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As a woman, can I claim underpaid state pension?

Updated 14 May 2021

4min read

Nick Green
Financial Journalist

Due to a combination of computer errors, changes in the state pension system, and the usual government omnishambles, many women are collectively owed millions in underpaid state pension. Find out if you're eligible to claim your share.

Has my state pension been underpaid?

If you're a woman who reached state pension age before April 2016, the answer is likely to be yes. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) predicts that tens of thousands of married, divorced and widowed women have had their state pension underpaid in error.

The issue was first brought to wider attention by pensions consultancy Lane, Clark & Peacock (LCP) in May 2020. Since then, the DWP has reimbursed women, and an official repayment programme began on 11 January 2021. And there's a lot of money at stake. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) recently noted that repayment costs could reach £700 million in 2021-22 alone. The huge bill is due to a combination of computer errors made by the DWP and a failure to increase some women's payments when their husbands reached state pension age, died or when they reached the age of 80.

Why might some women be owed more state pension?

Several different groups of women may have been underpaid for various reasons, although this applies only to women who reached state pension age before April 2016. If you received your state pension after that date, you're on the new state pension system, and the underpayment issue doesn't apply.

One group of women who stand to gain are those who currently get, on average, a mere £1 per week under something known as the graduated retirement benefit (GRB), which ran under the former state pension system from 1961 to 1975. Official figures obtained from the government's website by Sir Steve Webb, an LCP partner (and former pensions minister) show that almost 24,000 women are getting GRB only. Just over 5,100 are in Britain, with the rest located in the Channel Islands or Europe.

Sir Steve said: ‘It is incredible that there are thousands of women getting such tiny pensions, but even more incredible that many could potentially be entitled to tens of thousands in back payments. Women on these very small pensions must make contact with the DWP as soon as possible to see if they could be entitled to a windfall.’

The missing state pension benefits also affects:

  • Women who were married and reached state pension age (SPA) before April 2016 can claim the basic state pension. These women qualify for 60% of the basic state pension their husband gets at SPA
     
  • Women whose husbands reached 65 before March 2008. Up until this date, a married, divorced or widowed woman would have had to claim to receive an enhanced pension. For women whose husbands reached SPA after March 2008, the DWP's computer systems should have automatically boosted their state pension payments to the 60% sum.

You would have needed to know you were affected in order to ask the DWP to start paying the state pension at the correct rate, plus claim backdated payments. The DWP claims that it wrote to those affected to alert them, but many say they never got a letter, leading to the current unclaimed state pension situation.

How much unpaid state pension could I be owed?

To work out what payment you might be able to claim, you'll need to look at the rate of married women's pension.

For 2021-22, the full basic state pension is £137.60 per week, and the rate for married women claiming 60% would be £82.45 per week. It was lower in previous years – £80.45 in 2020-21 – and goes up every April. Based on this, you can calculate what you could be owed as follows:

  • If you add up 52 weeks of married woman's pension from 2008/09 up until 2020/21, that gives you a total of £45,604 (although some women will be entitled to less)
  • If your husband reached state pension age earlier than 2008, the payment could be larger
  • However, if your husband decided to defer his state pension, your pay-out will only be backdated to when he started drawing it, which could affect how much you'll get

How do I check to see if I'm owed state pension?

Contact the Pension Service online or call on 0800 731 0469. Make sure you have the following details to hand:

  • Your name, date of birth and NI number
  • Current annual basic state pension – you should be able to find this on your latest annual statement, but if not, give the total weekly or monthly amount
  • Husband's name, date of birth (and date of death if this applies) and NI number
  • His current basic state pension, or last known before he died

You'll then be told whether you're receiving less than you're entitled to.

Underpaid state pension checklist: Who can claim?

LCP has identified six groups who might want to get in touch with DWP to get their state pension payments reviewed:

  • Married women whose husband turned 65 before 17 March 2008 – If you never claimed an uplift to the 60% rate, you could be missing out
     
  • Widows whose pension wasn’t increased when their husband died – You could potentially receive a 100% basic state pension, plus a percentage of your late husband's additional state pension
     
  • Widows whose pension is now correct, but may have been underpaid while their late husband was still alive – This is particularly important if your late husband reached 65 after 17 March 2008
     
  • Over-80s who are getting less than £82.45 as a basic pension, provided that they satisfied a basic residence test when they turned 80
     
  • Widowers and heirs of married women – Where the woman has now died, but was underpaid state pension during her life, particularly in cases where her husband turned 65 after 17 March 2008, as payments can be made to beneficiaries
  • Divorced women (particularly those who divorced post-retirement) – You should check that you're benefiting from the contributions of your ex-husband
     

Pensions are notoriously complicated, so understanding exactly who's entitled to what in light of these new revelations has added to the confusion. However, if you think you're entitled to repayment, it's important that you don't miss out. With large sums of money potentially at stake, it could be worth seeking the assistance of a professional financial adviser to help you.

They can also help predict your state pension (although any state pension forecast is an estimate only as the government may change the pension rules in the future). They can assist in planning your personal pension – using our pension calculator as a guide – and give you advice if you've been affected by the state pension age rises.

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About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.