Women are bearing the brunt of a pension pay crunch and shambolic delays at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Money Mail today lays bare how the Government’s broken triple-lock promise will hit women hardest.
Exclusive analysis of official figures shows that one in four women pensioners now has no other income than the state pension.
Exclusive analysis of official figures shows that one in four women pensioners now has no other income than the state pension
It comes as average wage figures published yesterday show that, had the triple-lock pledge not been suspended, state pensioners would have been in line for an 8.3 pc pay rise.
The latest data shows that more than two million state pensioners receive less than £100 a week.
Shambolic service at the DWP also means that thousands of new retirees are having to wait months for their state pension of up to £179.60 a week.
Many of those losing out to the logjam are 1950s-born women who have already had to wait an extra six years for their pension after the state retirement age was increased in line with the age for men to 66.
Money Mail has also found that the elderly, disabled and terminally ill are being hit by the staff shambles at the department — with those in need forced to hang on the telephone for hours to get help or chase vital income they have not been paid.
The Conservatives had promised to protect millions of pensioners from the rising cost of living with the triple-lock pledge. This promised the state pension would rise every year in line with the highest of average wages, inflation or 2.5 per cent.
But the Government suspended the pledge for a year last week to save £5 billion after the pandemic saw average earnings soar across 12 months.
Instead, the pension pay will rise by either inflation or 2.5 per cent.
At the same time, analysis of government figures by investment service Hargreaves Lansdown shows the number of people reliant solely on state pension has grown over the past decade by a quarter.
The research found that 16 per cent of people collecting a state pension have no other income — up from 13 per cent a decade ago.
Nearly a quarter of women are reliant on the pension, compared with just 11 per cent of men. Ten years ago it was 19 per cent of women and 8.6 per cent of men.
Helen Morrissey, senior pensions and retirement analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, says: ‘While the state pension forms the backbone of most people’s retirement planning, it is concerning to see so many people are solely reliant on it.
‘We are also seeing an increasing number of older people continuing to work on into retirement — but not everyone will be able or well enough to do this. We will continue to see large numbers of pensioners reliant on the state pension and similar benefits for some time.’
I made a cake waiting on phone – and still haven’t seen a penny
Waiting: Former NHS worker Alison Maynard applied for her state pension in February
Former NHS worker Alison Maynard first applied for her state pension in February — but has yet to receive a single penny of it.
Alison estimates she has spent at least seven working days chasing her application and has been left waiting on the phone for up to 45 minutes at a time.
Call handlers have given numerous excuses to the 66-year-old, claiming there is a backlog of applications.
Alison, from Herefordshire, says: ‘It’s frustrating because I am left waiting on the phone for so long. It usually takes around 38 minutes just to get through to somebody.
‘Last week, I made a whole cake in the time I was waiting on the phone. There was one day when I got through in 12 minutes and I nearly dropped the phone I was so shocked.
‘The communication is very poor. And when I finally do get through to somebody it’s always the same call handlers, who are very polite but can’t really help.’
Alison, who was in charge of graduate recruitment in an NHS trust, first stopped working eight years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has since recovered.
She had made additional voluntary contributions to her National Insurance to bring the total up to 35 years and is now owed more than £2,000 in payments.
On one occasion a call handler said the payment had been received but not ‘activated’.
On another they suggested she had filled out her bank details wrongly. She pointed out that her details were correct.
She says: ‘I feel like they are making up excuses. Fortunately, I am not desperate for the money as my husband and I downsized homes recently so we do have money. But the point is that the DWP doesn’t know that. I could be on the breadline for all they know.’
Last week, the Mail reported how thousands of men and women were being forced to wait months for their state pension owing to blunders at the department.
But Money Mail has now found that a staff crisis has seen logjams build up across the DWP and the disabled and terminally ill are having to spend hours on hold chasing Personal Independence Payment (PIP) worth up to £152.15 a week.
We were also told by a reader that there was a backlog of 40,000 new Carer’s Allowance applications — a benefit worth £67.60 paid to people who spend at least 35 hours a week caring for a disabled person.
