MANY women across the South Hams are still unaware that their pension payout arrangements have changed, leaving hundreds in dire financial situations.
Changes to the state pension age in the 1995 and 2011 Pension Acts have meant that some local women have had the goalposts of their pension moved twice, ‘without being informed by the Government,’ they say.
Ceri Jayes from Kingsbridge explained that in 1995, the Government made the decision that from 2020, the age at which a woman could receive a state pension would move in line with men to 65.
Ceri said: ‘Bringing about equality in pensions between the sexes is fair, no one has a problem with that’. But the way the changes have been brought in is the issue, leaving women with no time to adjust to the changes.
In 2011, the coalition government decided that the new pension age of 65 would be brought in two years earlier in 2018 and for both sexes it would rise to 66 in 2020.
The problem arises because Ceri claims few women were told about either of these changes.
‘Every financial consultant insists that the most important thing about pension planning is to start early’ said Ceri, ‘and to ensure that it is on track so that you can enjoy the retirement that you expect.
‘Well, I followed all of that advice. I worked from the day that I left education and paid all of my “stamps”. In March 2012 I wrote to the Pension Service for confirmation that I would receive the full state pension that I expected on reaching my 60th birthday in January 2015. I was shocked at the reply.
‘My state pension of £130.15 per week would be due on January 28, 2021, my 66th birthday. The state pension formed the bedrock of my retirement plans. Why had date of its receipt changed six years? How could I manage to make up the shortfall of £40,000?’
Ceri is by no means the only one. Thea Keeler from Harbertonford said she made financial decisions at the age of 50 while expecting her pension at 60.
‘I left school at 16 and worked as a clerical officer,’ said Thea, ‘I’ve taken one week “dole” in my entire life and I cared for my husband who suffered with brain damage for nine years, I’ve always done the right thing.
‘At the age of 50, there came this idea of taking a lump sum from your private pensions, so, expecting to receive the state pension at 60, I took the lump sum. I now find out I have an extra six years before I can receive that.
‘That’s six extra years of money I don’t have.
‘All the jobs I’m trained for, clerical officer and state enrolled nurse, now don’t exist, I’m not computer literate, and my training is obsolete.
‘Women are taking on manual work such as supermarket work where they have to lift heavy boxes etc and some are physically exhausted by it, they just can’t do it aged 60 or more.’
Thea is now living off her savings, but she says she will have nothing left by the time she receives her state pension, which is currently around £444 a month.
Another local woman, Sarah Langmaid from Totnes, said she is ‘fuming’ over the changes, which have meant that she has had her pension age changed twice and was never told.
‘I was 59 in 2011, when I learnt that my pension age was going up to 65 years and three months. Its disgraceful, I’ve paid in for this. The money should have been there for us, this is a serious injustice – its theft.
‘Its been railroaded through with no consultation. I was told nothing. I applied for a pension forecast last year, when I found all this out, but I had to apply, they didn’t tell me.
‘As a woman, we were excluded from pension schemes. We often worked part time or were told we would take career breaks to raise children so we were not allowed to have a pension scheme. I paid what was the “married woman stamp” at the time, rather than National Insurance Contributions.
‘I currently don’t work, I was made redundant seven years ago and am continuing to pay voluntary NI contributions as I do a little bit of work from home and am technically self-employed.
‘So I have paid more stamps than required, so I now don’t need to pay, but if I don’t I wont be entitled to sick pay.
‘My sister-in-law is six months younger than me, and she is not getting her pension until she’s 66, but we were in the same class at school, so she started work at the same time I did. I’m incensed.’
WASPI - Women Against State Pension Inequality – is a group of women who have come together to campaign against the inequality in the changes to women’s pensions. They have a Facebook page.
The debate has recently had some national media coverage, with Paul Lewis, journalist and presenter of the Money Box on BBC Radio 4, writing on his blog that ‘the Government did not write to any woman affected by the rise in pension ages for more than 14 years after the law was passed in 1995’ and that ‘more than one million women…were told at age 58 or 59 that their state pension age would be rising to between 63 and 66’.
Ceri said the problem has been misinformation, poor information, and that Prime Minister David Cameron was asked about the issue at a recent PM Questions and ‘gave incorrect information again’.
Ceri also had an appointment with local MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, on Friday 15 January to discuss this issue. Dr Wollaston said: ‘My response has been to raise the issue with the Treasury to see if there is any room for further tapering of the changes for those women affected.
‘There are no plans to amend the changes which will speed up the equalisation of women’s retirement age with men. I can appreciate why anyone on the wrong side of any of the cut off dates would feel a sense of unfairness but historically this has long been an unfair situation for men.’
Ceri concluded: ‘The only thing that the Government needs to do is to raise money and to allocate it. When there is any injustice, the Government needs to put the injustice right’
A debate was held in the House of Commons on Thursday, January 7, led by SNP MP Mhairi Black. The house voted 158 to 0 to ‘call on the Government to immediately introduce transitional arrangements for those women negatively affected by that equalisation.’
There will also be a debate held on Monday, February 1, as a result of more than 124,000 signatures on a petition by WASPI calling for fair transition for the state pension for women born in the 1950s.
If you feel you will be affected by these changes to your pension age, you can find lots of information on the WASPI Facebook page and on the Government website: www.gov.uk.
If you are unable to use a computer or access the internet, Ceri is happy for you to call her for information on 01548 856252.