A small mistake with a costly result

Summary 272 |

Mrs N lost over three years of help with her housing costs, thanks to a mistake by the Pension Service. After an initial error and bad advice from officials, the mistake took five years to put right.

What happened

Mrs N's savings were too big for her to receive housing benefit, but her pension credit position was very unusual - it meant she could receive housing benefit. A computerised prompt from the Pension Service to her local council should have triggered a housing benefit claim. But in early summer 2005, due to an error in the Pension Service's computer system, that prompt did not happen.

In 2009 Mrs N's family found out that the Pension Service had made a mistake. They tried to complain on their mother's behalf but the Pension Service gave them seriously wrong information about how to complain. By the time the family had the correct information over 18 months later, their mother had died.

The Pension Service apologised, but refused to compensate the family because Mrs N had died before it had considered the complaint. It said its policy prevented it from compensating the next of kin of people who had died. The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) investigated the complaint and upheld the Pension Service's decision.

What we found

Because of the Pension Service's mistakes, Mrs N was prevented from receiving the arrears of housing benefit money in her lifetime, and her estate could not receive it after her death. Also, the family's inheritance would have included a larger sum from Mrs N's savings including the interest. This was, for the family, an actual financial loss within the Pension Service's official policy.

Again because of its mistakes in 2009, the Pension Service did not compensate Mrs N. Even if it had been unable to make the payment before Mrs N died, it would have paid her estate because a decision about compensation could have been made before her death.

Without these errors, Mrs N's family would not have needed to make a pointless housing benefit appeal, go through the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) complaints process, complain to ICE or complain to us.

Putting it right

DWP and ICE each agreed to apologise to Mr and Mrs Q.

DWP agreed to pay Mrs N's estate over £26,000, the amount she would have received in extra help with her costs had it not been for the Pension Service's original error in 2005.

DWP also agreed to pay Mrs N's estate interest on the housing benefit and to pay Mrs N's family £1,000 to apologise for the effect of their mistakes.

ICE agreed to pay Mrs N's family £250 to apologise for the effect of its mistakes.

Health or Parliamentary
Organisations we investigated

Independent Case Examiner (ICE)



Complainants' concerns ?

Did not apologise properly or do enough to put things right

Did not explain how to take complaint further



Compensation for financial loss

Compensation for non-financial loss