Are you one of 200,000+ missing out on £1,000s of state pension?

Who might be affected, and how to reclaim

More than 230,000 women (and some men) are thought to have been underpaid their state pension and could be due a payout – with the average amount being more than £6,000. While some affected will now get an automatic payment, not all will. This guide explains who may be affected, and shows which groups still need to claim.

Important. 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.

Who should check their state pension?

The first thing to note is that this guide mainly applies to women who reached state pension age before April 2016. But some men, and those who reached pension age later may also be impacted. 

We'll go through the different groups likely to have been underpaid – and should check their state pension entitlement as a result. Up to the end of March 2022, the Government has repaid £106 million in underpayments to more than 15,000 women.

There's some overlap in these groups though, so it's possible you could fall into more than one category. We've split the guide into two main parts, depending on whether you need to take action yourself, or whether any mistakes should be corrected automatically:

Those who need to make a claim

These groups won't automatically get their pensions topped up. You should check if you:

  1. Took time off work between 1978 and 2010 and claimed Child Benefit or Income Support for caring for a person with a disability or long-term illness.
  2. Are a woman whose husband turned 65 before 17 March 2008 and you're being paid less than 60% of his basic state pension.
  3. Are a woman who got divorced AFTER reaching state pension age, and you haven't had your pension reassessed.
  4. Are a married woman on ZERO basic state pension, but might be getting a small amount of additional state pension, also known as SERPS, or graduated retirement benefit.

If any of these apply to you, read more information on what to check and how to claim.

Those who should receive their top-ups automatically 

The Government is currently reviewing pension records to find those who should have received an automatic uplift in their pension, but didn't. This includes you if you're:

  1. A woman whose husband turned 65 on or after 17 March 2008 and you're being paid less than 60% of your husband's basic state pension.
  2. A widow whose husband died after 17 March 2008 and you were paid less than 60% of his state pension while he was alive, or a widow whose state pension didn't increase when your husband died.
  3. Aged 80+and not being paid at least £85 a week in state pension.

    The Government is prioritising those over 80 and those who have been widowed. But if any of the situations above apply to you, you will be contacted by the Department for Work and Pensions over the next few months if you're due a pension boost. You don't have to do anything, but it's worth checking if you're owed, and if so, how much.

Those who URGENTLY need to check – and reclaim – if they're missing out

While more women who have been underpaid will now see their payments boosted automatically, there are still many who will have to call to make a claim. Here we list the ones who have to actively make a claim. 

 1. New: If you took time off work between 1978 and 2010 to care for a child or person with a long term medical condition 

  • You're currently aged between 41 and 90. This issue mainly affects women in their 60s and 70s.
  • You took time away from paid work to look after a child or a person with a long term disability or illness at any point between 1978 and 2010. 
  • You claimed Child Benefit or Income Support for the first time BEFORE May 2000. 
  • You didn't include your national insurance number on your claim. 

Since the 1978/79 financial year, the Government has had a system in place to protect the state pension entitlement of those who aren’t earning through paid work – mainly mothers – because they've instead chosen to take time off work to look after their children or to care with someone with a long term medical condition. 

However this protection wasn't implemented properly for 100,000s of people. This means many women who took time off work to raise children have had their state pension underpaid.

What this means if you reached state pension age between 6 April 1978 and 5 April 2010

The first iteration of this system, which was in place for those reaching state pension age between 1978 and 2010, was originally called 'home responsibilities protection' (HRP). HRP was awarded automatically to those claiming Child Benefit, or those who'd received Income Support throughout a tax year while they were caring for a person with a disability or long-term illness. It reduced the number of years required to get a full state pension.

But the Government has admitted the system has been beset with errors, with 100,000s who cared for children having gaps in their NI records that shouldn't be there. In this case, the automatic 'home responsibilities protection' entitlement is missing, and those affected are already being underpaid state pension – or could be in future.

Since 2010/11 a different system has been in place. Here, caregivers have been able to accrue – or have HRP converted into – NI credits for the years they are out of work due to caring for others. But it's possible that some people who reached state pension age after 2010 could also have been affected. 

Can I backdate my claim? If you discover any HRP or NI credit missing, and have already reached state pension age, DWP will be notified and your state pension should be reassessed with any back-payments paid to you.

2. If you're a married woman where all below apply

  • You hit state pension age before April 2016.
  • Your state pension is less than 60% of your husband's basic state pension.
  • Your husband turned 65 BEFORE 17 March 2008.

