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WOMEN GIVEN JUST 2 YEARS' NOTICE OF STATE PENSION AGE RISE

UPDATED 15 MARCH 2016

Millions of women had their state pension age delayed - in some cases twice and by up to six years in total - without proper notice.

That is the only conclusion to be drawn from the details of how they were informed of the changes which has now been obtained from the Department for Work and Pensions. It reveals
  • The Government did not write to any woman affected by the rise in pension ages for nearly 14 years after the law was passed in 1995.
  • More than one million women born between 6 April 1950 and 5 April 1953 were told at age 58 or 59 that their pension age was rising from 60, in some cases to 63 
  • More than half a million women born 6 April 1953 to 5 April 1955 were told between the ages of 57 and nearly 59 that their state pension age would be rising to between 63 and 66.
  • Some women were told at just 57½ that their pension age would rise from 60 to 66. 
  • Women were given five years less notice than men about the rise in pension age to 66
  • The Government now says that in future anyone affected by a rise in state pension age must have ten years' notice. None of these women had that much notice nor did the men affected by the change.
Rising age
The first increase in women's state pension age was introduced by the Pensions Act 1995. The change would not start until April 2010 and would take ten years to complete. By 6 April 2020 women's state pension age would have been 65 and equal to that of men.

There was little mention of this momentous change at the time - perhaps because the process would not start for 15 years and it would be 25 years before women had the same state pension age as men. A press cutting search by me of the 1990s found very few mentions of the pension age increase and those were almost exclusively in the business and money pages of broadsheet newspapers.

However, more detailed research by Financial Times Pensions Correspondent Josephine Cumbo found more mentions of the rise. She sent her research to the Select Committee. It is not clear how easy to find or understand most of these pieces were nor how clearly they explained the impact on the women whose pension age would be put off by five years. Some examples were given by the Select Committee in its March 016 report Communication of State Pension Age Changes.

Certainly many women did know about the changes. But very many did not. The women affected were then aged 40 to 45. It is understandable that many of them, even if they read the newspapers, would have put it in the 'too far away to worry about' box.

In newly obtained Freedom of Information answers the DWP claims that it placed "advertorials" in women's and TV listings magazines in 2000. It also claimed there was a press advert "specifically about the equalisation of state pension age...in women's magazines and national newspaper supplements". But when asked for details of these adverts the DWP refused to do so. It admitted it "may hold" this information but finding it would cost more than £600 so it was entitled not to provide it. It also says the change was mentioned in some leaflets produced in the early 2000s.

But its crucial and damning admission is that it did not write a letter about the change to any woman affected for nearly 14 years after the Act was passed.

Letters
Writing a letter is not of course the same as informing people. The DWP admits that it could only write "using the address details recorded by HMRC at the time" and that the mailing was "subject to the accuracy of their address details with HMRC". Even those which did reach the correct destination may not have been read - "more bumph from the government" is a common reaction to such things.

Many women involved in the campaign group Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) have told me they have never received a letter about changes to their state pension age even now. Many found out from friends relatives, work colleagues, or the media. Many learned about it through Facebook or Twitter.

One reason for that may be revealed in a new global study of data quality expected to be published shortly. I have been told by sources close to the report that 23% of customer or prospect data - including names and addresses - contains errors. That does not mean that nearly a quarter will not arrive. But it does show that sending one letter is the beginning of informing people not the end.

The DWP has now admitted that letters returned undelivered by Royal Mail were destroyed and no further attempt was made to contact the women - see Pension Secrecy Lifted.

Detailed dates
Information released through Freedom of Information requests by WASPI reveals that it waited fourteen years after the law was passed, until April 2009, before it began writing individually to the women affected. 

The first group were 1.2 million women born between 6 April 1950 and 5 April 1953. These women expected to reach state pension age at 60 between 6 April 2010 and 5 April 2013 and were written to in turn by date between April 2009 and March 2011. The DWP figures show that the letters were sent to women when they were 58 or in some cases 59 to tell them their pension age of 60 had been delayed. On average they were given one year and five months notice before they reached their expected state pension age of 60. Some had less than one year's notice; none had more than two.

The letter writing was stopped in March 2011 because the Coalition government was considering speeding up the equalisation of state pension age. Those changes, in the Pensions Act 2011, were finally passed by Parliament on 3 November 2011. The letter writing began again in January 2012.

Second wave
The group affected by the speed up - women born from 6 April 1953 - had not been written to as part of the first wave of letters. They were now included in a second "mailing to individuals...due to reach State Pension Age between 2016 and 2026 [which] was completed between January 2012 and November 2013".

Approximately 650,000 women worst affected by the speed up - those born 6 April 1953 to 5 April 1955 - were written to in January and February 2012.

That means they got their letters between the ages of 57 and almost 59 that their pension age would not be 60. In many cases that would have been the first they knew about the original change and they were now told that their state pension age was to be raised again to just over 63 years and in some cases to as much as 66.

Some of these women, of course, may have discovered themselves that their pension age had already been extended once. For them the letters sent in 2012 arrived only between four and eight years before that revised pension date. It told them that their state pension age was to be extended further by between two and eighteen months.

