Distressing ordeals: Older people have suffered hardship due to state pension delays (Stock image)
Older people have suffered severe hardship – even lack of food – due to the state pension crisis at the Department for Work and Pensions.
Andrew Crocker, who turned 66 in May, said he was forced to rely on ‘tiny food parcels’ and lost four stone while waiting for his state pension to start.
The retired builder from Pembrokeshire received no income for more than four months.
However, attempts to sort out his pension were met with empty promises of calls back from DWP staff that never happened.
Lesley Shroder feared losing her home after her disability and housing benefits stopped immediately after her 66th birthday in August, but several months later her state pension had not begun.
Ms Shroder, from Essex, was an executive officer at the DWP herself before suffering a traumatic brain injury that forced her to give up work 11 years ago.
She told us: ‘The whole thing is a total shambles. I have bills to pay and without family I would be in very serious trouble.
‘We are the forgotten people. I feel no one at the DWP cares. Totally outside the realms of reality. Wonder how they would like not knowing where their next meal is coming from.’
This is Money has been inundated with messages from older people struggling to get state pension payments started or or end deferments since we exclusively revealed in September there was a service meltdown underway at the DWP.
Furious readers have condemned woeful incompetence and repeated broken promises to call them back by DWP staff.
Many besides Mr Crocker and Ms Shroder have told us they were being forced into hardship because they weren’t receiving the state pension they were due.
Pensions Minister Guy Opperman blamed delays on the pandemic and ‘staffing issues which have now been rectified’.
It would be good to hear a proper public apology from ministers for the distress that has been caused to thousands of people by these delays
Steve Webb, former Pensions Minister
He said hundreds of additional staff were being redeployed and normal service would resume by the end of October.
His pledge to resolve the crisis by this week was reiterated by DWP officials appearing before the public accounts committee of MPs last Thursday.
The cases of Mr Crocker and Ms Shroder were sorted out when This is Money raised them with the DWP before the end of October.
>>>Are you still waiting for your state pension NOW? Find out what to do below
Meanwhile, the DWP is currently undertaking a massive ‘correction exercise’ after more than a hundred thousand elderly women were underpaid an estimated £1billion in state pension.
The officials giving evidence to MPs at last week’s committee session admitted this work had played a part in delays to new state pension claims.
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb says: ‘DWP seem to be very efficient at stopping people’s benefits when they reach pension age but much less efficient at putting pensions into payment.
‘The result is a gap in payments which can run for weeks or even months.
‘Families who reach pension age on benefit rarely have a lot of spare cash to tide them over, so even a short gap can have serious consequences, and in some cases the people affected are particularly vulnerable.’
Webb, who is now a partner at pension consultant LCP, added: ‘It would be good to hear a proper public apology from ministers for the distress that has been caused to thousands of people by these delays in paying what is rightfully theirs.’
A DWP spokesperson said: ‘We are sorry that some new customers have faced delays receiving their state pension.
‘We have now issued all outstanding payments and are in contact with those customers where more information is required in order to complete processing.’
It added that there are 4,900 claims where it has contacted customers and is awaiting more information, and that any claims made today should not be subject to delay.
‘They haven’t got a clue’: Saver struggled by on food parcels while waiting for his pension
Andrew Crocker said he felt at ‘the lowest of lows’ and ‘like a second class citizen in my own country’ while trying to get the DWP to start paying his state pension.
He wrote to us: ‘I have got to a point of extreme frustration and lost four stone as a result of no income since May. I was on universal credit, and that was stopped on my birthday.’
After trying for two months to get hold of a form, he applied for his state pension in July with the help of a council support worker.
He said the two of them called the DWP weekly and got promised a call back within two days, or five days, or another time period, and were told that a manager would be in contact, but nothing happened.
They contacted Mr Crocker’s local MP, who tried to help too but with no success.
He had to borrow some money from his housemate while he waited, and wrote to us: ‘There is still a delay and no promise of a payment date. To make matters worse I don’t have a private pension, so have lived off tiny food parcels since May.
‘Can you imagine not receiving a penny for four months? I have been patient but my health has deteriorated, I am so thin and I am alone. I am not eligible for a benefit advance or hardship loan either.’
After This is Money intervened in his case, DWP staff contacted Mr Crocker to sort it out and told us the application he made in July had been incomplete.
We asked why the DWP didn’t inform him that it needed more information in July, or when he and his support worker called up after that.
It did not respond to this question or several others – see the box below for what it failed to answer.
Mr Crocker said of his treatment by DWP staff: ‘They haven’t got a clue. I can’t even find a complaints department. It’s like banging against the wall.’
Lesley Shroder: ‘I feel no one at the DWP cares’
He has now received a backpayment of more than £2,000 and started getting a state pension of £118 a week.
‘You are on hold forever’: Long delays to speak to DWP staff who have ‘lack of compassion’
Lesley Shroder was left with no income and was forced to borrow from her daughter to pay rent because the DWP delayed her state pension.
She said her Employment and Support Allowance, council tax reduction and local authority housing benefit all stopped on her birthday.
She did not receive an invitation letter about making a state pension claim, but submitted one in August.
She wrote to us that she was at her wits’ end, and said: ‘After several phone calls, usually being on hold for an average of an hour and forty minutes, and being put on the “urgent” list I am no nearer to receiving any money.
‘I have absolutely no idea when I’m going to receive any monies and until I have paperwork to prove my pension, housing benefit remains suspended.’
Ms Shroder said that to reinstate housing benefit and receive a backpayment she had to submit paperwork by the end of September, but she had to send it off with no details or proof about her income.
What is ESA?
Employment and Support Allowance is paid when people have a disability or health condition that affects how much they can work.
The Government has more information here.
She added: ‘I am at the end of my tether. It’s ridiculous. You are on hold forever and then you get the same story, they will put you through as urgent. I was told they have an 8 to 10-week backlog which is no good when you have no other income.’
Ms Shroder said she worked at the DWP before leaving due to her injury, and she claimed its staff have a ‘lack of compassion and understanding for people’.
‘They become complacent and don’t think of you as an actual individual.’
After This is Money raised Ms Shroder’s case with the DWP, she received a call from a senior member of staff who gave her a personal apology.
She got a backpayment of nearly £1,400 and started receiving a state pension of around £183 a week.
What we asked the DWP – but it didn’t answer
– Does the DWP have a system for identifying vulnerable or needy people making state pension claims?
– Does it prioritise those in danger of extreme hardship, such as those receiving benefits that are going to stop at age 66?
– Can the staff answering calls from the public about the state pension see all their information, including about previous calls made by them?
– Is the DWP addressing the issue of staff misleading callers, in response to repeated claims from our readers that staff answering phones are making false promises about callbacks within a specified (though often different) number of days, and about urgent action that never materialises?
State pension delayed? What should you do
The state pension is paid four weeks in arrears when it first begins, but delays have stretched for a further month and sometimes several more.
‘Anyone who has faced an unreasonable wait should definitely escalate the issue via their MP who should take it up with the DWP,’ said Steve Webb.
The Government will give an advance on a first state pension payment if you have made a claim and are in ‘urgent financial need’.
Details of how to apply are here, but there is no information on what criteria it uses to make decisions.
The DWP said: ‘We have procedures in place to escalate cases where a customer tells us they are in financial hardship and their state pension entitlement date is past due.
‘Customer contacts of this nature are typically cleared and urgent payments issued the same day. The Pension Service phone number is 0800 731 0469.’
If you are having trouble getting payments started, write to This is Money and tell your story at [email protected].
Please put PENSION DELAY in the subject line. We will not be able to respond to everyone, and you may also want to seek help from your MP.
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