I reached state pension age in 2001 and claimed my pension. Because of gaps in my working life I didn’t get a full pension and was paid just over half of the full rate.
My husband retired a few years later and nothing changed with my pension. Sadly, my husband died in 2019 and they started to pay me a widow’s pension.
A few years later I saw some coverage on This is Money about married women’s pensions and realised that I could have had a bigger pension when my husband retired.
But when I contacted them they said it was too late and nothing could be done.
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State pension scandal: I was underpaid, but DWP says it’s too late to fix it
Steve Webb replies: Unfortunately, you are one of tens of thousands of women who missed out on a better state pension because of the complexity of the rules.
But in your case I think the Department for Work and Pensions were particularly at fault because they did not even try to sort things out when your husband sadly died.
To make sense of what went on, I need to explain what is going on behind the scenes when you claim a state pension.
Under the old state pension system (for those who reached pension age before 6 April 2016) there were different ‘categories’ of pension.
Although you simply claim ‘a pension’ and there is nothing on the claim form to indicate what category of pension you are claiming, DWP actually assess you for a range of different types of pension.
– Category A pension, claimed in your own right and based purely on the basis of your own record of National insurance contributions.
– Category B pension, claimed in whole or in part on the basis of someone else’s contributions – for example, by a widow after the death of her husband. This can be worth up to 100 per cent of the full basic pension rate.
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– Category BL pension, which is a lower rate Category B pension available to married women once their husband has retired. This is paid at 60 per cent of the basic pension rate being paid to the husband.
– Category D pension, which is only available to the over 80s, and does not depend on your National Insurance record. This is also worth 60 per cent of the standard basic pension rate.
In your case, when you first retired, your husband was under pension age so the only type of pension you were eligible for was a Category A pension.
As you mention, you had gaps in your NI record so you only qualified for just over 50 per cent of the full rate.
When your husband retired a few years later, you could in principle have received a pension at the Category BL (married woman’s) rate. This would have lifted your pension to 60 per cent of the full rate.
Unfortunately, there’s a catch.
As your husband reached pension age before the cut-off date of 17 March 2008, this uplift to a Category BL pension did not happen automatically. It only happened if you filled in a (second) claim form. And unfortunately you did not do so – presumably because you had no idea that a further claim was necessary.
Moving forward to 2019 when your husband died, you notified DWP of his passing and they then assessed you for a Category B (widow’s) pension.
Amazingly, however, they say that widow’s pensions are payable automatically *without a claim*. In their minds you had still not made a further state pension claim, so they did not assess you for a backdated married woman’s pension because you had still not ‘claimed’ it.
In their minds, the only state pension claim you have ever made was the one you made when you turned 60.
I think this is outrageous.
To the ordinary person, you simply claim your pension and expect to be paid whatever is the relevant rate. They don’t tell you on the claim form or even on the award notice that you are getting a Category A or Category B pension. So how are you supposed to know?
And when someone has just been bereaved, DWP should be going out of their way to make sure you got everything you were entitled to, by making sure that you filled in the right paperwork.
When you did finally become aware that you could have had a bigger pension, it was unfortunately too late to claim.
As you had already made one state pension claim, you are only allowed to backdate a second claim to a married woman’s pension for 12 months, and more than 12 months had elapsed since your husband died.
Unfortunately at this point it seems that there is little that can be done in law, as technically, DWP were within their rights to act as they did.
But a humane organisation would have had processes in place to make sure that widows got their due, even if they had missed out before.
When we put your case to DWP they said: ‘As upheld by a court last year, married women, whose husbands claimed state pension after them but before 17 March 2008, are required by law to make a separate claim for an uplift to their state pension.
‘Our priority is ensuring pensioners receive the financial support to which they are entitled and the action we are taking now will correct historical underpayments made by successive governments.’
Ask Steve Webb a pension question
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is This Is Money’s Agony Uncle.
He is ready to answer your questions, whether you are still saving, in the process of stopping work, or juggling your finances in retirement.
Steve left the Department of Work and Pensions after the May 2015 election. He is now a partner at actuary and consulting firm Lane Clark & Peacock.
If you would like to ask Steve a question about pensions, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve will do his best to reply to your message in a forthcoming column, but he won’t be able to answer everyone or correspond privately with readers. Nothing in his replies constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.
Please include a daytime contact number with your message – this will be kept confidential and not used for marketing purposes.
If Steve is unable to answer your question, you can also contact MoneyHelper, a Government-backed organisation which gives free assistance on pensions to the public. It can be found here and its number is 0800 011 3797.
Steve receives many questions about state pension forecasts and COPE – the Contracted Out Pension Equivalent. If you are writing to Steve on this topic, he responds to a typical reader question about COPE and the state pension here.