Waspi: Millions of women hit by DWP state pension age change failures 'are owed thousands in compensation'

Women against state pension inequality (WASPI) protest outside the Houses of Parliament on March 13, 2019 (AFP via Getty Images)
Women against state pension inequality (WASPI) protest outside the Houses of Parliament on March 13, 2019 (AFP via Getty Images)

Campaigners on Thursday demanded compensation for millions of women after an official watchdog slammed the Government for failing properly to communicate that it was hiking the state pension age.

In a hard-hitting final report, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) accused the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of “maladministration” over many years since 1995 and urged Parliament to intervene.

It looked at a sample complaint covering a few thousand women brought by the campaign group Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi), and recommended “Level 4” compensation of £1,000-£2,950.

But Waspi chairwoman Angela Madden demanded “Level 6” compensation of at least £10,000 - and put the number of women affected at 3.6 million, with 270,000 women already dying before they could receive any compensation.

Coming on top of a looming settlement owed to victims of an infected blood scandal, and to subpostmasters wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office, the sheer scale of the pensions compensation package could torpedo any hopes of Rishi Sunak for further tax cuts before a general election this year.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We will consider the Ombudsman’s report and respond in due course, having cooperated fully throughout this investigation.

“The Government has always been committed to supporting all pensioners in a sustainable way that gives them a dignified retirement whilst also being fair to them and taxpayers.

“The state pension is the foundation of income in retirement and will remain so as we deliver a further 8.5% rise in April which will increase the state pension for 12 million pensioners by £900.”

Ms Madden said: “The DWP’s refusal to accept the clear conclusions of this five-year-long investigation is simply unbelievable. One of the affected women is dying every 13 minutes, and we just cannot afford to wait any longer.

“Now that the PHSO findings have at last been published, all parties owe it to the women affected to make a clear and unambiguous commitment to compensation.

“The ombudsman has put the ball firmly in Parliament’s court and it is now for MPs to do justice to all the 3.6 million women affected,” the Waspi chairwoman added.

“We are now looking to those who have supported us over the years to put their money with their mouth is and back us on a proper compensation package. All the parties are now in the spotlight with Waspi women watching and waiting to see how they should best use their votes in the coming general election.”

The watchdog’s report said the DWP should be “held to account” for failing to “do the right thing” by the Waspi women.

PHSO Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath, said: “Complainants should not have to wait and see whether DWP will take action to rectify its failings.

“Given the significant concerns we have that it will fail to act on our findings and given the need to make things right for the affected women as soon as possible, we have proactively asked Parliament to intervene and hold the Department to account,” she said.

“Parliament now needs to act swiftly, and make sure a compensation scheme is established. We think this will provide women with the quickest route to remedy.” 

The 1995 Pensions Act and subsequent legislation raised the state pension age for women born on or after April 6, 1950, and today both men and women only qualify when they reach the age of 66. Before the changes, women could qualify at 60.

The Ombudsman investigated complaints that, since 1995, the DWP failed to provide accurate, adequate and timely information about state pension reform.

It found that the DWP’s handling of the changes meant some women lost opportunities to make informed decisions about their finances.

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain demanded no delay from the Government in offering the compensation.

“These courageous women, who have tirelessly campaigned for justice after being left out of pocket, deserve our admiration for their persistence,” she said.

“Liberal Democrats have long supported Waspi in their campaign and it is now up to this Conservative Government to come forward with a plan to get these women the compensation they are owed.”

Labour MP John McDonnell also took issue with the PHSO’s recommended level of compensation for the Waspi generation, capped at £2,950.

“Even though this is an acknowledgment of Government failures, I believe this will come as a bitter disappointment to many of these women, who will feel betrayed,” he said.