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?

Who may be affected, and how to reclaim

Tens of thousands of women are likely to have been underpaid the state pension, and  many could be due £1,000s – some even £10,000s. Married women who hit state pension age before April 2016, including widows, divorcees and the over-80s – whether married or not – should check. While some women owed 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.

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Who should check their state pension?

Several different groups of women should check their state pension entitlement as they may have been underpaid, for a variety of reasons. It's worth noting, though, that this guide only applies to women who reached state pension age before April 2016. If you got your state pension afterwards, you're on the new state pension system, and none of this applies.

This guide will go through the groups of women who are likely to have been underpaid – there's some overlap though, so they're not mutually exclusive and it's possible you could fall into more than one category. Plus it will list which groups should take urgent action – we've split it into two main parts:

  • Those who need to pick up the phone and make a claim. These groups won't automatically get their pensions topped up. You should check if you're:

    - A woman who got divorced AFTER retiring and who hasn't got their pension reassessed.
    - A woman whose husband turned 65 before 17 March 2008 and who is being paid less than 60% of their husband's basic state pension.
    - A married woman who's on ZERO basic state pension, but getting a small amount of graduated retirement benefit.

    If either 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:

    - A woman whose husband turned 65 on or after 17 March 2008 and who is being paid less than 60% of their husband's basic state pension.
    - A widow whose husband died after April 2008 and who was being paid less than 60% of his state pension while he was still alive.
    - A widow whose state pension did not increase when their husband died.
    - Someone who's 80+ and isn't being paid at least £80.45 per week in state pension.

    If any of these situations apply to you, you will be contacted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) 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.

Prefer to watch rather than read? This video, courtesy of ITV's The Martin Lewis Money Show from 29 October 2020, deals with many of the issues tackled in this guide.

In the video, Martin refers to women whose husbands reached state pension age after April 2008 and said they should check – this is now no longer the case, as they'll now get an automatic payout.

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Women 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 phone up to make a claim. Here we list the ones who have to actively make a claim. 

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 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 2020/21 is a maximum of £134.25/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.

  • 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 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.

2. If you're a divorced woman (and got divorced after retiring) and should have benefited from your ex-husband's national insurance record

If you're a retired woman who 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 retired).

This means you may be eligible for an increased state pension, potentially up to 100% (£134.25 a week in 2020/21).

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

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

3. NEW. If you're a married woman where all below apply (small group affected, but HUGE payments possible)

  • You hit state pension age before April 2016
  • You're on ZERO basic state pension 
  • You are getting a small amount of graduate retirement benefit (the old version of SERPS/additional state pension)
  • Your husband turned 65 before 17 March 2008

This is the latest category to emerge of married women missing out on a boosted pension.

We're still waiting to clarify some of the finer details, and will update this section with the full explanation in the coming days.

4. If you're the heir of a woman who was underpaid state pension while alive and has since died

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.

Whether or not you'll get an automatic payout depends on which category/categories the claim falls under. If unsure, it's best to contact the Pension Service.

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.

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

To check if you have been underpaid and are owed, contact the Pension Service and ask about your situation (also do this if you fall under any other categories but want to be sure you will get what you're owed). You can either:

  • Call 0800 731 0469 (press option four, then option two) or
  • See other contact details on the Pension Service website.

Do be aware that the Pension Service is currently warning that 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.

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.

Told you can't submit a claim? Don't give up

Some have reported an automated message saying it can't help at the moment due to the coronavirus pandemic and to call back another time. But there is a team working on these claims – and it's confirmed with us there is no issue, so hold the line and you will eventually get through.

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Women 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 (eg, turning 80).

Until now, you had to contact the 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. It's estimated that about 200,000 women could be owed an average payout of £13,500 – though there'll be no backdated interest added to the payout. Any money you're owed will be paid to the same account that you get your state pension paid to.

There's no timeframe for when people will be repaid, though the DWP adds that the exercise to work out how many people have been underpaid could take months. 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 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 2020/21 is a maximum of £134.25/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 on or after 17 March 2008.

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 DWP's computers to award the uplift.

Prior to 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+ per 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. 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's computer error or not known you needed to claim a top-up.

    If your husband died after April 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).

    Can I backdate my claim? 
    If your husband died after April 2008, 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 £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). 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.

    Can I backdate my claim? Any payout you're due will be backdated to when 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.

3. If you're a woman aged 80+ and get a state pension of less than £80.45/wk – whether you're 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 that 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 and so must meet the following requirements:

  • 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 guide 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.

There are two groups here. 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.

Can I backdate my claim? Yes, if you were in the first group – so already receiving a pension – you can claim back to when you turned 80.

4. If you're the heir of a woman who was underpaid state pension while alive and has since died

If you're the heir to a woman who was underpaid state pension before she died, then it's possible the DWP will contact you with details of an automatic payout that's due to your late relative's (or friend's) estate.

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 get a boosted pension when she was over 80, was a widow whose pension wasn't increased when her husband died, and so on.

If you are the heir of a woman who you think was underpaid pension while she was still alive, 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 she was owed, it's best to contact the Pension Service.

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.

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.

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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.

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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 isn't gender-specific – so if you're a man aged 80+ who gets a state pension of less than £80.45/week, you may well be being underpaid, so check.

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