Department of despair: The DWP’s performance on pensions in this time of great need has been shameful, says BEN WILKINSON
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has hardly covered itself in glory during the pandemic.
When it emerged in May last year that potentially thousands of wives and widows were not receiving the pensions to which they were entitled, the department refused to tell us how many may have been short-changed.
Questions from MPs put to pensions minister Guy Opperman in Parliament were answered with little effort or concern. Parliament was simply told the department was aware of a ‘number of cases’, and the minister encouraged anyone who thought they might be underpaid to contact the DWP.
Lifelines: When it emerged that potentially thousands of wives and widows were not receiving the correct pension, the DWP refused to say how many may have been short-changed
Yet those worried that they were missing out were forced to wait hours on the phone to speak to someone. And when they finally did, they were often fobbed off and, in some cases, wrongly told that their pension was correct.
It was only in March this year that the true scale of the scandal became apparent. Documents published on Budget day revealed that potentially 200,000 women had been underpaid and it would cost close to £3 billion to put right.
Now taxpayers are being treated with the same contempt during this latest shambles.
The minister has this month again ignored a request for details on the pension pay delays from a fellow MP, and instead insisted there had only been a ‘small number’ of hold-ups.
Yet we’ve heard countless stories of pensioners struggling to access vital income.
And the chaos is not limited to pension pay. We’ve heard from those in need who were denied access to other crucial benefit payments.
Money Mail has written plenty about customer service disasters during the pandemic — with Covid still being used as an excuse for long call waiting times or missing paperwork.
But the people calling the DWP are not asking for help with their broadband or a small-change refund, they are chasing money they depend on and to which they are entitled.
As we reveal today, for one in four retired women, the state pension is all they have. This is why the ongoing shambles at the DWP is unforgivable.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman ruled this summer that the DWP had failed to properly warn millions of women that their state pension age was rising from 60 to 66.
And now those women are turning 66, they are being made to wait even longer thanks to more blunders from the department.
Every extra day these 1950s-born women are made to wait for their state pension is an insult. But it’s even more insulting to keep them in the dark, yet again.
In this time of need, the DWP’s performance has not only been found wanting, it’s been shameful.
It is welcome news that the Financial Conduct Authority is pushing to help the nation invest smarter.
Too many of us are too cautious to reap the benefits of investing, and too many of us are too greedy to do it sensibly.
Investing is a safe way to make your savings work harder for you, and with interest rates so low it’s vital that you don’t leave your nest egg at the mercy of inflation in a poor-paying account.
It’s a crying shame that so many people are missing out because they do not have the confidence or know-how to give investing a go.
Yet, at the other end of the spectrum, the pandemic has seen many, particularly young, investors charge in — throwing money they can ill-afford to lose at highly risky and inappropriate investments.
They have been egged on by celebrities and influencers on social media recklessly promoting volatile cryptocurrency or impenetrable forex trading.
A frightening 2.3 million people now own cryptocurrency, the regulator revealed this month. And 14 per cent of them borrowed money to do it.
The sheer scale of clueless and reckless investing is shocking and will surely end in tears. Let’s hope the FCA has not left it too long to act.