DWP accused of maladministration amid women's state pension failings

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has identified a number of “failings” in the actions taken by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) when communicating changes to women’s state pension age.

PHSO stated that it has received a “significant number” of complaints as to the way that the 1995 Pensions Act change, which meant women could no longer claim their state pension at 60, was communicated by DWP, with many experiencing "significant" financial loss and emotional distress as a result.

Following its investigation, the ombudsman has concluded that, from 2005 onwards, there were failings in the action taken by DWP in communicating this change, with the investigation report and findings now laid before Parliament.

PHSO stated that DWP had failed to take adequate account of the need for targeted and individually tailored information or of how likely it was doing the same thing would achieve different results.

It also found that DWP failed to make a "reasonable decision" about next steps in August 2005 and failed to use feedback to improve service design and delivery, highlighting this as "maladministration".

Indeed, the ombudsman argued that if DWP had made a reasonable decision in August 2005 and acted promptly, it would have written to affected to women to tell them of the changes by, at the latest, December 2006.

However, the DWP did not write to them for another 28 months, with the PHSO highlighting this additional period as a lost opportunity for these women to have adjusted their retirement plans.

The PHSO also argued that DWP did not act promptly enough on its November 2006 proposal to write directly to affected women, and that it failed to give due weight to how much time had already been lost since the 1995 pensions Act, again identifying this as maladministration.

Furthermore, whilst the PHSO agreed with the recent court judgments, which ruled that there was no legal duty to communicate the changes, it clarified that this does not mean that there was no requirement for DWP to adequately communicate the changes "as a matter of good administration".

The ombudsman's investigation is now expected to shift to consider the impact these failings had and make recommendations to put things right for any associated injustice.

PHSO CEO, Amanda Amroliwala, commented: "After a detailed investigation, we have found that DWP failed to act quickly enough once it knew a significant proportion of women were not aware of changes to their State Pension age. It should have written to the women affected at least 28 months earlier than it did.

‘We will now consider the impact of these failings, and what action should be taken to address them."

Commenting in response to the PHSO report, a DWP spokesperson stated: “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 refused the claimants permission to appeal.

“In a move towards gender equality, it was decided more than 25 years ago to make the state pension age the same for men and women.”

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