Poor service: Pensioners claim complaints to DWP have gone ignored, and phonelines are ‘a joke’ (Stock image)
More older people have come forward to accuse the Department of Work and Pensions of bungling and delays to state pension payments.
Pensioners claim complaints have gone ignored, phone lines are ‘a joke’, and staff continue to make empty promises of cases being escalated.
Problems with state pension top-ups are now being reported, including an error which could have led to a loss of thousands of pounds over the course of retirement.
This is Money has covered many cases of readers struggling to get by or even forced into hardship due to poor service by the DWP, which promised to get on top of problems by November.
David Hughes had already passed his 67th birthday by the time he started to receive his UK pension, after the intervention of This is Money.
He turned 66 in early 2021, but applied for the state pension in May once he reached pensionable age where he now lives, in the Netherlands.
Mr Hughes tells us ‘countless’ letters to the DWP went unanswered, leaving him feeling helpless as he borrowed from friends and family and struggled to get by on a small overseas pension.
The retired postal worker adds of his experience trying to contact the DWP: ‘To totally ignore me is disgusting.
‘It’s so hard to get a response from them, mails not answered, and the phone lines are a joke, you can be kept waiting all day. I also have the problem in that because I’m an expat I can’t write to my local MP for help.’
The DWP blamed the delay on the Dutch authorities, which they said did not forward Mr Hughes’s state pension claim.
But he disputes this, saying: ‘I do not believe that for a moment. The Dutch Pension Service submitted the claim on my behalf and sent me two letters confirming this. In English and in Dutch.
‘They did state in the letters that in their experience I wasn’t to expect anything from the DWP soon.’
Mr Hughes, who showed This is Money copies of his letters from the Dutch pension service, says he is ‘inclined to believe that the Dutch played their part and it was the English side that let me down’.
He tells us: ‘The one thing I will say is the help I got after you took on my case was great. The two people I had on the line were very helpful. Why couldn’t it have been like that to begin with!’
Pensioners claim state pension top-up failures are not addressed
How do state pension top-ups work?
This is Money’s pensions columnist, Steve Webb, explains the baffling ‘Russian Roulette’ system to a reader trying to boost their weekly payments here.
Pensioners have also contacted us recently to condemn the handling of top-up payments, which the DWP has admitted can take eight to 12 weeks to boost a state pension.
Lisa Walker (not her real name) says she experienced an ‘unreasonable and very stressful’ delay after handing over nearly £11,200 to add 14 extra years to her National Insurance record.
She started contacting the DWP about top-ups last August, received details of what she should pay in mid-November, and at that point sent what she describes as ‘a substantial amount of money from my small savings’.
The 67-year-old, who lives in the south of England, says during her second attempt to follow this up by phone in February, she received a ‘totally unacceptable’ response from the DWP.
She claims a staff member accused her of ringing repetitively, refused to pass her case on to be dealt with, and told her that if she rang again she would be ‘put at the back of the queue’.
‘I didn’t dare argue because I didn’t want to make the situation worse,’ she told This is Money. ‘I found it quite intimidating. I didn’t want to say anything back in case it went against me.’
The DWP has disputed Ms Walker’s version of events during the call.
When This is Money raised her case earlier this month, the DWP increased her state pension from £97.50 a week to £169, and paid around £1,150 in arrears.
Ms Walker thanked This is Money, telling us: ‘I can book the plumber now, need some essential repairs done.’
It can be very confusing for people to know who to call, as NI contributions are handled by HMRC whilst state pensions are worked out by DWP
Steve Webb, on state pension top-up payments
Paul Adams, age 66, says the DWP failed to address his complaint about a botched top-up.
He paid around £880 to boost his state pension by just over £5 a week to £177, but it was only raised by 79p.
His letter protesting this prompted a response about whether he could benefit from making further top-up payments, and failed to address the shortfall he had pointed out.
The retired IT programme manager from Gloucestershire stood to lose out on £226 a year, or £4,500 if he lives for a further 20 years, if he had not spotted the error and got it corrected.
Mr Adams says he spoke to three or four people at the DWP over the past few months, and told us: ‘They didn’t have any clue what I was talking about. They were working from home and couldn’t check my information. You worry about the level of competence at the DWP.’
In his complaint letter about the 79p rise, he described spending an hour on the phone to the DWP helpline, and receiving a promise that his case would be investigated as a priority.
