An 83-year-old woman with dementia has received £115,000 and an apology from the Government in a second shocking case of a widow being underpaid state pension for two decades.
The payment to Barbara Cornish, a former doctor’s receptionist from Essex, is the latest to emerge in the scandal of elderly women missing out on state pension uncovered by This is Money.
Her son Paul, whose phone call to the Government questioning her state pension was not responded to until we intervened, tells us that his mother will not know she has received the massive sum, and it will go towards paying her care bills.
John and Barbara Cornish: The DWP failed to increase her state pension when he died in 2000
She will also receive an increase in state pension from around £82 to £222 a week, because she should have inherited basic and second state pension from her husband.
Mr Cornish contacted us and the Department for Work and Pensions on the same day, after reading our story about a 96-year-old widow with dementia who received more than £117,000 after being underpaid for 20 years.
Rosemary Chattell lives in a care home and was also unaware she had received the money, after her son managed to alert DWP staff to her suspiciously low payments on his fourth attempt.
Some widows and widowers can claim up to a full basic state pension, currently £134.25 a week, but this depends on their ages and the strength of their late spouse’s National Insurance record.
See below to find out if you or a loved one might be underpaid state pension.
The payout to Mrs Cornish dramatically demonstrates the ‘monumental injustice’ done to thousands of women, according to the Labour Party, which has called on the Government to ensure all who are being shortchanged are found and paid the correct pension.
Labour has also forced the Government to answer a string of questions, and established that sums owed to those now tragically deceased would be paid to their heirs, and that women will be shielded from unfair income tax bills on their backpayments.
We understand an official investigation is now under way into the huge blunder, which has left women unwittingly owed a fortune in lost state pension.
This is Money has reported on underpayments owed to married women totting up to around £112,00 in the past few months.
The DWP confirmed that Mrs Cornish will receive arrears of £106,908.61 and £8,532.45 interest, because she should have inherited state pension from her late husband after he died in 2000.
A spokesperson said: ‘We are very sorry that Mrs Cornish’s state pension review was not processed correctly.
‘We have amended this, paid the arrears owed with interest and apologise unreservedly for the inconvenience caused.’
Paul Cornish, 54, an IT consultant from Essex, said he was shocked and pleased with the news about his mother’s payout and increased state pension.
His late father John was a manager in the telecommunications department of a major bank.
He said: ‘My mother was lucky to have a good pension from my father. She was quite lucky in that respect.’
But regarding her state pension backpayment, he added: ‘That money would have made a difference in what she was able to do. She would have enjoyed having it.’
He went on: ‘She will have no idea this has happened. It will go to help funding her care. She is fairly well set up but it enables us to plan long term. You can fund it for more years if you have to. It’s peace of mind.’
Mr Cornish, who has power of attorney for his mother, rang the DWP on 10 June to question the size of her pension.
He emailed This is Money on the same day, and now admits of that second step: ‘I nearly didn’t do it.’
When he gave his parents’ details to the DWP, staff told him they would respond within 14 days, but failed to do so.
In the call to the DWP, he wrongly put a digit instead of a letter at the front of his father’s National Insurance number.
This is Money noticed this when he sent it to us, and when we contacted the DWP gave it the corrected version.
Mr Cornish expressed a hope that other people who don’t currently realise they are underpaid state pension will also receive what they are owed in future.
He told us: ‘You think of the other people who really need the money.’
How many other widows have been underpaid for years, asks Steve Webb
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb initiated the state pension investigation with This is Money after a reader question to his weekly column about a 13-year underpayment.
He spotted Mr Cornish’s email among responses to our previous stories, and thought that if his father had a full National Insurance record it was likely his mother was not getting a big enough pension.
Now a partner at pension consultant LCP, Webb said: ‘This is a shocking state pension underpayment and reflects how many years this mistake has been going on for.
‘It also raises the question of how many other widows have been underpaid for years. As DWP investigates the issue of underpaid married women, it is vital that underpaid widows are included in their inquiries.’
The Shadow Pensions Minister, Jack Dromey MP, recently wrote in an article for This is Money that the Government must face up to the scale of the scandal, give women the money they are owed and consider what reforms are necessary to make sure such a failure never happens again.
On learning of Mrs Cornish’s case, he said: ‘The scale of the payout, £115,000, dramatically demonstrates the monumental injustice done to thousands of women who served our country well and who were entitled to look forward to security and dignity in retirement.
‘An investigation is underway but too many have waited too long for what they are entitled to. The DWP have an obligation to ensure they get every last penny and the sooner, the better they do.’
Daniella Jenkins is an adviser to the Women’s Budget Group, an independent network of researchers and campaigners which examines economic policy.
She says: ‘This case of an 83-year-old widow speaks to the tragedy of women who are far too often left behind by the UK pension system.
‘Older women rely on state pensions much more as they were less likely to have occupational or private pensions in their own right.
‘Despite this, individual women are being asked to navigate a complicated system in order to access the state pension payments that they are entitled to with many more potentially losing out on thousands of pounds.
‘It is incumbent on the DWP to investigate this issue fully and communicate with the women affected. More broadly the Government should look to learn lessons so that people can feel confident in the amount of state pension they should get.’
A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: ‘Everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living and access to the benefits they are entitled to.
“We know that the Government’s current policy on pensions is already causing particular hardship to older women.
‘We will continue to monitor this to make sure that future pension policy proposals are subject to detailed analysis and do not have a negative impact on protected groups.’
Are you a widow or widower who might be underpaid state pension?
Whether you can claim a full basic state pension based on your spouse’s National Insurance record depends on your ages, and if they had a full working life.
The rules are different for those who reached state pension age under the old system before April 6 2016, or the new one afterwards. Steve Webb explains in more detail in a recent column here.
Anyone with a doubt about the amount of pension they are receiving should contact the Department for Work and Pensions. Its details are here.
You can also write to Steve Webb’s This is Money inbox at firstname.lastname@example.org and put LATE SPOUSE PENSION in the subject line.
If you write to Steve, please include the following information:
1. Your name and date of birth
2. Your BASIC weekly state pension – check the line referring to this on your 2019/2020 or your more recent 2020/2021 annual state pension statement, and send us the basic figure only, not the total you receive
3. Your late spouse’s name and date of birth
4. Their BASIC weekly state pension at the time of their death, if you know it, and whether they had a full working life during which they paid National Insurance
5. Your phone number – this will only be used to follow up this issue, not for any marketing purposes
6. Yes, in consent to your email and the information in it being forwarded to Steve, who is a partner at pension consultant LCP, in its entirety.
We won’t be able to reply to everyone due to the volume of mail Steve receives, but we will get back to you if we think we can help.
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