Maureen Finch, pictured with husband David: ‘It’s just not acceptable. I have worked all my life. I have never asked for a penny’
Furious savers have condemned woeful incompetence by the Department for Work and Pensions over long delays to state pension payments.
After This is Money exclusively revealed a service meltdown at the DWP, despairing elderly people trying to get payments started or end deferments have inundated us with stories and pleas for help.
Maureen Finch, 69, who has received no income since retiring in April, says ‘the stress is unbearable, and I have forgotten what a night’s sleep is’.
She and her husband David (pictured), who is in poor health, will reach their golden wedding anniversary next month but cannot afford to have a meal out or see family at the moment.
Another reader has struggled to get his pension since turning 66 in early July, after the DWP mislaid his claim form and failed to send a replacement despite numerous requests.
‘I cannot face calling up the DWP again,’ he says, and like several other readers he has now asked his MP to step in on his behalf.
After This is Money got involved and tackled the DWP for readers, some of them finally received their payments.
No one can tell me what has gone wrong: Read our investigations for readers below
Many elderly people complain of long waiting times when contacting the DWP, getting repeatedly cut off, being promised callbacks that never happen, and receiving empty assurances that cases will be escalated.
It beggars belief that the Government have not paid people the state pensions they are entitled to on time
Matt Rodda MP, Labour’s Shadow Pensions Minister
Some say they have no income at all and cannot pay essential bills – in some instances because their disability benefit stopped as soon as they reached state pension age – but claim DWP staff who were told this have still failed to help them.
The state pension is paid four weeks in arrears when it first begins, but delays have stretched for a further month and sometimes several more in these cases.
At the end of last week, Labour MP Andrew Gwynne asked the DWP ‘whether there have been any reported delays in processing initial payments for those who have reached state pension age’.
- DWP says ‘sorry’, and staff are being redeployed to process cases: Read its full statement below
Pensions Minister Guy Opperman said in a written response: ‘Normal service will be resumed by the end of October 2021.
‘The Department is working hard to clear backlogs which have occurred by reason of the Covid Pandemic and staffing issues which have now been rectified. Hundreds of additional staff are currently being redeployed.’
Anyone who has faced an unreasonable wait should contact their MP
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb, who is now a partner at LCP, said: ‘The DWP should have been honest and open months ago that they were having problems processing new claims.
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‘They are still refusing to say how many thousands of people have been left in limbo. People reaching pension age should not have to make repeated phone calls just to get the money to which they are entitled.
‘Anyone who has faced an unreasonable wait should definitely escalate the issue via their MP who should take it up with the DWP.
‘The more MPs who understand the scale of the problem the more Parliamentary pressure will be put on the DWP to get things sorted out.’
Labour’s Shadow Pensions Minister, Matt Rodda MP, said: ‘It beggars belief that the Government have not paid people the state pensions they are entitled to on time.
‘People work hard all their lives and deserve to be able to retire on time. That new pensioners are facing months of delays shows the incompetence of this Conservative government. Ministers must get a grip and fix this issue.’
Many of those waiting have no other income at all
Meanwhile, former Pensions Minister Ros Altmann said she was delighted the DWP had found a quick resolution, and hoped lessons would be learned to prevent this happening again.
But she questioned whether there should be compensation for those who may have had to borrow money to tide themselves over or who had lost out financially, because they had used credit card or ‘buy now pay later’ debt services and would incur interest.
She added: ‘Many of those waiting for their state pension have no other income at all – no private pension, no savings, bills to pay and are no longer working. What are they supposed to live on?
‘And at least with Universal Credit, people know that after the five-week wait they will receive money and there are emergency provisions. With the state pension there has been nothing.
Ros Altmann: At least with Universal Credit, people know after five weeks they will receive money and there are emergency provisions. With the state pension there has been nothing
‘Once again, the hardest hit will be women, since the majority of those who are wholly reliant on state pensions are women – the very group who have been hit by the sharp rise in state pension age itself.’