Yet while the DWP has confirmed there is a problem, it has so far refused to reveal the full scale of the crisis — instead saying only a few thousand were waiting for their pensions.In the meantime, thousands of pensioners are still waiting for their retirement pay, with some having to resort to using food banks in desperation.
Several readers have told us DWP call handlers have used the pandemic or working from home as an excuse for delayed payments and long waiting times. But the DWP again refused to confirm how many staff in its call centres were still working from home.
Money Mail tried calling several different sections of the DWP to see how quickly staff would answer. We were forced to wait at least half an hour to speak to teams on hand to help with state pensions and PIP.
And when we tried phone numbers for enquiries about Attendance Allowance — a benefit paid to disabled people who need someone to look after them — it took 25 minutes and 55 seconds to get through.
It took 18 minutes to get through on the Carer’s Allowance phone line. One 71-year-old, who is trying to claim her pension after deferring it 11 years ago, told Money Mail she had spent ten hours in total on hold to the DWP.
Another pensioner, Valerie Bryan, had to use a food bank after being forced to wait nearly three months for her state pension.
The widow turned 66 in June but only received her first payment last week. Valerie, from Warrington, Cheshire, had received Employment and Support Allowance before she reached the state pension age.
But while the benefit was stopped ten weeks ago, her £179.60 payments failed to materialise until last week.
And after burning through her savings because she had no income, Valerie had no choice but to turn to a local food bank for the first time.
Vital: Figures by investment service Hargreaves Lansdown show the number of people reliant solely on the state pension has grown over the past decade by a quarter
Her daughter-in-law, Marie Hall, 43, telephoned the DWP on her behalf, but says she regularly had to wait 50 minutes to speak to someone.
And when her calls cut out, staff said this was because many of them were working from home and losing internet connection to a conference call programme.
Valerie, who was a carer for her late husband, says: ‘The people who volunteer at the food bank are lovely, but at first I didn’t want to go because I didn’t see myself as a charity case. I had no choice, though, because the DWP has been so appalling.’
Christina Murray had been dreaming of her retirement for years but has been left spending the first two months of it chasing the DWP.
The former NHS ward clerk turned 66 in July and had expected to get a payment within four weeks of that landmark. But nearly two months on, she is still none the wiser as to where her payment is.
Call handlers at the DWP admitted there had been a ‘technical fault’ which had slowed her application — but they refused to elaborate further.
Christina, from Bognor Regis, West Sussex, says: ‘I feel like I am banging my head against a brick wall. It’s very frustrating that nobody can just tell me what the problem is or when I can expect my payment. I’m just given excuse after excuse. I feel very in the dark.’
Anna Doughty, also 66, from Nottinghamshire, says delays at the DWP office are adding ‘insult to injury’ after she was already forced to wait an extra six years to receive her pension.
The former sales and administrative worker has been told three times that her case is being raised ‘as a matter of urgency’, yet she has still not heard back.
Anna, who has now been waiting for more than a month for her first payment, says: ‘You are made to feel you are constantly being fobbed off. We have one daughter at university and one daughter back home. We do need the money.’
Broken system: Shambolic service at the DWP also means that thousands of new retirees are having to wait months for their state pension of up to £179.60 a week
Baroness (Ros) Altmann, a former pensions minister, says: ‘The public do have a right to expect that they will be able to reach the phone operators they need for important benefit applications.’
Those who call for help with PIP claims are greeted with a recorded message that plays on repeat: ‘We are sorry, all advisers are busy at the moment.’
Garry Lowen, 63, has had a three-month battle for PIP. It is eating into the time he has left with his wife Penny, 61. The couple, who run a guesthouse in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, found out Garry had motor neurone disease in April.
Despite applying for PIP on June 1 at Citizens Advice, the grandfather of two is yet to receive the vital benefit. Social workers and staff from the charity have tried to chase the application on his behalf but none of them has been able to get through on the DWP’s helpline.
One social worker told Garry they gave up after waiting after more than 40 minutes. The DWP texted Garry in July to confirm it had received his application and that he may need an assessment.
But he has heard nothing more since and Penny is unable to care for her husband until she can stop working at the guesthouse.
