The ruling on women’s state pension age is disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, says former pensions minister Ros Altmann.
Today (September 15), two women affected by controversial changes to the state pension age have lost their Court of Appeal challenge.
Julie Delve, 62, and Karen Glynn, 63, backed by campaign group BackTo60, challenged the changes after losing a High Court fight against the Department for Work and Pensions last year.
According to the BBC, senior judges unanimously dismissed that appeal. They said introducing the same state pension age for men and women did not amount to unlawful discrimination.
The judges expressed sympathy for their plight, but the legal conclusion was a victory for the government against the women who challenged the changes and wanted their state pension age returned to 60.
I have long considered that the increase in women’s state pension age may have created injustice and hardship, but it is not clear this qualifies as discrimination.
I believe there is a strong case for women who have been badly impacted because they did not know their pension age had changed, many of whom are seriously ill or retired to care for loved ones, expecting to receive their state pension sooner than the law allowed.
Maladministration and misinformation
The problem seems to me to relate more to maladministration and misinformation, rather than gender discrimination. Successive governments since the 1990s failed to properly inform the millions of women facing a state pension age rise, that they would not be able to receive any of the state pension they may have been relying on at age 60.
Women, especially those already in their later years, have much lower pensions than men – both in private and state pensions. For the majority, receipt of state pension is a crucial part of their retirement income. Any delay in the starting date is likely to be more serious for those who have little or no private pension.
What did the government do wrong?
I do not believe it was wrong to increase state pension age for women so that it would be equalised with men, but if the government is making such a fundamental change - it surely has a duty to ensure the women affected are aware of what is going to happen, so they can adjust their plans for the future. This is where the problem seems to me to lie.
When Pensions Minister, I saw copies of letters written by the government to millions of these women in 2003 and 2004, about their state pension, which failed to clearly highlight that their pension would not be paid at age 60. These official letters failed to clearly highlight that these women’s pensions would not start being paid at age 60. It merely informed them what state pension they might receive when they reached state pension age, but they did not tell them what that age would be. In fact, receiving a letter from the pensions department about their state pension, which did not urge them to check what their state pension age would be, may have lulled them into a false sense of security that they would receive it from age 60 – just like all the other women they had ever known.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman
Appeals are already in progress to the Parliamentary Ombudsman and, if maladministration is confirmed, perhaps there can yet be a resolution to this problem.
I have not supported a return to pension receipt from age 60, but I do think there is a strong case for the government to help those women – and men – facing hardship caused by delaying receipt of state pension. Whether this be in terms of access to pension credit, or early access to state pension for people who are seriously ill or caring for others.