when they do.

“Too many cases have needed the intervention of journalists, professional advisers or high-profile figures to be resolved. It’s simply not good enough.”

“We will continue to press for better and quicker answers from the department.”