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Pensions: government denies women kept in dark

Department for Work and Pensions denies campaigners' claims that women were not properly informed about state pension age rises.

Pensions: government denies women kept in dark

The government has denied that women were kept in the dark about increases to the state pension age and said ‘millions’ of leaflets were sent out warning about the changes.

One of the key concerns raised by the ‘women against state pension inequality’ (Waspi) campaign is that they were not sufficiently informed about the changes to their state pension age. The Waspi women, born between 1951 and 1953, have seen their pension age increase from 60 to 65 as part of the 1995 pension act plans to equalise the pension age for men and women, and then increase again to 66 under 2011 increases to ensure the state retirement age keeps pace with longevity.

Thousands of the women who make up the campaign say they were never told about the increases and only found out about their new retirement age at 60 when they were told they had to continue working.

At a Work and Pensions Committee hearing, Scottish National Party MP Mhari Black challenged pensions minister Ros Altmann and representatives from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over the communication issue.

Black said she was ‘aware the DWP claims to have written to individuals affected in 2009 and 2014…[but we have] written evidence from Waspi and others maintaining women have not received any communications from the DWP. Have you looked into it?’.

Leaflet campaign

Altmann said the she had looked into it and head of communications for the DWP, Richard Caseby, said leaflets had been distributed to 16 million households between 2003 and 2006.

The leaflets ‘about how the pension age was increasing, especially for women’ were included in letters calling for people to contact the DWP to get a pension forecast, said Caseby.

‘There is activity going back to 1995 and there was ambition and effort to tell women about this,’ he said.

However, Caseby said writing to people had been proven to be an ineffective way of reaching people and a study on the effectiveness of letters by the DWP, although not around pensions, found just ‘33% remember receiving it and only 29% say they read it’.

Regarding the 2011 pension rise change, Altmann said ‘every person affected was written to at the address HM Revenue & Customs had, to say the state pension age is being changed. That did happen’.

‘With the best will in the world, the government cannot know where everyone lived and cannot be sure the letter was received, that it was read or be sure that each person will know the impact of the change,’ she said.

‘We cannot go round knocking on the door or phoning them up.’

Altmann said that pre-2011, there was an issue with communications but said a 2004 survey of pensioners showed three-quarters did know about the changes to pension age.

Conservative MP Richard Graham, who sits on the committee, said ‘we will never know who was communicated to, who chose to ignore it or who received it’ and it was important to now look ahead to ensure future communications were more robust and people knew ‘10 years in advance’ about state pension age increases.

Check what you will get

Altmann said the real issue was not of how much notice was given but that people took responsibility for their pension, especially considering further state pension age rises are expected.

‘Any changes should ideally give 10 years' notice in future,’ said Altmann. ‘But we are here debating if the 1995 act, that gave 15 years, is enough. The real issue is communication and getting people to take responsibility [and] plan ahead.

‘Don’t just assume you know what you’re going to get [from the state pension] and when you’re going to get it. It will change.’

When asked why the DWP was not contacting individuals and providing them with statements about their state pension entitlement and state pension age, data protection rules were cited.

Duncan Gilchrist, deputy director of contributory pensions at the DWP, said the government was not able to send out specific information to individuals because of concerns it would ‘go astray’ as 3% of communications do.

Altmann said: ‘I do not think it is possible to send out a statement because of data protection issues. We want people to request [a pension statement] and find out what position they are in.’

She added that a new digital state pension service would be launching in April that would allow people to go online, check their national insurance record and find out what their state pension age was and what they would be entitled to.

6 comments so far. Why not have your say?

Keith Cobby

Jan 20, 2016 at 09:29

The fundamental problem is the continuing meddling by successive governments. The system is incredibly complex and arbitrary.

The best way forward is to pay a flat rate to everybody based solely on length of residency.

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Helen C

Jan 20, 2016 at 16:13

I'd like to make a correction to what Ros Altmann said about the 2004 DWP Public Awareness of Research. I believe her comments are deliberately misleading. The document also said that

"Only 43% of all women affected by the increase in SPA were able to identify their own SPA as being 65 years or between 60 and 65 years. This low figure provides cause for concern and shows that information about the increase is not reaching the group of individuals who arguably have the greatest need to be informed "

It went on to say -

" In order to ensure women who need to know the most about the increase (i.e those who will be affected by the change) are informed, it is essential that those who are not in work and those who do not have a private pension are appropriately targeted with information"

They weren't ! Could find no evidence until 2009 some 5 years later.

Facts remain that women were not informed of the 1995 changes and the notifications which went out from 2009 onwards , which many did not get including myself , were way too late, coming just a year or 2 before women were due to retire.

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Hugh M

Jan 21, 2016 at 03:43

I am male and already retired so I am unaffected by this issue. However, I certainly do remember the News on both TV and radio informing the public that this was going to happen and who would be affected. The news was also carried in the daily newspapers. What do these people expect, a personal phone call from the PM? They are talking nonsense, plenty of advance warning was given but it would seem that certain people chose to ignore it.

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Pat Strong

Jan 23, 2016 at 06:06

Hugh, because you were aware of changes, does not mean that affected women were. Perhaps you were home from work having dinner. And watching the news while your wife was feeding and bathing the children? Just a thought. I know about loss of GMP increases and inherited SERPS issues, again without notice,how much do you know? Rhetorical! The system was complicated, individual communication poor or not at all and as is now agreed, if a change is to be made, 10 years notice should be given enabling preparation and planning. Not from the P.M but from the organisation charged with delivering a professional public service. That's only reasonable.

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Hugh M

Jan 24, 2016 at 05:08

Pat, the news is broadcast several times every day, all through the day and evening. Newspapers are available to be read at any time. You and others like you are whinging now because you took no action over this widely reported legislation. For those who had a wife who was "feeding and bathing" children in the evening, please do not try and tell me that those wives had absolutely no time during the day to listen to the news or gossip about it with friends/neighbours/family. Sorry but the argument that some women had no way of knowing about this simply does not stand up.

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Pat Strong

Jan 24, 2016 at 06:20

Oh so naive. Firstly I'm not whinging, Im making a point. Secondly you presume I am a woman. Thirdly you don't comment on the question about your lack of knowledge about other pension withdrawals,courtly, you use negative connotations like gossiping and if you think that everyone watches the news or reads newspapers you are clearly misguided. I think you are rather patronising and don't like you style, but so far from the truth that you made me smile. Thank you. Just have to agree to differ on opinions I'm afraid. End of conversation.

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