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

The basic state pension for 2023/24 is a maximum of £156.20 a week – your husband may get more than this amount in top-ups, but you need to compare your basic state pension with his basic state pension for this.

When the state pension was first set up after the Second World War, as men were typically the primary earners and women didn't work for as many years, 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, including women whose husbands turned 65 before 17 March 2008.

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. So if you're in this group you'll have to submit a claim. 

Can I backdate my claim? You can only get backdated payments for the boosted amount for 12 months. It's worth noting some women in this group are challenging this rule with the Parliamentary Ombudsman – see more on this (and how to try it) below.

  • How some women are fighting for larger backdated payments

    Some women in the 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 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 Department for Work and Pensions 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.

3. If you're a woman who divorced your partner after reaching state pension age and should have benefited from your ex-husband's national insurance record

If you're a woman who's reached state pension age, was married and is now divorced, you can substitute the national insurance record of your ex-husband for your own up to the date of your divorce (provided you didn't remarry before you reached state pension age).

This means you may be eligible for an increased state pension, potentially up to 100% (£156.20 a week in 2023/24).

However, if the divorce happened after you reached state pension age, you will NOT get an automatic top-up – instead you will need to make a claim. (Women who got divorced before reaching state pension age should automatically have this taken into account when they start receiving their state pension.)

Can I backdate my claim? These claims cannot be backdated.

4. If you're a married woman and all the below apply (small group affected, but HUGE payments possible)

  • You hit state pension age before April 2016.
  • You're on ZERO basic state pension – but might be getting a small amount of additional state pension, also known as SERPS, or graduated retirement benefit (the old version of SERPS).
  • Your husband turned 65 before 17 March 2008.

Women in this group need to be on zero basic state pension to qualify, but that can include those who are on zero basic state pension but receive a small amount of additional state pension, also known as SERPS – State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme – or its predecessor, graduated retirement benefit.

If you're in this group and you're getting less than 60% of your husband's basic state pension, you're entitled to a boost up to that 60% figure.

Here's where it gets interesting. Under a little-known rule, women in this specific group are allowed to claim back underpaid pensions ALL the way back to when their husband started to draw his state pension (typically at age 65). This is because they're deemed as having 'deferred' their pension rather than having been underpaid it, as they never had a basic state pension to begin with.

How much could I be due? Only about 5,000 women in the UK fall into this group but they could be due £10,000s. 

The current rate of married women's pension is £93.60 a week (it was lower in previous years, but goes up every April in parallel with the basic state pension). If you add up 52 weeks of married women's pension from 2008/09 to 2020/21, that gives you a total of £45,604.

Though there are things to consider. For example, if your husband reached state pension age earlier than 2008, the payment could be larger, but also, if your husband decided to defer his state pension, your payout will only be backdated to when he actually started drawing it – which could affect how much you get.

As this is treated as a 'deferred' claim, the normal rules around deferrals apply (under the old state pension system, as you reached state pension age before April 2016). This means you can:

  • Get a lump sum plus interest (which tends to be small), plus 60% of your husband's state pension in future.
  • Or you can convert it all into a (much) higher rate of state pension for the rest of your life. 

Which option is better for you will depend on your personal circumstances – a letter sent to you when you claim will outline the two options and how much you would get for each.

Can I backdate my claim? YES, MOST DEFINITELY! You can get backdated payments ALL the way back to when your husband turned 65.

Married woman getting less than 60% of your husband's basic state pension? Use a special calculator to do an initial check

If you believe you may have missed out because 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 pensions advisory firm Lane Clark & Peacock.

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.

How to check if you're owed and claim your payout

How you checking whether you're owed any underpaid state pension depends on which issue you've been affected by...

If you took time off work to care for a family member... wait for a letter from HMRC

If you're considered likely to have been affected by issue 1, you'll receive a letter from HMRC sometime in the next few months. This isn't a scam, so don't ignore the letters – it could be worth £1,000s. If you're unsure if the letter is genuine or not, you can find guidance on the Gov.uk website

These letters contain information on how to check whether you're getting the right state pension amount, and how to make a claim for HRP if any years are missing. HMRC is sending the letters out in batches over the next several months focusing initially on those who have already reached state pension age. 

As part of your claim, you'll need to provide details of the child or children you looked after. HMRC will then update your NI record if you’re entitled. If you’ve already reached state pension age, DWP will be notified and your state pension should be reassessed with any back-payments paid to you.

