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Are you one of 10,000s of women missing out on £1,000s of state pension?

Are you one of 10,000s of women missing out on £1,000s of state pension?

Tens of thousands of women are likely to have been underpaid the state pension. In June, we reported that married women who hit state pension age before April 2016 could be owed, and some have now won backdated payouts worth £1,000s. But other women – including widows, divorcees and the over-80s – whether married or not, should also check if they've been underpaid, for a variety of reasons. 

In June, we reported that many married women who hit state pension age before April 2016 and got less than 60% of their husband's basic state pension are entitled to a boost, taking their pension up to that 60% figure. Since then, some of those who were underpaid have reported success getting their pension increased and backdated payments on top, with lump sum payouts reported averaging just under £10,000, and in one case over £30,000.

But while the original focus was on married women, former pensions minister Steve Webb, who's highlighted the issue, is now urging further groups of women to check if they could also have been underpaid state pension. Those affected include widows, divorcees, and those aged over 80 – whether they are single, married, widowed or divorced. We've full help below on who could be eligible for a boosted state pension and what to do if you think you are.

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

Who should be checking their state pension?

Several different groups of women have been urged to check their state pension entitlement, amid fears they could have been underpaid for a variety of reasons. We've listed these groups below – there's some overlap though, so they're not mutually exclusive and it's possible you could fall into more than one category.

Pension entitlement can be complicated, so unfortunately we can't tell you for certain whether you're owed. See this as a ready reckoner rather than a definitive guide – but if you believe you fit into one of the groups below and should be getting more, check.

1) Married women who hit state pension age before April 2016 and should have had a top-up

Married women who hit state pension age before April 2016 and who get less than 60% of their husband's basic state pension are entitled to a boost up to that 60% figure, possibly backdated for years. 

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. This remained the case until 6 April 2016, when it was changed. Those who hit state pension age before then could be entitled to a boosted pension amount – yet this may not have happened for some.

  • If your husband turned 65 on or after 17 March 2008, you may have missed out due to a computer error. If you're in this group, your pension should've been topped up to 60% of your husband's amount automatically. However, some women missed out due to a failure of the Department for Work and Pensions' computers to award the uplift. If in this group, you can claim to start earning at the correct rate, plus get backdated payments all the way back to your husband's 65th birthday (or to when you reached state pension age if this is later).

  • If your husband turned 65 before 17 March 2008, you may not have known you needed to claim. If you're in this group, the boosted payment was not automatic and you needed to claim it. However, many women didn't know about it and so didn't, meaning they missed the increase. You can claim to start earning at the correct rate and get backdated payments for the boosted amount for 12 months.
It's worth noting some in this second group are challenging the rule that says they can only backdate payments for 12 months with the Parliamentary Ombudsman – see more on this (and how to try it) below.
  • Some women in the second group outlined above are challenging the 12-month backdating rule – they have complained to the Parliamentary Ombudsman arguing that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should have done more to ensure they were aware they could claim a boosted pension.

    The Parliamentary Ombudsman hasn't yet ruled on these complaints, so it's not clear if complaining this way will actually get you a larger backdated payout – but it may be worth trying if you're unhappy. You can escalate your complaint via the following steps, though there are no guarantees:

    • First you'll need to make a formal complaint to the DWP asking it to review its decision.

    • If it refuses to make a full payout, you can ask it for a 'mandatory reconsideration', and/or take your case straight to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. You can find full details of how to do this on its website and find the form you'll need to fill in.

    • You will need to send the form to your MP to get their signature. They can send it for you, in which case ask them for the reference number on their acknowledgement from the ombudsman, or you can ask for it back and send it yourself if you want to ensure it gets sent off.

Married women in this category may be owed 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 reached state pension age in 2015.

Any backdating may also include interest and 'consolatory payments', though the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says these are considered on a case-by-case basis and will depend on individual circumstances.

2) Widows who may have been underpaid before or after their husband died

Those whose husbands have died may also have been underpaid for one or both of the following reasons – so check if you fall into either category:

  • Widows whose pension wasn't increased when their husband died. Widows will often see their basic state pension increase when their husband dies, based on their late husband's contribution, potentially up to a maximum of £134.25 a week in 2020/21. Depending on your late husband's date of birth, you may also be able to inherit between 50% and 100% of his additional state pension (also known as SERPS – State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme – or second state pension).

