Coronavirus Travel Rights
27 November 2020
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 – with total payouts expected to be as high as £100 million. Married women who hit state pension age before April 2016 are a key group who may be owed, but others – including widows, divorcees and the over-80s, whether married or not – should also check. This guide explains who may be affected, and how to reclaim.
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.
To check if you're owed any state pension, you'll need to contact the Pension Service on 0800 731 0469 (press option four, then option two). 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.
Before you get started, here are some success stories we've had, to show what's possible – though of course, whether or not you're owed will depend entirely on your own circumstances.
It’s not just Gill (video above) who was inspired to check her pension after hearing Martin talk about people who were underpaid state pension.
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.
Several different groups of women should check their state pension entitlement as they may 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.
Remember also that this is a ready reckoner, not a definitive guide. But if you believe you could be owed, check – see How to check and reclaim if you're missing out for full help.
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. And any increase can possibly be backdated for years (the basic state pension for 2020/21 is a maximum of £134.25 – 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:
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 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:
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 says these are considered on a case-by-case basis and will depend on individual circumstances.
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:
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:
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.
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).
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 guide when we know for sure.
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 back you may be able to claim any underpayment will depend on what grounds you're claiming on.
The above can give you an idea of whether you may have been underpaid, but pension entitlement can be complex and depends on your individual circumstances, so the only way to know for sure is to check directly.
To check if you have been underpaid and are owed, contact the Pension Service and ask about your situation. Call 0800 731 0469, or see other contact details on 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.
If you believe you may have missed out in the first scenario 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 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.
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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