The Department for Work and Pensions has failed in its communications of changes to the women’s state pension age, according to an assessment from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
In its report out this week, the PHSO said the DWP had communicated adequately the planned female pension age rises between 1995, when the change was first legislated for, and 2004.
But it had failed to act promptly after analysis in 2004 found the government's information campaign was not reaching the “people who needed it”, and recommended a targeted approach.
Campaign groups BackTo60 and the Women Against State Pension Inequality have claimed over the years that when the 1995 Conservative government’s Pensions Act included plans to raise the women’s state pension age to 65 — the same as men’s — the changes were implemented unfairly, with little or no personal notice.
Here's is what the ombudsman said:
1 Information did not reach savers
Research carried out in 2003-04 showed government information about pension age changes was not reaching the people who needed it, and recommended it should be ‘appropriately targeted’.
But despite having identified further options, the DWP continued doing what it had already done.
The DWP decided to not include state pension age information in automatic pension forecasts “because of data protection concerns”.
But complainants argued the documents could have included a general message about the changes.
The PHSO stated: “Given that DWP had already issued APFs to a proportion of the women affected by the time it was considering the 2003/2004 research, it was already too late for some people.
"But we cannot see that, having considered that research, DWP did anything different to what it had already tried to target information at the women who needed it.”
2 Written messages were delayed
DWP first proposed writing to women individually to tell them about changes after a survey in 2006 found 50 per cent of women whose state pension age had increased still thought it was 60.
But this was not carried out until a year later in 2007, after further ‘depressing’ research results.
The plan in December 2007 was to begin writing directly to women in 2009 after DWP said it would have required significant planning and it needed to effectively manage spending public money.
The PHSO said the DWP had failed to act promptly on its 2006 proposal or to give due weight to how much time had already been lost for women who remained unaware of the changes in the 11 years since the 1995 Pensions Act.
The PHSO stated: “We consider that, if DWP had made a reasonable decision in August 2005 and then acted promptly, it would have written to affected women to tell them about changes to their State Pension age by, at the latest, December 2006.
“This is 28 months earlier than DWP actually wrote to them. It follows that these women should have had at least 28 months’ more individual notice of the changes than they got. The opportunity that additional notice would have given them to adjust their retirement plans was lost.”