Maladministration by the UK government led to many 1950s-born women suffering delays of more than two years in being informed about rises in their pension age, according to preliminary findings by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
The ombudsman’s provisional decision, which was leaked on social media on Tuesday, opens the door to potential compensation payouts for thousands of women who argue they were not given enough notice to adjust their retirement plans.
Thousands of women have made complaints about the way the government informed them about a rise in their pension age from 60 to 65 — which was first legislated for in 1995, but only gradually rolled out between 2010 and 2020. However, this timetable was later accelerated to 2018.
In 2018, the ombudsman announced plans to investigate complaints made to it about both the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Independent Case Examiner, which reviews complaints about government departments. These focused on allegedly bungled communication over the scheduled increases, which the women affected say left them working longer than expected, or drawing on their savings if they had to wait longer for their pension.
The ombudsman looks at complaints from members of the public who believe that they have suffered injustice because a government department or certain public bodies have not acted properly or fairly, or have given a poor service and not put things right.
A provisional finding by the ombudsman into a sample of six complaints found the DWP met standards for adequate and accurate communication of planned female pension age rises between 1995, when the change was first legislated for, and 2004.
But the ombudsman decided the DWP had failed to act promptly after analysis in 2004 found the government information campaign was not reaching the “people who needed it”, and recommended a targeted approach.
In 2006, the DWP proposed directly writing to women individually to tell them their state pension age was rising, after a further survey found that nearly half of women affected thought the pension age was still 60.
The DWP did not implement the proposals until December 2007, three years before the pension age was due to begin to rise, after further “depressing” research results, according to documents setting out the provisional findings, seen by the Financial Times.
The ombudsman has provisionally determined that DWP should have acted 28 months sooner, to write to women whom analysis identified were unaware of the forthcoming increases to their pension ages, according to the documents.
The ombudsman, which is expected to finalise its findings in late July, is now writing to complainants, advising them it believes maladministration was behind the communication delay.
“We are currently considering comments on our provisional findings,” the ombudsman said in a statement to the FT. “It’s important we do this thoroughly so we reach a fair and robust decision.”
Before it makes any recommendations for compensation, the Ombudsman will examine whether any maladministration led to an injustice to the complainants.
The DWP said it did not comment on leaks or live ombudsman investigations.
However, a spokesman added: “The government decided 25 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.
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 recently refused the claimants’ permission to appeal.”
The provisional findings come as the DWP is engulfed in a growing scandal over underpaid state pensions for more than 200,000 women, with the bill for putting things right estimated at about £2.7bn.
The state pension age has now risen to 66 for men and women.