Opperman blames Webb for state pension errors

Opperman blames Webb for state pension errors
Guy Opperman, pensions minister

Pension minister Guy Opperman has blamed Sir Steve Webb for the litany of state pension failures the Department for Work and Pensions is now dealing with.

At a Work and Pensions committee hearing on July 6, Opperman was questioned about the work the DWP is undertaking to solve the issue, which he blamed the former pensions minister for.

A National Audit Office report was published last year blaming the DWP for “years” of “human errors”, which have resulted in a total of 134,000 pensioners — 90 per cent of whom are understood to be women — being underpaid state pension entitlements to the collective tune of £1bn.

The government department is currently embarking on a legal entitlements and administrative practices exercise, which has seen it spend millions on recruiting hundreds of staff to address and remedy these underpayments.

However, on June 7, Webb – now a partner at LCP – wrote to Opperman with new evidence on underpayments, which occurred between 2020 and 2022, where he alleged the department made errors in its calculations of state pension entitlements.

“When DWP admitted to me that they had been making errors for this group of women, I assumed that they would have put in place procedures to sort out the problem,” Webb said at the time.

At the hearing, Opperman said that “all former pension ministers are esteemed colleagues who had the great joy of doing this job and I wish some of the former pension ministers, including Sir Steve (...) had addressed some of the problems I'm now having to deal with”.

“Because (...) almost all of these problems date between a period of time of 1988 and 2008 when the reforms came in. I continue to represent government and the DWP and we are fixing these problems as best as we possibly can, as quickly as we possibly can.”

He added that there are now more than 500 staff working on solving the issue, a number which is expected to rise to more than 1,000 by Christmas.

“It is quite clear there was a cohort of individuals who should have had their pension manually uprated on the system - when we had a manual system - and various employees at the DWP in various sites up and down the country simply didn't do that manual uprating, and there is a deficit by reason of that”.

Opperman stressed that the process “is a Herculean task” and that he wishes his predecessors had addressed this, including Webb, “who was pensions minister for five years under the coalition, who shadowed it for many years, and actually reformed the state pension in great detail”.

“I wish he had reformed and fixed the problems I'm now having to deal with and that he wasn't sitting on the side-lines being paid huge amounts of money to be a critic, and a journalist, casting aspersions against the people who he employed as minister.”

He added: “I wish he had done his job better when he was a minister and I wouldn't have to clear up his mess afterwards.”