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Are you one of thousands of married women missing out on £1,000s of extra state pension?

Are you one of thousands of married women missing out on £1,000s of extra state pension?

Tens of thousands of married women who hit state pension age before April 2016 could be missing out on £1,000s of extra state pension – and can now claim more.

That's because if their basic state pension is less than 60% of their husband's, they are due a top up to that amount, but many didn't get it either due to a computer glitch, or because they didn't know they had to claim.

This can be a substantial amount of money. For example, a woman who reached state pension age in 2010 and who currently gets £55 a week as a basic state pension could be entitled to an extra £1,300 a year if her husband gets the full basic state pension, plus about £5,000 backdated as a lump sum if he retired in 2015.

For more on how the state pension works, see our State Pension guide.

Why are some married women missing out?

When the state pension was first set up after the Second World War, as men were the primary earners, and women didn't work for as many years as men – married women were given a proportion of their husband's state pension – and they paid less in national insurance contributions because of it.

That state pension system was in place until 6 April 2016, when it was changed. So those who hit state pension age before then could be entitled to a boosted pension amount. Yet many married women either:

  • Didn't know they had to claim 60% of their husband's basic state pension entitlement, or
  • Didn't know a computer error meant they weren't getting the right amount. Those whose husbands retired after 16 March 2008 should've been given the boost automatically, but a Government computer glitch meant it never happened. It didn't hit everyone, hence why it's key to check your records.

Who is most likely to be owed money?

Years on your NI record are usually built up from being in work, and paying NI contributions, or sometimes while caring for a child or others. To qualify for the full state pension, you would need 30 'qualifying years' of national insurance (NI) record if you retired between April 2010 and April 2016, or 38 years before that.

Yet if your basic weekly state pension is less than 60% of your husband's basic state pension amount, you could've been due a top up.

So that means you could be owed money if:

  • You are a woman married to a man (note civil partnerships and same-sex marriages are excluded).
  • You reached pension age before 6 April 2016.
  • Your basic weekly state pension is less than 60% of his basic weekly amount.

What exactly should've happened then depends on the date your husband hit his state pension age...

  • Husband reached state pension age on or after 17 March 2008 – if you missed out, it can be backdated all the way. Your pension should've been topped up to 60% of his amount automatically. However, some women missed out due to a failure of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) computers to award the uplift. If you're in this group, you can make a claim to start earning at the correct rate, plus get backdated payments all the way back to the date you qualified for the boost (or the date of the computer glitch if later).

  • Husband reached state pension age before 17 March 2008 – it can be backdated one year. The boosted payment was not automatic and you needed to claim it. However, many women didn't know about it so didn't claim it, meaning they missed out on the increase. If you're in this group, you can make a claim to start earning at the correct rate and get backdated payments for the boosted amount for 12 months.

The backdating may also include interest and consolatory payments, though the DWP says these are considered on a case-by-case basis and will depend on individual circumstances.

How to check if you're missing out

Both you and your husband both need to check your annual state pension statements, specifically the bit listing the amount of basic state pension (not the total, as that may include payments such as the second state pension or pension credit). If you don't have this information, you can both contact the Pension Service and ask how much you're getting in basic state pension.

If you want help to check whether you're missing out, pension advisory firm Lane, Clark & Peacock has developed a calculator to do it (this is the firm former Pensions Minister Steve Webb, who broke this story, now works for). You'll need to enter a few details about your and your husband's ages, the dates when you both hit state pension age, and details of how much you're both getting as your basic state pension amounts.

If your husband retired before March 2008, you can get pension payments backdated a year and the boosted amount going forward. This example shows how much you might be entitled to:

Mrs Smith hit state pension age in July 2005 with 10 of the required 38 years of national insurance (NI) contributions. She currently gets a state pension of £34.42 a week based on her own NI record. Yet Mr Smith hit state pension age in December 2006 and has a full NI record, so she's entitled to claim a boosted £80.45 a week on 2020/21 rates. She can also backdate her claim by up to 12 months, meaning she could get about £2,300 as a lump sum, plus the boosted amount in future.

However, if your husband retired on or after 17 March 2008 and you're not getting at least £80.45, it's due to a DWP error (£80.55 is the current year's payment, it would have been less in past years). You could be entitled to a boosted weekly rate and be able to claim £1,000s in backdated pension, as this example shows...

Mrs Jones hit state pension age in June 2010. She qualifies for a state pension of £55 a week on her own NI record this year. Mr Jones reached state pension age in May 2015 and has a full NI record.

Mrs Jones should have had a basic pension of 60% of her husband's amount automatically awarded, though a computer glitch meant it wasn't. She can backdate her claim to May 2015, when her husband started claiming his state pension. She could get about £5,000 back as a lump sum, and will get the boosted amount in future.

If you think your state pension is lower than you should be receiving, then you need to get in contact with the Pension Service.

If you're one of the women whose husbands hit state pension age before 17 March 2008, meaning you didn't get the automatic payments and you were meant to claim them, you need to make a claim as soon as possible, as you're only able to backdate the amount you're owed by 12 months. So the sooner you do it, the more you get, as you'll get the previous 12 months as well as the £80.45 weekly amount in future – this is the 2020/21 amount, it'll go up each April.

For those whose husbands hit state pension age on or after 17 March 2008, it's slightly different. You missed out on what should have been automatic payments, and will get backdated payments to when things went wrong. There's less urgency for your claim, but the sooner you make it, the sooner you'll get the payment, and get an increased weekly payout too.

However, do be aware there may currently be a delay in payments due to the volume of work that staff are dealing with during the pandemic.

If you do find you're being paid too little, please email us and let us know why, and what DWP said when you got in touch to claim it.

What if my husband has died?

If he had a more complete national insurance contribution record than you, you should get your basic state pension paid based on his record rather than your own for the period since he passed away. So if he was able to claim the full basic state pension (£134.25 a week in 2020/21), you should have received that after he died.

That should have happened automatically, but if it didn't happen, contact the Pension Service and ask it to give you a backdated boosted payment from the date your husband died.

However, if you were both retired for a time before your husband died, you may be able to claim a boosted amount for the period he was alive based on the backdating rules above.

What does the Department for Work and Pensions say?

A DWP spokesperson said: "We are aware of a number of cases where individuals have been underpaid state pension. We corrected our records and reimbursed those affected as soon as errors were identified.

"We are checking for further cases, and if any are found, awards will also be reviewed and any arrears paid."