View the article online at http://citywire.co.uk/money/article/a874763
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.
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?’.
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.
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