If you've been affected by any of the other issues... contact the Pension Service

If you've been affected by issues 2, 3, or 4, you'll need to contact the Pension Service to see if you've been underpaid and are owed. (You can also do this if you fall under any other category, but want to be sure you'll get what you're due). You can: 

  • Call 0800 7310 469 (press option 2, then option 4, then option 2) 
  • Or write to:

    The Pension Service
    Post Handling Site A
    Wolverhampton
    WV98 1AF

You'll find other contact details on the Pension Service website. Please be aware that the Pension Service is working through these historic cases so may not be able to give you any information at this time. It's said that those who are owed underpaid state pension will be paid it in due course. 

If you're the heir of someone who was underpaid state pension while alive and has since died

It's possible to claim on behalf of someone who's died, if they were underpaid state pension while they were alive.

Whether or not you'll get an automatic payout depends on which category/categories the claim falls under. It's best to wait a few months to see if the DWP contacts you about a payout. If not, or you're not sure whether they was owed, it's best to contact the Pension Service or use DWP's online tool to request information.

Can I backdate my claim? How far back you may be able to claim any underpayment will depend on what grounds you're claiming on.

Those who should now get AUTOMATIC top-ups if they have been underpaid

There are several groups of women who may have been underpaid due to an IT glitch. This includes ANYONE where something should have triggered an automatic reassessment but it never happened (for example, turning 80).

Until now, you had to contact the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to ask to start being paid state pension at the correct rate, plus claim backdated payments – but to do so, you would have needed to know you were affected.

However, the DWP is now systematically working its way through pension records to find out who's been underpaid because of its errors, and will now be refunding them automatically.

There's no timeframe for when people will be repaid, though the DWP has recruited 473 staff to work out how many people have been underpaid, and the exercise is expected to take until the end of 2023. It says you can still contact it to make a claim, but didn't promise that doing so would bump you to the front of the payout queue.

These are the groups who should be contacted over the next few months about an uplift in payments:

1. If you're a married woman where all below apply

  • You hit state pension age before April 2016.
  • Your state pension is less than 60% of your husband's basic state pension.
  • Your husband turned 65 on or AFTER 17 March 2008.

Married women who reached state pension age pre-April 2016 and get less than 60% of their husband's basic state pension are entitled to a boost up to that 60% figure. This is about the basic state pension amount, which for 2023/24 is a maximum of £156.20 a week, so if your husband gets more than this amount in top-ups, don't factor this in.

Before March 2021, this group had to claim the increase, but the DWP is now working its way through pension records to find people who've been underpaid.

Can I backdate my claim? If you've missed out due to a computer error, you can 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). This can be £1,000+ a year, and backdated payouts of about £10,000 are not unusual.

2. If you're a widow whose pension wasn't increased when your husband died, or who may have been underpaid while your husband was still alive

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

  • Widows who may have been underpaid while their husband was still alive. 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's computer error or not known you needed to claim a top-up.

    If your husband died after 17 March 2008, the claim will now be automatic, so the DWP will contact you if you're owed (if you were widowed before this, you would have got the uplift automatically). The payout will be backdated to your husband's 65th birthday, or when you hit state pension age if that came after.
  • 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 £156.20 a week in 2023/24. 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). This should typically have happened automatically, but some women have been missed out due to the IT glitch.

    While the specifics can be complex, as a general rule, if you were widowed and DIDN'T see your pension increase, you may be due an automatic payout – and should look out for a letter from the DWP over the coming months. Any payout you're due will be backdated to when your husband died. 

3. If you're aged 80+ and get a state pension of less than £85 a week – whether you're married, widowed, divorced or single

It's estimated that 37,000 people could fall into this category. Usually the state pension you get depends on your national insurance contributions. But if you're aged 80 or over and get less than £85 a week in state pension, you may be eligible for the little-known 'category D' non-contributory state pension. This type of pension is designed to ensure that people over 80 receive a certain minimum pension, even if you haven't made enough national insurance contributions. 

To qualify:

  • 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).

If you already get a state pension, you don't need to make another claim for this as this should have happened automatically, so the DWP will now give you an automatic top-up if you were paid too little.

However if, for whatever reason, you're not getting a state pension at all at the moment, you'll need to make a claim. Though this is relatively rare, it could be that you had zero basic state pension in your own right (as you used to need a 25% national insurance record to get anything) and were perhaps entitled to little or nothing by way of other elements of the state pension, so simply didn't bother.