This is Money asked the DWP whether it was prioritising cases where people report hardship, or where Employment and Support Allowance – paid when people have a disability or health condition that affects how much they can work – had been stopped at state pension age.
However, it did not respond to this question.
We also asked whether there was a shortage of staff processing new state pension claims because many have been diverted to a massive ‘correction exercise’ fixing underpayments to more than a hundred thousand elderly women – a separate scandal uncovered by Steve Webb and This is Money.
And we asked whether the staff redeployment to new state pensions would be from that team, and therefore delay that work. But the DWP did not respond to those questions either.
‘You feel totally on your own and abandoned’
Maureen Finch, 69, a former administrator for a private spinal consultant, has been trying to end her state pension deferment since early April.
However, she began planning ahead and first contacted the DWP at the end of last year, as she was self-employed and had to give notice to move out of her office.
She says an online form was not available to end deferment, so she made nine calls starting in March to obtain an application form before receiving one in July, and a further three calls since then trying to sort out her state pension.
Mrs Finch says: ‘I was often subject to a 40 minute delay in getting an answer, have been transferred and cut off.’
Regarding the last time she called, she says: ‘I stressed that I had no other income, and this was causing me financial difficulties.
‘I was promised this would be expedited and I would receive a phone call back within 48 hours. As on previous occasions when this was stated I received no phone call.’
Steve Webb: People reaching pension age should not have to make repeated phone calls just to get the money to which they are entitled.
Mrs Finch lives in Lincolnshire with her husband David, a former engineer aged 76.
She delayed her retirement because he was in ill health, but told This is Money she was now in despair over when she would finally receive any payment. This is due to be around £82 a week, although she will receive extra benefits for having deferred for several years.
‘It is our golden wedding anniversary next month. I would dearly love to be able to have a meal or see family but find I cannot do any of these things I wish to do at the moment. The stress is unbearable, and I have forgotten what a night’s sleep is,’ she says.
‘I am absolutely at a loss what to do. I have done everything I can to avoid ending up in this situation, and now I have been with no money since I stopped working. I worked through Covid because I was in the healthcare sector.’
Mrs Finch says of DWP staff that they never commit to a time when payments will start, that ‘when you speak to them they just don’t care’ and that they have ‘an uncaring, sloppy attitude’.
She adds that it is wearing a bit thin now to blame long delays in getting through on the phone to the DWP on Covid.
She says: ‘Someone should be held to account for this. It’s just not acceptable. I have worked all my life. I have never asked for a penny.
‘I think they should have to pay you interest or compensation. I feel really bitter, after never having asked for anything. These government agencies should hang their heads in shame. You feel totally on your own and abandoned.’
Following our intevention in her case, Mrs Finch received a call from the DWP with news that her case had been sorted and she would shortly receive the money she is owed.
‘I have zero confidence in the DWP, it’s utter shambles’
Thomas Parker (not his real name) turned 66 in early July, but says the DWP lost his claim form and he has struggled ever since to get staff to send him a replacement or start paying his state pension
He has called several times, involving ‘interminable’ and ‘demoralising’ waits to get through, but despite staff apologising and at one point promising to pass his case to an ‘escalation section’, nothing has happened.
Mr Parker says he is ‘in despair at the utter incompetence of the DWP’, and has now lodged a formal complaint and written to his MP.
He says: ‘I cannot face calling up the DWP again and have zero confidence in their ability to resolve what should be a straightforward matter of starting someone’s state pension. It is hardly something complex.’
The former financial manager from Middlesex says: ‘It is only due to the fact that I am in receipt of my employer’s occupational pension that I am solvent.’
Mr Parker bought three years’ worth of state pension top-ups, and is expecting to receive a little under £179 a week, just shy of the full rate.
