'Women have to fight for everything' - Pensioner who was underpaid for eight years reimbursed £7,500

ITV News spoke to Irene Wise and Jan Tiernan - two of 134,000 pensioners who have been underpaid in pensions by the government. Report by Yasmin Bodalbhai

Irene Wise had been battling with the government for two years until it admitted she had been underpaid on her pension for eight years.

She knew something was not right after reading about the pension error in a magazine and noticing that her state pension was much lower than all her friends'.

She said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continuously fobbed her off for two years.

Eventually, it admitted her pension had been underpaid for eight years and she was reimbursed £7,500.

She told ITV News: "I felt very cross about it, very angry, because it's like women - I don't want to say I'm feminist - but women are passed over through the ages.

"They have to fight for everything.

"And women are still having to go to them [DWP] for it because obviously things haven't moved on from the last time although promises were made."

Jan Tiernan, who was underpaid her state pension, and her husband. Credit: Jan Tiernan

Jan Tiernan believes she is owed more than £17,000.

She has almost 100 pages of correspondence with the DWP, but her underpayments can only be backdated by 12 months, because of when her husband retired. So, she gets just over £1,000.

She said: "I realised it wasn't just me. My friends, people all over the country had been cheated out of this money which was due to them.

"It wasn't money that they were getting for nothing. They had paid their dues."

Ms Wise and Ms Tiernan are just two of 134,000 pensioners, mostly women, who have been underpaid a total of more than £1 billion by the DWP.

The errors mostly affect widows, divorcees and women who rely on their husband’s pension contributions to top up their pension.

Some errors date as far back as 1985.

Some have died without receiving what they were owed, some are still battling the government department and others don't even know they're owed anything.

Public spending watchdog the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) described the situation as a “shameful shambles”.

The errors were caused by complex pension rules and a reliance on highly manual systems.

Quality checks failed to identify systematic underpayments and small errors added up over the years.

The DWP, which began correcting the errors in 2018, started its ninth exercise to correct the errors in January 2021.

State pension underpayments are ‘shameful shambles’, says spending watchdog Credit: PA

The PAC, a committee of MPs, said the IT system that was used to manage millions of pensioner records dates back to 1988.

It said the department should look at cost-effective ways to upgrade its IT systems “as a matter of urgency”.

MPs criticised the DWP for not having a formal plan for contacting the next of kin where a pensioner who was underpaid is dead.

And it said the government department is only paying those it has identified as having a legal entitlement to arrears, in some cases many years after the event, and has been inconsistent in paying interest.

The DWP has also not tried to understand the knock-on consequences, including on social care provision, for those it underpaid, MPs said.

Fixing the pension errors is expected to cost taxpayers £24.3 million in staff costs alone by the end of 2023, the PAC said.

As staff are moved away from business-as-usual to fix the errors, the department is experiencing backlogs in processing new applications.

Errors could be repeated in the correction exercise or in new claims, the PAC said.

Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said: “Departments that make errors through maladministration have a duty to put those it wronged back in the position they should have been, without the error.

“In reality, the DWP can never make up what people have actually lost, over decades, and in many cases, it’s not even trying.

"An unknown number of pensioners died without ever getting their due and there is no current plan to pay back their estates.

“DWP is now on its ninth go at fixing these mistakes since 2018, the specialised staff diverted to fix this mess costing tens of millions more to the taxpayer and predictable consequences in delays to new pension claims.

“And there is no assurance that the errors that led to these underpayments in the first place will not be repeated in the correction exercise.

“This is a shameful shambles.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Resolving the historical state pension underpayments that have been made by successive governments is a priority for the department and we are committed to doing so as quickly as possible.

“We have set up a dedicated team and devoted significant resources to processing outstanding cases, and have introduced new quality control processes and improved training to help ensure this does not happen again. Those affected will be contacted by us to ensure they receive all that they are owed.

“We are carefully considering the content of the Public Accounts Committee’s report and will respond formally in due course.”