Ombudsman denounces DWP’s failure to tell women about postponing retirement

Campaign: WASPI has protested the ‘unfair’ way in which the state pension age has been implemented

Women whose state pension age has been raised to 66 have again sought compensation after the Parliamentary Ombudsman accused the government of ‘maladministration’ over delays in informing them of the changes.

In a report published today, the Parliamentary Ombudsman highlighted the government’s failure to write directly to the women affected earlier and to take action based on internal investigations to improve and target its communications.

Women Against State Pension Inequality – or WASPI – said the findings reinforced what it “always knew” about the failure of the Department of Work and Pensions to adequately inform 3.8 million women born in the 1950s that their state pension age would rise.

“We call on the government to agree on fair and adequate compensation for WASPI women, rather than allowing what has become a vicious cycle of government inactivity to continue,” the WASPI said. group, adding that it consulted its legal advisors to decide the best way forward.

At the urging of the WASPI group, thousands of women filed official complaints about not informing about increases in the state pension age.

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 rule on maladministration because that was the Ombudsman’s role.

The Ombudsman said women should have been given at least 28 months more individual notification of changes in their state pension age, given a chance to adjust their pension plans that had been ‘lost’, and it will now move forward considering ‘the impact that injustice had’.

What does the DWP say?

“Both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals have supported the actions of the DWP, under successive administrations dating back to 1995, and the Supreme Court refused to appeal to the plaintiffs,” a spokesman said.

‘In the pursuit of gender equality, it was decided more than 25 years ago to equate the state pension age for men and women.’

After that phase of her investigation, she is expected to make recommendations to remedy what happened.

However, it remains unclear whether the government will have to impose some form of compensation on women, many of whom have faced financial difficulties after not being aware of the delay in receiving a state pension.

They were also affected by a decision by Chancellor George Osborne in 2011 to bring forward the timing of the changes to the retirement age for women, and an increase to 66 for all, to 2018 and 2020 respectively.

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

The WASPI campaign has said in the past that it agrees with equalizing retirement ages for women and men, but not with the ‘unfair’ way the changes were being made.

What did the Parliamentary Ombudsman think?

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

But it found in 2004 that no action was being taken on the basis of research and in 2006 recommended sending “appropriate” information to women.

After 2004, it says, “DWP explored options to target information, but after considering the options, it finally did what it had already done.

‘DWP did not sufficiently take into account the need for targeted and individually tailored information or the chance that doing the same thing would yield different results.

“Despite finding that there was more it could do, it failed to inform the public as fully as possible. DWP did not make a reasonable decision about next steps in August 2005 and did not use feedback to improve the design and delivery of the service.

‘It has therefore not been possible at the moment to ‘do it right’ and ‘seek continuous improvement’. That was mismanagement.’

After 2006, the Ombudsman says: ‘DWP again failed to ‘do it right’ and ‘seek continuous improvement’. She did not act fast enough on her November 2006 proposal to write directly to the affected women to inform them about changes in the state pension age.

‘And it doesn’t count how much time has already been lost since the 1995 Pensions Act. That was also mismanagement.’

What does the WASPI campaign say?

The group says it has been vindicated, even though it has been ‘rejected’ by successive governments throughout the campaign and despite support across parliament.

It claims that ministers consistently refused to meet the affected women, urging Parliament that adequate notice had been given about the change in the state pension age, when their ministry knew it hadn’t.

WASPI called on the government to ‘compensate urgently all affected women rather than making them wait any longer’ as the Ombudsman completes further rounds of her inquiry.

Chairman Angela Madden and communications director Debbie de Spon said in a joint statement: “Today’s findings reinforce what we’ve sadly known all along; that the DWP failed to adequately inform 3.8 million women born in the 1950s that their state pension age was about to rise.

‘The DWP’s own research showed that women were insufficiently aware of the changes, but still failed to act. This inaction had devastating and life-changing consequences for women across the country.

“These women have been waiting for compensation for years. We can’t wait any longer.’

What do pension experts say?

“Millions of women were affected by the increase in their state pension age originally proposed in the 1995 Pension Act,” said Tom Selby, senior analyst at AJ Bell.

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

‘Although the Ombudsman found that the information provided between 1995 and 2004 was accurate and of a reasonable standard, those concerned have every right to be angry that the evidence provided to the DWP in 2004 that improvements in communications could applied, was not followed up quickly.

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

“The Ombudsman now plans to look at the impact of this injustice, which will undoubtedly lead to increased pressure for a solution.

“Given the dire state of Britain’s finances, calls in some quarters for full compensation for affected women – which could amount to six years of state pension – are likely to fall on deaf ears.”

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