THE Court of Appeal has ruled that the sharp increases in women’s State Pension Age did not discriminate against women affected.
Tuesday, 22nd September 2020, 11:40 am
The judges expressed sympathy for their plight, but the legal conclusion was a victory for the Government against the women who challenged the changes and wanted their State Pension Age returned to 60.
I have long considered that the increase in women’s State Pension Age may have created injustice and hardship, but it is not clear this qualifies as discrimination.
In short, successive governments since the 1990s failed to properly inform the millions of women facing a State Pension Age rise that they would not be able to receive any of the State Pension they may have been relying on at the age of 60.
Women, especially those already in their later years, have much lower pensions than men – both in private and state pensions.
For the majority, receipt of State Pension is a crucial part of their retirement income. Any delay in the starting date is likely to be more serious for those who have little or no private pension.
So what did Governments do wrong?
I do not believe it was wrong to increase State Pension Age for women, so that it would be equalised with men, but if Government is making such a fundamental change, it surely has a duty to ensure the women affected are aware of what is going to happen, so they can adjust their plans for the future.
This is where the problem seems to me to lie.
When Pensions Minister, I saw copies of letters written by the Government to millions of these women in 2003 and 2004 about their State Pension, which failed to clearly highlight that their pension would not be paid at age 60.
These official letters failed to clearly highlight that these women’s pension would not start being paid at age 60.
It merely informed them what State Pension they might receive when they reached State Pension Age, but they did not tell them what that age would be!
In fact, receiving a letter from the Pensions Department about their State Pension, which did not urge them to check what their State Pension Age would be, may have lulled them into a false sense of security that they would receive it from age 60 – just like all the other women they had ever known.
Does this look like maladministration? It is certainly the case that the Government seems not to have realised that many women had no idea their pension age would not be 60. Of course, the officials and Ministers writing the letters all knew, but they failed to appreciate that those women they were writing to had never been directly told.
This failure of the oversight of the State Pension information, and the damage to women’s pension prospects, was then compounded by the decision in 2011 (which I vigorously opposed at the time) to accelerate the already planned rises in Women’s State Pension Age, so it would reach 65 in 2018 and increase to 66 in 2020.
This second rise caused further hardship and added to the problems faced by many women who desperately needed their State Pension and had no time to change plans they had already made.
The Government did try writing to women in 2009, but that was so close to the 2010 start date for the pension age increases and then, shortly after they received those letters.
The next Government decided to delay their State Pension even further. Governments are legally entitled to change the terms of State Pensions, but surely they also have a duty to ensure those affected are made aware of what the changes are going to be.
Appeals are already in progress to the Parliamentary Ombudsman and, if maladministration is confirmed, perhaps there can yet be a resolution to this problem.
I have not supported a return to pension receipt from age 60, but I do think there is a strong case for Government to help those women – and men – facing hardship caused by delaying receipt of State Pension, whether this is in terms of access to Pension Credit, or early access to State Pension for people who are seriously ill or caring for others.
Baroness Ros Altmann is a Tory peer and a former pensons minister.
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