WASPI call for ‘speedy and fair compensation’ for all women affected by changes to the State Pension age

The Work and Pensions Committee has heard how women born in the 1950s, affected by changes to their State Pension age, should receive ‘fast and fair compensation’ from the UK Government and an apology from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

After a six-year investigation, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) published its final report on March 21 which said that the DWP failed to adequately communicate changes to women’s State Pension age, and those affected are owed compensation. As a result of its findings, the Ombudsman has asked Parliament to intervene and “act swiftly” to make sure a compensation scheme is established.

During the oral evidence session on Tuesday, Jane Cowley, WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign director, told the Work and Pensions Committee: “In terms of things we’d like to see in a compensation scheme, we’d like it to be speedy because of the delays that have already gone on, we want something that can be set up within weeks rather than years.”

Ms Cowley added: “It needs to be very simple, very clear, easy to operate. We can’t have a ‘one-size-fits-all’, it does have to take account of people’s different circumstances.

“I think women need to be given the benefit of the doubt. We’ve had many years of women’s word being doubted by the DWP and I think we need to move on from that.”

She said a compensation scheme needs to be sensitive to the different amounts of notice women should have had about their pension start date changes, and what they were actually given.

She explained to the cross-party group of MPS: “Some women had one year’s notice of a three-month increase to their state pension age. Other women had 18 months’ notice of a six-year increase to their state pension age.

“Now it’s not difficult to see that the latter group are the ones who are far more likely to have suffered quite difficult consequences because of that lack of knowing.”

WASPI chairwoman Angela Madden told the Committee: “Women who were divorced had their divorce settlements based on a pension age of 60. That means they were awarded less money in a divorce settlement, now that to me is clear financial loss.

“And there are other cases. And we think it would be fair to allow for that to be proven as part of a redress system.”

Asked how important an apology is and who should make one, Ms Madden told the Committee: “I think every party has had a hand in what’s happened here.

“It started way back in 1995. There has been at least 10 pensions ministers while we’ve been running this campaign and I think the apology needs to come from the Department (for) Work and Pensions in general.

“So I think the apology from the current administration will be quite important.”

Ms Madden added: “An apology without a commitment to a fair remedy is not an apology at all, so I think that’s what we’d like to see from an apology.”

She later added: “We’ve tried throughout the course of our campaign to communicate and manage the expectations of women.

“We have a large following on social media, we’ve got members, we’ve got a website. Our reach is probably hundreds and hundreds of thousands of women and they do expect compensation, but they expect that compensation to match the injustice that they’ve suffered.

“And I think if it does they’ll be satisfied, if it doesn’t then they won’t. So I think the level of compensation commensurate to the maladministration is a bit off and that needs to be considered further.”

The Ombudsman’s report suggested that compensation at level four, ranging between £1,000 and £2,950, could be appropriate for each of those affected.

Ms Madden told the Committee: “We are pleased with the report, it’s identified that there was maladministration: big tick for us. It’s identified that there should be compensation: big tick for us.

“It’s also laid the report before Parliament, which we’re really happy with because we feel that Parliament is the right place for that decision to be made.

“The level suggested in the report, we think is on the low side.”

Asked why news of the State Pension change had been missed, Ms Cowley said: “We’re going back to 1995 here. I think you have to think about the age of women at that time, what their lives might have been like.

“Many of them were not in work, they were at home at that time looking after families. There was some coverage in the newspapers but it was often on the financial pages of the newspapers.

“I think there was not a proper communications campaign by the DWP at that point… I think that’s something that’s quite easy to forget these days when everything is there on the internet at a touch of a button.”

Speaking in the House of Commons in March, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said there will be a full and proper consideration of the ombudsman’s report.

He said: “When considering the DWP’s actions between August 2005 and December 2007, the ombudsman came to the view that those actions resulted in 1950s-born women receiving individual notice later than they might, had different decisions been made.”

Rebecca Hilsenrath, interim ombudsman at the PHSO, told the Work and Pensions Committee during a later session on Tuesday: “I do recognise the impacts on so many individuals and I recognise that the Waspi women would have liked a higher level of compensation.”

But standing by the original recommendation, she added: “We feel that the level four general description of what the impact looked like for individual women was right.

“And we also looked at the case examples cited both in relation to level four and also to the higher levels. And we felt that those indicated to us quite clearly that they were level four cases.”

Of the ombudsman’s powers, she said: “We’re not a tribunal or a court and we’re not going to award the kind of very high levels of compensation that you see in negligence cases. So it’s about looking at the context that we operate in.”