    While the specifics can be complex, as a general rule if you were widowed and DIDN'T see your state pension increase, it's worth checking if you're being paid the right amount. 

    Can claims for underpayment be backdated? Yes, and you can claim back to the date your husband died. While fewer are thought to be affected than the married women who have lost out, the total amounts underpaid can be massive – and in some cases have even topped £100,000.

  • Widows who may have been underpaid while their husband was still alive. You could have been underpaid while your husband was alive for different reasons, including the problems we've highlighted for married women above. If you hit state pension age before April 2016 and got less than 60% of your husband's basic state pension while he was still alive, you could have been hit by the DWP computer error or not known you needed to claim a top-up. 

    Can claims for underpayment be backdated? Yes – and by definition in this case they will have to be. As above, how far you can backdate your claim will depend on whether your husband reached state pension age before 17 March 2008 (in which case you can backdate for 12 months), or later (in which case you can backdate to your husband's 65th birthday, or when you hit state pension age if that came after).

3) Women aged 80+ who get a state pension of less than £80.45/wk – whether married, widowed, divorced or single

Usually the state pension you get depends on your national insurance contributions. Yet if you're aged 80 or over and get less than £80.45/week in state pension, you may be eligible for the little-known 'Category D' non-contributory state pension – that's one which isn't dependent on the national insurance contributions you or your spouse may have made. This tops up your state pension to £80.45/week. 

To qualify, you'll need to satisfy a simple residence test:

  • You must have been living in the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, a European Economic Area country or Switzerland on your 80th birthday (or the date of your claim if later). 
  • You must have lived in England, Scotland or Wales for at least 10 years in any 20-year period after your 60th birthday (this doesn't need to be 10 years in a row).

While this article is about women being underpaid, a 'Category D' pension isn't gender-specific – so it's possible men may be able to claim this too. This type of pension is simply designed to ensure that people over 80 receive a certain minimum pension, even if you haven't made enough national insurance contributions. 

Can claims for underpayment be backdated? Yes, and you can claim back to when you turned 80 (assuming you were receiving a pension at this point and fulfilled the criteria above). 

4) Divorced women who should have benefited from their ex-husband's national insurance record

If you're a woman who was married and divorced, and reached state pension age without remarrying, you can substitute the national insurance record of your ex-husband for your own up to the date of your divorce. This means you may be eligible for an increased state pension, potentially up to 100% (£134.25 a week in 2020/21), though women who divorced at a younger age may get less benefit from this rule.

Can claims for underpayment be backdated? This isn't clear – we're checking with the DWP and will update this story when we know more. 

5) If a woman was underpaid state pension while alive and has since died, her heirs may be owed

It's possible to claim on behalf of a woman who's died, if she was underpaid state pension while she was alive. This could potentially apply to many of the categories above – for example, if a woman was affected by the DWP computer error, didn't know she could claim a boosted pension as she was married, was a widow whose pension wasn't increased when her husband died, and so on.

How far you may be able to claim state pension arrears for will depend on what grounds you're claiming on. But we're checking with the DWP whether there are any other restrictions on how far back you can claim on behalf of a woman who's died, and will update this story when we hear back. 

How to check if you're missing out

This is a complicated area, with many different potential scenarios, so unfortunately there's no easy one-size-fits-all online check to be sure that you're owed.

If you believe you may have missed out as a married woman, because of the DWP computer error or you didn't know you could claim a boosted pension, you can do a quick initial check to see if you may be owed using an underpaid state pension calculator developed by Lane Clark & Peacock – the pensions advisory firm which Steve Webb 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.

However, to know for sure if you're owed, or if you think you may be in one of the further groups of women who have been underpaid, you'll need to contact the Pension Service directly and ask about your situation. For contact details, see the Pension Service website.

Do be aware that the Pension Service is currently warning its phone lines are busier than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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

What does the Department for Work and Pensions say?

The DWP didn't have anything further to add to its statement from June, when a 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."