As our resident pensions expert hits a huge milestone, we reveal three major campaigns sparked by YOUR questions to the former minister
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb has taken up the cause of many readers since he became This is Money’s agony uncle.
And sometimes his efforts to help one individual have turned into a much bigger fight to ensure untold numbers of other people – who might not necessarily read pension columns – are dealt with fairly.
We take a look at his most influential campaigns below, including how they began and what has happened since to lift people’s fortunes or improve the way they are treated.
1. Elderly women underpaid thousands of pounds in state pension
Steve initiated a major state pension investigation with This is Money after a reader question to his weekly column about a 13-year underpayment.
He called on elderly women to get in touch if they suspected they were missing out.
This led to a trickle then eventually a deluge of messages as we started discovering many women had been underpaid thousands of pounds for years, and began publishing their stories and the sums they belatedly received from the Department for Work and Pensions.
The massive Government blunder apparently went unnoticed for more than a decade because staff ignored or fobbed off women who raised concerns about the size of their payments.
Steve is often asked why he didn’t address this issue while he was Pensions Minister, and his answer is he didn’t know about it and would certainly have acted had he learned women were being underpaid when still in office.
As the scandal deepened, he asked his current employer LCP to develop a web tool that gives elderly women a quick and easy way to check whether their payments are correct.
Steve has also carried out research on the extent of the problem, and estimates tens of thousands of women could have been underpaid £100million.
To our knowledge, the Government has so far paid out upwards of £750,000 to women getting smaller pensions than they were owed.
We have received hundreds of emails from women since the campaign began. Steve reads them all and we have tried to help everyone we can, though unfortunately This is Money doesn’t have the resources to reply to everyone.
How many have been underpaid state pensions?
A This is Money investigation revealed a string of women who have been underpaid their state pension, but are they just the tip of an iceberg?
Our pensions agony uncle Steve Webb and pension and investing editor Tanya Jefferies join Simon Lambert and Georgie Frost to tell the stories of the women paid thousands less in state pension over the years than they should have been – and discuss their probe.
2. Parents face state pension penalty over child benefit mistakes
Steve and This is Money are campaigning against the unfairness of parents ending up with a smaller state pension because of innocent paperwork errors.
Parents – mostly mums – can end up tens of thousands of pounds worse off in retirement due to losing valuable credits.
We launched this effort following two questions to Steve’s column.
The first came from a father whose wife stood to lose out on state pension because she hadn’t signed up for child benefit, as she didn’t qualify for the payments.
The second came from a mum who missed out on credits because she put her husband’s name first on her child benefit form.
We have received surprise support from the Government’s own tax gurus, in the Office of Tax Simplification, who issued a stinging report last year saying it was ‘unreasonable’ for parents to lose state pension over child benefit errors they can’t later correct.
Meanwhile, our campaign has made progress on another front, with HMRC now waiving the usual time restrictions on correcting records in cases where the ‘wrong’ partner’s name is put down on a child benefit form, if the delay is ‘reasonable in the circumstances’.
Steve launched a petition on behalf of mums facing a reduced state pension in old age, calling for them to be handed back lost credits.
Because it topped 10,000 signatures the Government had to respond, and it argued that it was too hard to verify child benefit claims older than three months.
Steve dubbed this ‘absurd’, and parents tell us they easily amass plenty of paperwork which can prove they looked after their own children during disputed periods.
If you have lost state pension credits due to the problems described above, write to Steve at [email protected].
3. Savers who bought worthless state pension top-ups denied refunds by the taxman
A question to Steve’s column from a couple who paid £7,000 for top-ups that did not improve their pensions led to a story and an eventual climbdown by HMRC.
Many other savers who had fallen foul of the baffling system, run jointly between the DWP and HMRC, came forward and were eventually awarded refunds too.
Steve pressed HMRC to take a fairer, more pragmatic approach during the stories we ran on the issue, many of them with our sister publication Money Mail.
As a result of our campaign, HMRC now routinely pays refunds.
But it’s best to avoid falling into this trap in the first place. If you want to check whether it’s safe to buy top-ups, read more here.
If you do make a mistake and HMRC refuses a refund, contact Steve at [email protected].
ASK STEVE WEBB A PENSION QUESTION
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is This Is Money’s Agony Uncle.
He is ready to answer your questions, whether you are still saving, in the process of stopping work, or juggling your finances in retirement.
Steve left the Department of Work and Pensions after the May 2015 election. He is now a partner at actuary and consulting firm Lane Clark & Peacock.
If you would like to ask Steve a question about pensions, please email him at [email protected].
Steve will do his best to reply to your message in a forthcoming column, but he won’t be able to answer everyone or correspond privately with readers. Nothing in his replies constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.
Please include a daytime contact number with your message – this will be kept confidential and not used for marketing purposes.
If Steve is unable to answer your question, you can also contact The Pensions Advisory Service, a Government-backed organisation which gives free help to the public. TPAS can be found here and its number is 0800 011 3797.
Steve receives many questions about state pension forecasts and COPE – the Contracted Out Pension Equivalent. If you are writing to Steve on this topic, he responds to a typical reader question here. It includes links to Steve’s several earlier columns about state pension forecasts and contracting out, which might be helpful.
If you have a question about state pension top-ups, Steve has written a guide which you can find here.