Women’s State Pension age and associated issues: investigation summary


We investigated complaints that, since 1995, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has failed to provide accurate, adequate and timely information about areas of State Pension reform.

We looked at DWP’s communication about changes to State Pension age and the number of National Insurance qualifying years needed for a new State Pension. We also looked at DWP and the Independent Case Examiner’s (ICE) complaint handling.

Our investigation found maladministration. This means an organisation doing something wrong, not acting properly or providing poor service.

This is a summary of what we found. You can also read the full investigation reports:

The complaint and our investigation

The 1995 Pensions Act and later laws raised the State Pension age for women born on or after 6 April 1950.

Women complained to us that DWP did not communicate changes to their State Pension age well enough. They said this caused them financial loss, financial hardship and suffering, and meant they lost opportunities to make informed decisions and effectively plan for retirement. They also said it had a negative impact on their health, emotional wellbeing and home life.

The 2014 Pensions Act sets out the eligibility criteria for the new State Pension. How much new State Pension someone can claim is based on their National Insurance record.

Women complained that they lost out financially because DWP did not communicate well enough how many National Insurance qualifying years they needed for a full State Pension.

They told us the way DWP and ICE handled their complaints caused them stress and anxiety.

We received a lot of similar complaints about these issues and investigated a sample of them.

We looked at:

  • how DWP communicated changes to State Pension age
  • how DWP communicated information about National Insurance qualifying years
  • how DWP and ICE handled complaints
  • whether any failings led to the claimed injustice
  • how any injustice should be put right.

How DWP communicated changes to State Pension age

We found failings in DWP’s communication about changes to women’s State Pension age.

Communication between 1995 and 2004

Between 1995 and 2004, DWP’s communication of changes to State Pension age reflected the standards we would expect it to meet. Accurate information was publicly available through DWP’s agencies, pension education campaigns, leaflets and website.

Communication from 2005 onwards

Research reported in 2004 showed that information about State Pension age changes was not reaching the people who needed it most. The researchers recommended that information should be ‘appropriately targeted’.

DWP failed to take this feedback into account properly when deciding in August 2005 what to do next. It had identified it could do more but did not.

A survey in 2006 showed that too many women still thought their State Pension age was 60.

In November 2006, DWP proposed writing directly to women to let them know about their State Pension age. But it failed to do anything about that proposal until December 2007. 

How DWP communicated National Insurance qualifying years information

We found failings in how DWP communicated information about National Insurance qualifying years.

Due to the 2014 Pensions Act and the introduction of the new State Pension, there were changes to the number of National Insurance qualifying years needed to claim the full rate of State Pension. There was timely and accurate information available about this.

However, research showed too many people did not understand their own situations and how the new State Pension affected them personally. The Work and Pensions Committee and the National Audit Office, as well as research that DWP commissioned, highlighted this gap between awareness and understanding. DWP failed to use this research and feedback to improve its service and performance. 

How DWP and ICE handled complaints

We found that DWP did not adequately investigate and respond to complaints about these issues. There were also avoidable delays in its complaint handling.

We did not find failings in ICE’s complaint handling. ICE’s contract with DWP sets out the limits of what it can consider. ICE worked within that contract, and this meant it could not address complainants’ main concern that they did not have as much personal notice of changes to their State Pension age as they should have.  

How the failings affected people

  1. Injustice relating to communicating State Pension age changes

We found that failings in DWP’s communication about the 1995 Pensions Act negatively affected complainants’ sense of personal autonomy and control over their finances. Complainants also lost opportunities to make informed decisions about some things and to do some things differently.

We did not find the failings resulted in direct financial loss.

  1. Injustice relating to communicating information about National Insurance qualifying years

Failings in DWP’s communication about National Insurance qualifying years information did not lead to an injustice for the sample complainants. We looked at the sample complainants’ individual circumstances and we did not find they lost opportunities to add to their starting amount of State Pension.  

  1. Injustice relating to complaint handling

Failings in DWP’s complaint handling caused unnecessary stress and anxiety. It meant there was a missed opportunity to reduce complainants’ distress. It also caused unnecessary confusion for some complainants.

Putting things right  

When we find that people have suffered injustice because of failings, we usually make recommendations to put things right.

It is extremely rare that an organisation we investigate does not accept and act on our recommendations. But we have no legal powers to make them do this. When an organisation does not follow our recommendations, we can present a report to Parliament so it can act to protect citizens’ rights.

Because of what DWP has told us during this investigation, we have reason to believe it will not take steps to put things right. Complainants have also told us they doubt DWP’s ability or intent to put things right.

Given the urgent need for justice, we are presenting our report to Parliament. We are asking Parliament to intervene and identify a way to provide appropriate remedy. We think this will be the quickest way to put things right.

To help Parliament, we have shared what we think would be an appropriate remedy. 

More information 

Who is affected by the changes to State Pension age for women? 

Women born on or after 6 April 1950 are affected by changes in State Pension age introduced by the Pensions Act 1995 and further changes made in subsequent years.

Will you accept any new complaints on these issues?

No. We have completed our investigation. We will not accept any further complaints about these issues when we have already made findings about them. 

Why did the investigation take so long? 

Our investigation has been complex and involved analysing thousands of pages of evidence. We appreciate the impact the time our investigation has taken will have had on the women affected, but we had to make sure our investigation was robust, and our findings were evidence based.

There have been many delays outside of our control. On a number of occasions, parties were allowed additional time to consider and comment on our views. We also agreed last year to look again at part of our stage two findings following a legal challenge. All of this resulted in delays to the final report. 

Why did you only investigate a sample of complaints when millions have been affected? 

The sample complaints reflect the range of issues complained about, including the range of injustices claimed. We have asked Parliament to urgently intervene to agree a remedy for the sample complainants and for others affected by the maladministration.