The government faces the prospect of a legal challenge on behalf of hundreds of thousands of women who say they were given inadequate warning about increases in their state pension age.
An estimated half a million women born in the 1950s have been affected by changes which have seen the state pension age pushed back by six years for some women.
Campaigners say those affected were given little or no personal notice by the government, and had no time to make alternative plans, leaving many in financial hardship.
“For many women, these changes are coming out of the blue,” said Anne Keen, a co-founder of Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi), the campaign group.
“We have evidence that women were not notified of the changes and have been left in a very poor positions. We are in discussions with lawyers to determine our legal options.”
The campaigners’ concerns centre on changes set in place by the government of the day in 1995 to bring the age that women would start to receive the state pension (then 60 years) in line with men’s at 65. Starting from 2010, women’s state pension age would gradually rise in stages, set to reach 65 and equalise with men by 2020.
However, in 2011, the coalition government decided to quicken the pace of the rise, so that women’s state pension age would reach 65 by November 2018. Then, for both men and women, there would be a further rise to 66 over the next two years up to November 2020.
Claire Bottomley, 61, of Shropshire, who was expecting to retire at 60 last year, said she only discovered that her expected state pension age had been pushed back to 66 when she requested a state pension forecast six months before her 60th birthday.
“I, like tens of thousands of others, did not received a letter about the 1995 and 2011 changes,” said Mrs Bottomley, who helps to care for her 87-year-old mother.
“I was expecting to get my pension last year but now have to wait until 2020.”
Patricia Young, 57, of Ipswich, says she was given no notice of changes to her state pension age.
“I have lived in the same house for 29 years and have not received any letters from the government about either change,” said Mrs Young, who expected to retire aged 60 in 2018, but will now reach her SPA in 2024.
“I gave up work to care for my mother a year years ago and lived off my savings. Due to health issues, I can’t do work that is too physical but I have to keep working now because if I don’t we won’t have an income and we can’t manage.”
A petition, launched by Waspi, urging the government to make fair transitional arrangements for all women born on, or after April 6 1951, who “have unfairly borne the burden” of the increase to their state pension ages, has attracted more than 30,000 signatures in the few months since its launch.
Campaigners say many women in their fifties and sixties struggle to find work due to a combination of ageism, and the fact that many are also juggling care of elderly parents and grandchildren. Some older women claiming jobseeker’s allowance find the process humiliating, say campaigners.
“The way the Tories have treated this group of people is shameful and shoddy,” said Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow pensions minister.
Waspi says its supporters are particularly disappointed that Baroness Altmann, the pensions minister, has not been more sympathetic to their cause since being appointed by the Conservative government in May.
In her previous position as director-general of Saga, the over-50s financial services provider, she argued in 2011 that proposals to increase women’s state pension age to 66 by 2020 were “unfair”. At the time, Baroness Altmann argued the government should limit rises in women’s pension age to ensure nobody suffered a rise of more than one year in pension age within ten years of their expected pension date.
Since being appointed minister, Baroness Altmann has said she has considered ways to help the affected women, but she didn’t “have billions to prolong” state pension age “inequality” against the will of Parliament.
“Most 1950s women will still get state pension younger than men of their age,” she added.
The Department for Work and Pensions also said that it did notify women of the changes.
“All women affected have been directly contacted following the changes,” said the DWP, in a published response to Waspi’s petition. “There are no plans to alter state pension age arrangements for this group.”
The DWP added that all women affected by faster equalisation of state pension ages would reach state pension age after the introduction of the new state pension in 2016.
“The new state pension will be more generous for many women who have historically done poorly under the current, two-tier system — largely as a result of lower average earnings and part-time working,” said the DWP.
But some pension experts say the DWP’s response “laid bare” its communication failures over the changes.
“It admits the first time it wrote to women was between April 2009 and March 2011 . . . it waited over 15 years to inform people personally,” said Alan Higham of pensionschamp.com, a consumer website.
“A woman born in March 1953 could have found out for the first time at age 58 that she was not going to get her state pension until age 63. Two years notice of a loss of £18,000 of pension income.”
Mr Higham said the government must act on the complaints “its failures” had generated.
“The risk of doing nothing is a class action which could cost the taxpayer a small fortune to compensate all affected while prolonging huge suffering among a much smaller group,” he said.
The wrangle comes as the government faces intense scrutiny over its rollout of major changes to the state pension, due to come into effect next year.
The work and pensions select committee this month announced it would probe how the government has communicated the switch to the “single-tier pension”, amid concerns of widespread confusion among the public over what they will get.
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