Garry says: ‘After working and paying my taxes for 46 years, I feel completely let down. Penny can’t stop working until we have the money and we just want to be able to spend what time we have left together.’
Wheelchair-bound Mark Lane has been dealing with the DWP for 18 years — but says its customer service has deteriorated significantly in recent months.
Mark, 52, is a TV presenter but relies on his weekly £148.85 PIP money to help fund his care and any new equipment he needs.
His husband, Jasen Cavalli, 54, also receives £24,000 every six months as his support worker, through the DWP’s Access to Work scheme.
However, the couple were forced to wait six weeks for a £6,040 payment that was meant to arrive by the end of July but only came in last week.
Mark and Jason were subjected to waits of between 35 minutes and an hour on the phone.
Mark, who lives in Canterbury, says: ‘When I first started receiving PIP, I remember waiting around five minutes to speak to someone on the phone. It feels like they are failing in their duty of care. Not everyone who has a disability has time to chase these payments.’
Pensions by numbers
- £5bn saved by Government by breaking triple lock.
- 1 in 4 women pensioners solely reliant on the State.
- 2.1m pensioners collecting less than £100 a week.
- 3.8m 1950s-born women forced to wait until 66 for pension.
- 3mthS Time some have to wait for pensions.
- 10hrsTotal time one reader said she’d been on hold.
Money Mail also tried to contact the line to help with reporting the death of a claimant. It took 13 minutes and 52 seconds to reach someone. Steven Wibberley, chief executive of the charity Cruse Bereavement Care, says: ‘The days, weeks and months following a bereavement can feel like a blur.
‘Delays from a third party only serve to add to the trauma of dealing with a loved one’s death and can have a negative impact on their grieving.’
Meanwhile, relatives applying for lasting power of attorney (LPA) to manage the finances of a loved one are being put in queues of more than 50 callers.
When Money Mail called the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), it took 34 minutes 55 seconds to talk to someone about LPA. And there was a four-minute wait for reporting suspected fraud or a vulnerable person at risk.
A message informs callers that many staff are working from home and ‘this is impacting response times’. The OPG’s website warns applicants to expect waits of up to 20 weeks for LPA applications.
Janice Bentley, 68, is still waiting for her property and financial affairs LPA after applying on May 9.
The retired healthcare assistant has rung the OPG more than 20 times and is also chasing an £82 refund after accidentally submitting too many applications.
Janice, from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, says: ‘The whole situation has been a complete nightmare. You are waiting for hours and nobody you talk to seems to give a t***.’
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, urged all government departments to do ‘everything they can’ to reduce waiting times and process delays.
She says: ‘We worry especially for an older person whose only income comes from their state pension and social security benefits. For someone like this, the ability to speak quickly and easily to someone over the phone who can sort out any problems is tremendously important.’
After Money Mail contacted the OPG, it confirmed Janice would be refunded in the next 24 hours.
A DWP spokesman says: ‘We are currently experiencing high demand on some of our phone lines. We are working through claims as quickly as possible and encourage anyone wishing to make a claim to visit gov.uk in the first instance for guidance on how best to do this.’
How to MAXIMISE your pension
You need 35 years of National Insurance (NI) credits to qualify for the full new state pension of £179.60 a week.
You will need at least ten years of credits to claim the minimum rate, which is now around £51 a week.
Workers who retired before April 2016 receive the old state pension, which pays up to £137.60.
You will need at least ten years of National Insurance credits to claim the minimum rate, which is now around £51 a week
You can check your NI record to see what you will be entitled to by visiting gov.uk/check-state-pension.
There are several things you can do to boost your state pension. Parents who take time off work to look after children can continue to earn NI credits by claiming child benefit.
Specified childcare credits are also available to adults who look after a child while their parent goes back to work.
You may also be entitled to credits if you are off work but on statutory sick pay. If you cannot claim more NI credits, you can buy voluntary class 3 NI contributions to plug gaps — these will cost £800 for every year.
Poorer pensioners may be entitled to pension credit, which tops up weekly incomes to £177.10 for singletons and £270.30 for couples.
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