He says: ‘How is it possible that we the taxpayers can have paid billions in new IT systems, processes, online capability, consultants, to end up with a service, which is involved with ensuring the elderly receive their due state pension entitlement, and yet is an utter shambles?
‘I cannot believe that my case is an isolated example. There must be many less fortunate people than myself who have been treated equally appallingly, and who have suffered financial difficulties.’
STEVE WEBB ANSWERS YOUR PENSION QUESTIONS
He went on: ‘Doubtless someone from the DWP’s PR department will respond with some trite standard comments apologising profusely, assuring you this is an isolated instance, and that whilst my case has fallen from their usual high standards that lessons will be learnt.
‘But this is not sufficient. Somebody from the National Audit Office must instigate an independent investigation into the failings at the pension claims department.’
‘Hours on the phone and form filling were a complete waste of time’
Susan Anthony (not her real name) has battled to end her state pension deferment and start drawing payments since early April.
The 70-year-old medical writer from Dundee says she applied in good time, and sent in her divorce documents last year.
‘I have spent hours on the phone trying to find out the cause of the delay and had the same problems as other readers, with protracted waiting times, disconnected calls and woeful mismanagement, no follow-up and being asked to complete unnecessary forms.’
Ms Anthony says that in June she started receiving a series of additional forms from the international division of the DWP about her time spent working abroad and even short holidays going back to the 1980s.
Despite assuring the DWP several times that this was unnecessary since she qualified for a full state pension based on her ex-husband’s contributions, she was advised to fill in the forms – and it took until early September for staff to admit she had been right all along, and her time overseas was not relevant.
‘It was 20-30 minutes on hold every single time I phoned, then either being disconnected mid-conversation or being foisted off with promises of email follow-up that never happened,’ she says.
‘All the months of delay and hours spent on the phone, form-filling and hunting through my old records for precise dates were a complete waste of time. I asked when my pension would start and they said they had sent a reminder to the UK division and it’s in their hands.’
Since Ms Anthony has deferred her state pension for 10 years, she is due a large enhanced amount but has had to live on her savings. She describes the service she has received from the DWP as ‘unacceptably poor’.
‘Hospitals and supermarkets have carried on through the worst of the pandemic. Private companies have organised work from home systems that work and/or brought staff back in-office, so why can’t the civil service? We are definitely not all in this together.
‘Thank goodness I have savings. There must be people in hardship.’
After we alerted the DWP to her case, Ms Anthony has received money in her account.
‘I kept working and can’t plan my retirement’
Karen Cross (not her real name) applied well in advance of reaching state pension age in June, but was left in the dark over what amount she would receive and when by the DWP.
‘Despite six phone calls to their call centre, 45 minute wait each time for a call to be answered, nobody can tell me when I will start receiving payments,’ says the administrator from Leicestershire.
‘The staff in the call centre seem to be unaware of any delays so it was a relief to read your article and comments from other readers.
‘Luckily I didn’t retire on my birthday and have been able to continue working, but I am finding the whole situation really stressful as I am unable to plan my retirement.
‘So far it has been 11 weeks since my birthday and six months since my application went in. I just can’t understand what the problem is and why no one can tell me what has gone wrong.
‘It’s just so inefficient. There must be something wrong. I have had to work six years longer anyway. It adds insult to injury not to pay me now.’
After we gave the DWP her details, Mrs Cross has received money.
What does the DWP say?
A DWP spokesperson said: ‘We are sorry that some new state pension customers have faced delays receiving payment.
‘All those affected have been identified and we have deployed extra resources to process these as a priority. Any claims made today should not be subject to delay.’
The DWP added that state pension claimants don’t need to act because their cases have been identified and they will be processed as soon as possible. It plans to offer backdated payments in one sum.
Meanwhile, the cases of Mrs Finch, Ms Anthony and Mrs Cross have now been resolved, and Mr Parker’s should be soon, according to the DWP. It regretted the delays in processing these cases.
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