‘An Abuse of Power’: Court Hears Government Knew Millions of Women were Being Robbed of their Pensions
A judicial review is told that millions of women born in the 1950s were kept in the dark about losing their pension rights.
The Government secretly knew, on six separate occasions, that there was “widespread ignorance” among 3.8 million women born in the 1950s that they were about to lose their pensions for up to six years, internal Whitehall documents made public today have revealed.
The disclosure by Michael Mansfield QC came on the first day of a landmark judicial review being brought by the campaigning group ‘Back to 60’ into the raising of the pension age from 60 to 66 which has left this group of women living in poverty after they had relied on the money to fund their retirement.
Internal Department for Work and Pensions documents in 1998, 2000, 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2015 all showed that the department was aware its information was not getting through to the women affected.
The change, originally announced in 1995 and accelerated by successive governments in 2007 and 2011, has been phased in over the past nine years – with no fewer than 60 changes to the date of the retirement age.
Failure to Inform
Mr Mansfield and his colleague Catherine Rayner argued that the Government’s failure to properly inform the women is one of three major reasons why this particular group born between April 1950 and April 1960 should receive compensation for the way the transition was handled.
The other two reasons are a combination of direct and indirect age and sex discrimination.
Sir James Eadie, representing the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) argued that the changes were intended “to equalise the state pension age between the sexes” and “to ensure inter-generational fairness as between those in receipt of state pensions and the younger taxpayers funding them”.
Some people learnt about the change through chance conversations, or just before they thought they were going to retire at 60.
In his submission, Sir James said that the Government had taken “extensive” steps to notify women of the change to their state pension age and that “personal notifications would have been very difficult if not impossible prior to 2003”.
However, Mr Mansfield strongly contested this citing internal DWP documents in 1998, 2000, 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2015 which all showed that the department was aware that its information was not getting through to the women affected. This was despite the ministry issuing leaflets, using a media campaign, and writing letters to women informing them of the change years after the original announcement had been made.
He disclosed that, despite this, many of the women affected were not informed – including one person who had lived at the same address for 37 years. Some people learnt about the change through chance conversations, or just before they thought they were going to retire at 60.
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Mr Mansfield argued that the best solution would have been for the DWP to have written to every person involved, either at their place of work or home, and asked them to come in for an interview to explain the change. He said the interviews could have been phased-in, in the order of each tranche of women affected by the 60 changes to the system.
Pressed by Lord Justice Irwin, Mr Mansfield agreed that his proposition that the women involved had been unfairly treated by the Government was caused by the DWP taking “an irrational” decision not to act on the information that many of the women were ignorant of what was happening. This refusal to act could also been seen as “an abuse of power”, he said.
Although the object of the exercise was intended to be equalisation of treatment, in fact, what has happened is the reverse.Michael Mansfield QC
Earlier Mr Mansfield, opening the case for the ‘Back to 60’ women, said: “Although the object of the exercise was intended to be equalisation of treatment, in fact, what has happened is the reverse.”
The women are claiming that the handling of the raising of the pension age was unlawful. They are not seeking to lower the pension age back to 60, but only for compensation for those born between 1950 and 1960.
The Department for Work and Pensions will present its case tomorrow.
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