Watch the shock... yes, you're due £82,000

In this clip meet Gill, who, having watched Martin explain the issues, suddenly found she was due a life-changing amount of money (courtesy of ITV's The Martin Lewis Money Show – 29 October 2020).

This was filmed back when you needed to claim the backdated amounts owed, so may make references to claiming which are no longer relevant.

You can turn on subtitles in the video by clicking the closed captions icon at the bottom right of the video.

MoneySaver Gill tells of how she discovered she'd been underpaid a total of £82,000
Embedded YouTube Video

It's not just Gill. Robert emailed us with his success when he and his wife checked her pension...

After seeing your article, I got in touch with the Government's Pension Service, who agreed there was something wrong.

After 10 days, my wife received information that a cheque for £22,350 would be paid directly to her account – three days after this, she received a further £645 as interest. And her pension has been increased from £135 per month to £326 per month!

Thanks very much for telling everyone about this problem.

And another success story emailed in...

I wrote to the DWP one year ago enquiring about the pension underpayment for women, as mentioned on your programme. Last week, to my surprise I heard back from them saying I was owed not one, but TWO cheques in pension underpayment – one cheque for £3,401 and a second for £8,996! The larger amount was due to the fact I divorced in 2011 and my state pension had been revised.

Thank you so much for this information.

And another...

After seeing Martin Lewis's show in March 2021 about women historically being underpaid their pensions, I got in touch with DWP to query my mother's state pension. She had been a stay-at-home mum, but divorced in 2002, after she reached state pension age, and her pension was never reassessed.

After several months of chasing and appeals, she finally received a payout of more than £41,000 in January 2022, relating to 20 years of underpayments. And she has had her state pension increased from £82.45 to £141.85 a week from April 2022.

Thank you Martin Lewis and team for prompting us to look into it!

Have men also been underpaid? It's much rarer – but if in doubt, check

We've focused in this guide on women who were underpaid the state pension, as they are most likely to have lost out in the scenarios outlined above.

We asked former Pensions Minister Steve Webb, who's campaigned to highlight this issue, if men could also be affected. He told us in most cases they won't be, as the amount of state pension they have built up in their own right will mean they wouldn't gain anything from the record of their wife, ex-wife or late wife.

However, he told us there will be "rare" cases where men are affected – so if you think you could be owed, it's always worth checking directly with the Pension Service.

Bear in mind too that, as outlined above, entitlement to a 'category D' pension or home responsibilities protection (HRP) isn't gender-specific – so if you're a man aged 80+ who gets a state pension of less than £85/week, or you took time off work to care for a child or someone with a long term medical condition, you may well be being underpaid, so check.

How will I be taxed if I receive a historic pension payment?

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has confirmed that anyone who receives a pension payment relating to previous tax years will only be assessed for tax for the current tax year, and the four before that. So for example, if you receive a lump sum payment that relates to the last 10 years, only the last five years will be taxed.

The lump sum will be treated as income, so if the amount you receive (or your total income for the relevant tax year) exceeds your personal allowance, it will be taxed at the basic, higher or additional rate, depending on your overall income. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) will tax the amount as if you'd received it in the year you were supposed to.

DWP will send a letter to confirm the money you're owed and what your new state pension amount will be, if this has been reassessed. DWP will also inform HMRC of the payment you receive, so you don't need to do anything about tax owed until you're contacted by HMRC.

Generally, HMRC will collect the tax owed by adjusting your tax code and spreading the repayment over 12 months. However, any tax relating to the oldest of the five tax years will be requested as a one-off payment, but only once the DWP has reviewed the case and made payment.

We've been told that the letters sent by HMRC requesting underpaid tax don't make reference to it relating to your underpaid pension, but you can expect the letter from HMRC soon after receiving the DWP payment.

If you're self-employed, you may need to submit a self-assessment tax return to pay the correct amount of tax on your backdated pension payment. You may need to seek advice from a qualified accountant to ensure you're paying the right amount of tax.

If you do receive a lump sum or your pension payments increase, understand the impact on your benefits

If you get a lump sum of backdated pension, or start to receive a higher regular monthly pension, there can be a knock-on effect on your benefits. Many benefits, such as Pension Credit, Housing Benefit and council tax support, are means-tested, so having extra cash in your bank or a larger monthly pension payment could reduce or even wipe out your benefits. 

Check out our Pension Credit guide and Benefits checker to understand how this may affect your benefits.

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