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Older women wrongly denied more than £4,000 in state pension

Older women who were told they did not qualify for the UK state pension are being urged to challenge the decision after new cases emerged of errors in government processing.

Steve Webb, a former pensions minister, said instances had come to light of women in their sixties who were wrongly denied more than £4,000 in annual state pension payments.

The problem relates to women who previously paid a reduced rate of national insurance contributions known as the “married woman’s stamp”.

Dating back to the 1940s, the arrangement was based on the assumption that women were financially dependent on their husbands. The reduced stamp was abolished in 1977 after peaking in the mid-1970s with 4.4mn women paying the lower rate. 

However, some women who paid the stamp and who are approaching state pension age are finding they lack the 10 years of full rate contributions necessary to qualify for any state pension, said Webb, a partner at actuarial firm LCP.

Webb, who oversaw the introduction of a new state pension as minister in 2016, said the system had a special concession for such women, provided that they were paying the reduced stamp 35 years before they retired.

“Such women can automatically get a pension of £85 per week if they are married or £141.85 if they are widowed or divorced,” he said. Webb has written to Guy Opperman, pensions minister, highlighting the cases of four women who were wrongly told they had no pension entitlement.

One of these was Estelle Henley, of Southampton, who reached the state pension age of 66 in April this year but was told by the Department for Work and Pensions “we cannot pay your UK state pension” because she did not have the requisite number of years of national insurance contributions.

Henley was aware of special rules for people who had paid the “reduced stamp”, so she challenged DWP directly and contacted Steve Webb. 

She said: “I knew that something was wrong when I was told I wasn’t entitled to a pension, but there may be other women who might not realise they have been given the wrong information. I would encourage anyone who has been turned down for a pension to make sure that an error has not been made”. 

DWP accepted its error and paid arrears back to the start of her claim. 

The blunders emerged as the DWP conducts a big exercise to correct hundreds of thousands of historic underpayments of the state pension, mostly affecting older women.

“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. “Yet I continue to hear from women who have been wrongly told that they are not entitled to a pension.”

Webb said the DWP should be checking through its records for such cases, rectifying them and making sure the problem is not repeated.

The DWP said in a statement: “This year we will spend over £110bn on the state pension and our priority is ensuring every pensioner receives all the financial support to which they are entitled. Where errors do occur, we are committed to identifying and rectifying them.” It did not respond to a request for an estimate of how many people might be affected.

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