He wrote to the DWP: ‘This simply isn’t good enough, the DWP is by a country mile the worst organisation it has been my misfortune to encounter.
‘The client service experience is woeful, individuals will not give you their full names, they have no access to emails, cannot see recent correspondence, cannot return calls.
State pension top-ups
We asked the DWP whether the top-up error affecting Mr Adams was a one-off, and if it would be checking whether this was more widespread.
We also asked if the department has a process to pick up errors like this and correct them, had Mr Adams not noticed and challenged this himself.
And given the DWP’s initial response to his complaint did not address it, prior to our involvement, we asked whether questions about top-up errors were triggering proper investigations?
A DWP spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to delivering an excellent level of service and ensuring the right outcome for our customers.
‘The Department is continuously learning and improving from situations where errors happen.’
Have you experienced a top-up blunder? Find out how to contact us below.
‘In short the client is left with the overall impression no one cares and has no faith their concerns will be addressed.’
After we intervened, and the DWP resolved the error within a few days, he told This is Money: ‘Many thanks for sorting this so quickly. I can’t believe it’s been so rapid. I had visions of fighting the bureaucracy for years. I will celebrate tonight.’
>>>Scroll down to read the DWP’s full responses to the cases highlighted above
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb, now a partner at LCP and This is Money’s pensions columnist, says: ‘Paying voluntary National Insurance contributions can be good value for money in many cases, but it does typically involve handing over thousands of pounds to the Government in order to secure a higher pension.
‘With household finances set to get tighter, it is totally unacceptable for the government to simply sit on this money for months before getting round to increasing the rate of pension in payment.
‘In addition it can be very confusing for people to know who to call, as NI contributions are handled by HMRC whilst state pensions are worked out by DWP.
‘It is particularly shocking that in Mr Adams’s case his state pension was increased by less than £1 per week, when he was due an increase of over £5 per week.
‘If he had not been vigilant it is not clear if this error would have been corrected. DWP urgently needs to check if this was a one-off error or if other people have also lost out through incorrect calculations.’
What does the DWP say?
After This is Money raised the cases above with the DWP, it resolved them and paid arrears.
In the case of Mr Hughes, it says: ‘We regret there was a delay as Dutch authorities did not forward Mr Hughes’s state pension claim. His claim has now been finalised and will continue at the weekly rate.’
It paid him £4,206.39 to cover the period from January 2021 to February this year, and he will now receive £75.11 a week.
The DWP says international state pension claims can take longer than UK ones, as they can require additional clerical checks and information from overseas pensions authorities in order to process.
Regarding Ms Walker, the DWP says: ‘Once we received notification from HMRC that [she] had paid voluntary National Insurance contributions, we reviewed her state pension claim, paid the arrears, and increased her state pension from £97.50 per week to £169.34 per week.’
It says once it was informed of her additional 14 years voluntary contributions on February 28, this was actioned, and it apologises to Ms Walker for any instances of the expected timescales not being relayed during her contact with DWP.
The DWP adds that a change in National Insurance records can take 8-12 weeks to reflect in payments.
It denies claims of intimidating behaviour by a staff member towards Ms Walker and says this does not match with its records of the conversations which took place.
In Mr Adams’s case, the DWP says: ‘We are sorry that Mr Adams’s state pension was incorrectly updated following his payment of voluntary National Insurance contributions.
‘Arrears of £60.76 have now been issued and his state Pension increased to £177.09 per week, a rise of £5.13.’
State pension delayed? What should you do
The state pension is paid four weeks in arrears when it first begins. Steve Webb advises anyone who has faced an unreasonable wait beyond that to contact their MP, who should take it up with the DWP.
The Government will give an advance on a first state pension payment if you have made a claim and are in ‘urgent financial need’.
Details of how to apply are here, but there is no information on what criteria it uses to make decisions.
The DWP said: ‘We have procedures in place to escalate cases where a customer tells us they are in financial hardship and their state pension entitlement date is past due.
‘Customer contacts of this nature are typically cleared and urgent payments issued the same day. The Pension Service phone number is 0800 731 0469.’
If you are having trouble getting payments started or state pension top-ups processed, write to This is Money and tell your story at [email protected].
Please put PENSION DELAY in the subject line. We will not be able to respond to everyone, and you may also want to seek help from your MP. Expats can contact the MP representing the last constituency in which they lived before moving abroad.
TOP SIPPS FOR DIY PENSION INVESTORS
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