Worst affected
The very worst affected were the 300,000 women born between 6 December 1953 and 5 October 1954 who faced that maximum extra 18 month rise in their state pension age. We know now that they were first written to about the changes between the ages of 57 years 5 months and 58 years 1 month before they reached 60, giving them just 22 to 30 months to rearrange their lives.

Among that group too some had worked out that their state pension age had already been raised once. They were told between five and half and seven years before their state pension date that a further change would push it another 18 months into the future - in all cases to beyond 65 and for some as late as 66.

It is important not to forget another group some of whom got very little notice that their state pension age would be 66. They are the women born from 6 October 1954 to 5 April 1960. Most of these women only heard about the changes at the age of 56 or 57, two or three years before they expected to reach state pension age at 60. Even the very youngest got no more than six years' notice.

The WASPI campaign covers the women affected born up to the end of 1959. It is seeking transitional compensation - which it has not defined - for the whole group.

Men
Men were also affected by the Pensions Act 2011 which raised their traditional state pension age of 65 to 66. Those born 6 December 1953 to 5 April 1955 were written to in February 2012 when they were 57 or 58, giving them between six years nine months and seven years seven months notice before their 65th birthday. They were informed of a delay of up to one year in their pension age.

DWP wrote to people born 6/12/53 to 5/4/59 about their state pension age rising. Women were told on average 2 years 7 months before expected pension age of 60; men were told on average 7 years 6 months before their expected pension age of 65.

Notice now
The Government's latest plan for reviewing and increasing state pension age was published in December 2013. It set out the principle that people should spend no more than a third of their life adult life (measured from age 20) on the state pension. A review would be held once every five years to work out what state pension age should be. It also promised "The review will seek to give individuals affected by changes to their State Pension age at least ten years’ notice."

None of the individuals mentioned in this blogpost have had ten years' notice. Some have had less than one year. None has had more than eight for the second delay.

Campaign
The WASPI campaign wants some transitional protection for the women who are the worst affected. On 2 January 2016 its online petition to Parliament has gathered more than 100,000 signatures. At 10,000 signatures the Government must respond. It said it "will not be revisiting the State Pension age arrangements for women affected" after rather disingenuously claiming that "All women affected have been directly contacted following the changes."

The call for some transitional protection was specifically ruled out by Pensions Minister Baroness Altmann on Money Box on 26 September 2015.

WASPI claims that if the MPs who voted in 2011 for the further rise in state pension age had known they were given such short and inadequate notice of the 1995 changes they may well have voted differently. The Bill was passed by 287 to 242 votes after amendments about the changes were rejected by 291 to 244 votes.

Parliamentary debates
The issue has been debated on several occasions in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

1. It was debated at length by MPs in Westminster Hall, the House of Commons second chamber, on 2 December 2015 led by Barbara Keeley MP. The debate was replied to by junior DWP and Justice Minister Shailesh Vara.

2. A further debate in the House of Commons main chamber was held on 7 January 2016. That was authorised by the Backbench Business Committee.

MPs devoted three and a half hours to debating the issue on the Motion by the youngest ever woman MP Mhairi Black

That this House while welcoming the equalisation of the state pension age is concerned that the acceleration of that equalisation directly discriminates against women born on or after 6 April 1951, leaving women with only a few years to make alternative arrangements, adversely affecting their retirement plans and causing undue hardship; regrets that the Government has failed to address a lifetime of low pay and inequality faced by many women; and calls on the Government to immediately introduce transitional arrangements for those women negatively affected by equalisation.

The Motion was passed by 158 votes to zero. But as a backbench motion it has no force to make the Government act and junior DWP and Justice Minister Shailesh Vara, who responded made it clear there would be no change.

The full debate in Hansard starts at col.454.

3. The matter was raised in Questions in the House of Commons on 1 February 2016.

4. Later that day 1 February 2016 there was a debate in Westminster Hall at 4.30pm. The debate was approved by the Petitions Committee after the WASPI petition was signed by more than 100,000 people. The Motion was

 “That this House has considered e-petition 110776 relating to transitional state pension arrangements for women born in the 1950s”

Helen Jones MP, Chair of the Petitions Committee, moved the motion. No vote was held.

5. Three weeks later on 24 February 2016 Labour used one of its days to get the Commons to debate the matter again. This time the motion was more substantive and "calls on the Government to bring forward proposals for transitional arrangements for women adversely affected by the acceleration of the increase in the state pension age."

The motion was defeated by 289 to 265.

The issues have also been debated twice in the House of Lords.
  • There was a short exchange between Baroness Bakewell and Pensions Minister Baroness Altmann in the House of Lords on 23 November 2015.
  • Baroness Bakewell obtained a short debate in the House of Lords on 3 December 2015. Baroness Altmann responded.

Conclusion
The DWP failed to inform millions of women about the changes to their state pension age until a year or two before they were 60. It gave inadequate notice to those affected by the further extension of their pension age leaving it to between four and eight years before that further rise was implemented. In many cases those women did not know then that their pension age age had been increased once already.

More information 
WASPI on Facebook
The WASPI petition
WASPI on Twitter
Pensions Minister Baroness Altmann on Money Box
Pensions Minister responds to Baroness Bakewell in House of Lords
Official site to calculate your state pension age

Sources: DWP Freedom of information VTR3902 (5 October 2015); VTR 3439 (8 September 2015); VTR3231 (17 August 2015).

15 March 2016
version 1.75