A retired pub worker who was wrongly refused a state pension when she turned 66 has urged other women to challenge similar Government blunders.
Estelle Henley, pictured below with her husband Rob, was shocked to be told she would receive nothing whatsoever when she claimed in April.
After Mrs Henley, who lives in Hythe near Southampton, fought the decision by the Department for Work and Pensions it backed down and admitted she was owed around £4,400 a year.
Rob and Estelle Henley: She was shocked to receive no state pension, but was sure this was wrong and battled the DWP until it backed down
Other women who have reached state pension age since 2016 and are divorced or widowed could have lost out on much bigger sums.
Mrs Henley enlisted support from former Pensions Minister Steve Webb, and he is now sounding the alarm after helping her and three other women also wrongly informed they had zero or a very low entitlement to a state pension when they turned 66.
Webb and This is Money previously discovered tens of thousands of elderly women were underpaid £1billion in a scandal affecting those who reached state pension before 2016.
However, Webb is now flagging a separate error involving women who have qualified for their pension since 2016.
Those who paid ‘married women’s stamp’ for at least one year during the 35 years before they reached state pension age should receive around £4,400 a year if they are married, or around £7,400 a year if they are divorced or widowed.
An estimated 10,000 women are eligible, but it is not known how many have missed out, as Mrs Henley might have done had she not battled to receive the correct amount.
A DWP spokesperson said: ‘This year we will spend over £110billion on the state pension and our priority is ensuring every pensioner receives all the financial support to which they are entitled.
‘Where errors do occur, we are committed to identifying and rectifying them.’
Webb has written to current Pensions Minister Guy Opperman to raise concerns about recent state pension mistakes, and the spokesperson added: ‘We will respond to the letter in due course.’
Refused a state pension at 66: ‘I knew that something was wrong’
Estelle Henley worked full-time in her daughter’s pub for 15 years before she retired.
And her husband Rob, 72, has kept on working part-time jobs, including as security officer for the cruise ships at Southampton Docks, in order to support them.
She says: ‘I knew that something was wrong when I was told I wasn’t entitled to a pension, but there may be other women who might not realise they have been given the wrong information.
‘I would encourage anyone who has been turned down for a pension to make sure that an error has not been made.’
Steve Webb, who is now a partner at LCP and This is Money’s pensions columnist, says: ‘I have no doubt there are still women out there who have been wrongly told they have no entitlement and did not challenge what they were told.’
Were you refused a state pension?
A little-known rule means women who paid the ‘married women’s stamp’ towards the state pension can still benefit from it now.
Women retiring from April 2016 onwards get state pension payments based on their own National Insurance record not their husband’s.
But there is a special concession for those who paid the stamp for at least one year during the 35 years before they reached state pension age.
You can claim £85.00 a week if still married or £141.85 if you are widowed or divorced, based on this year’s rates.
If this applies to you, and you were refused a state pension or are receiving less than that, email us at email@example.com and put DWP CLAIMS in the subject line.
Women who reached state pension age before April 2016 who are on a zero pension or think they are underpaid can find out what to do here.
He discovered the Department for Work and Pensions were making mistakes in such cases in a response to a Freedom of Information request in 2019.
‘When DWP admitted to me that they had been making errors for this group of women I assumed that they would have put in place procedures to sort out the problem,’ he explains.
‘Yet I continue to hear from women who have been wrongly told that they are not entitled to a pension.
‘What concerns me most is how many other women there may be who simply trusted what DWP have told them and are now struggling to get by without the pension which is rightfully theirs.
‘DWP should be checking all their records for such cases and putting things right, as well as making sure that these mistakes cannot happen again.’
In an open letter to current Pensions Minister Guy Opperman, Webb says: ‘I remain concerned that even the chastening experience of discovering a £1billion underpayment in state pensions does not seem to have prompted a fundamental change in the Department’s approach to checking state pension awards.’
Webb has highlighted Mrs Henley’s case and three others to the DWP, describing the sums involved as ‘potentially life-changing for the women concerned’.
– A divorced woman reached state pension age this year and was wrongly notified that her state pension would be £68.93 instead of £141.85 a week.
She knew from previous correspondence with the DWP about the higher rate for women who had paid the ‘married women’s stamp’, and Webb says that after several letters and eventually his own involvement, the Government accepted its error.
– A married woman who was 66 last summer was surprised not to be notified about her state pension.
Webb says: ‘She contacted the Department and eventually had a letter to say she had zero entitlement as she only had nine qualifying years.
‘In the end she got her local MP involved and DWP accepted that she was due a pension of just over £86 per week.’
– Another married woman who reached pension age in autumn 2020 was also told she had no entitlement to a state pension.
Webb says: ‘She did battle with the Department over the course of a year, eventually contacting me and threatening to contact her local MP, and DWP eventually accepted she should have been awarded the concessionary rate (now £85 per week) and backdated it for a year.’
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb, pictured left, and current incumbent Guy Opperman, pictured right.
Webb has called on Opperman to reveal how many women were affected and how much was paid out to them in lump sums when similar errors were detected in 2019, and also to review all ‘zero’ and other low state pension awards to check for further mistakes.
He raised concerns that the new state pension was introduced in 2016 but it took until 2019 for someone to spot that errors were being made for this group of women, and that such blunders continue to be made as recently as April this year.
He also asked why DWP quality control on state pension assessments has not picked this up, saying this raises much wider concerns about whether the major ongoing correction exercise on women’s pensions is ‘purely a historic “tidying up” of past errors’.
Webb says that if the Department has still not sufficiently improved its quality control, systematic errors could still arise.
In a damning report last year on the previous state pension scandal, the National Audit Office said the DWP staff made mistakes and managers missed opportunities to pick them up.
The DWP said at the time that it had introduced new quality control processes and improved training to help ensure the historical errors do not happen again.
Meanwhile, since last autumn This is Money has covered many cases of readers struggling to get by or even forced into hardship due to state pension delays, although the DWP promised to get on top of problems by last November.
These initially involved people turning 66, but lately complaints from readers have focused on errors over top-up payments, and delays to claims from people living overseas or trying to end deferrals.
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