State Pension  

MPs question govt comms on state pension underpayments

MPs question govt comms on state pension underpayments

MPs have written to the Department for Work and Pensions questioning the government’s communication strategy on state pension underpayments.

In a letter dated to April 20, Stephen Timms, MP and chair of Work and Pensions Committee and Dame Meg Hillier, chair of Public Accounts Committee wrote to DWP asking for further clarity on its progress with the state pension underpayments.

The letter follows on from a report in January where the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) called for the government’s state pension payment system to be overhauled and underpayments to be treated more seriously, while warning that other errors could still be unidentified.

Its report, ‘Underpayments of the state pension’, highlighted a number of areas where the government needs to make changes to ensure maladministration and underpayment issues do not continue.

Overall, the committee found the DWP had been relying on a system that was not fit for purpose and failed to mitigate against this, which it said was a failure in the government’s responsibilities.

It also branded the department’s complacency on the underpayment issue a failure and warned there was still a risk that similar, unidentified errors existed elsewhere in the state pension system.

PAC concluded that people needed clearer information to act, or risk missing out on significant sums.

It recommended that the DWP “improve the clarity and availability of information on state pension underpayments, and what people who are concerned that they have been underpaid should do”. 

The government’s response to the PAC report saw it revise information on its website to emphasise further that some individuals must make a claim and how they can do this. 

It is also working to provide a more direct route for those enquiring about underpaid state pension in respect of a deceased customer.

However, In this week’s letter, MPs said while this is welcome, it remains “extremely concerned” that the limited information on the government website may discourage some from taking action that could increase their entitlement. 

It asked DWP to answer the following questions: 

  • What is the status of the documents quoted in the Westminster Confidential report? Do they represent current policy? If not, what changed and when? 
  • How will you evaluate the effectiveness of the revised information on Gov.UK in helping those who may be affected to understand their position and to take appropriate action?
  • Do you have plans to review your communication strategy and take further action if, for example, only a small number of those affected contact you to report a change of circumstances or make a claim?

A DWP spokesperson said: "The action we are taking now will correct the historical underpayments that have been made by successive governments and we have set up a dedicated team and devoted significant resources towards completing this.

"We will respond to the committees' letter formally in due course."

Progress so far

The PAC also concluded that DWP had not been sufficiently transparent to parliament and recommended periodic updates on the progress of the state pension LEAP exercise and the speed of processing the backlog in the new state pension. 

In the latest report published on March 24, DWP estimates it has underpaid 134,000 pensioners, which are mostly women, and has therefore set aside £1bn to fix the issue before the end of 2023. 

It predicts errors going back as far as 1985 and said by the end of September 2021, it had identified 9,491 underpayments, and a total of £60.8mn had been repaid.