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  – 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.

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Some inspiration before you begin – 'I received a payout of £82,000'

Watch the shock… yes, you're due £82,000 (courtesy of ITV's The Martin Lewis Money Show – 29 October 2020). In this clip meet Gill, who having watched Martin explain the issues, suddenly found she was due a life-changing amount of money. 

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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.      

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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. 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. 

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

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  1. If you're a married woman who hit state pension age before April 2016 and your state pension is less than 60% of your husband's basic state pension, check now

    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:

    • 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 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 says these are considered on a case-by-case basis and will depend on individual circumstances.

  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, check now

    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 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 Department for Work and Pensions (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. If you're a woman aged 80+ and get a state pension of less than £80.45/wk, check now – 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. 

    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. If you're a divorced woman and should have benefited from your ex-husband's national insurance record, check now

    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.

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

    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. 

How to check and reclaim if you're missing out

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.

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 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.

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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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