Backto60 lose state pension challenge

Pardon the Interruption

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The Court of Appeal has ruled unanimously that increases in women’s state pension age did not discriminate against 1950s-born women, in an appeal brought by campaign group Backto60. 

The group is reportedly considering appealing to the Supreme Court; there are also appeals to the Parliamentary Ombudsman in progress on the issue.

In the Court of Appeal, the campaign group had argued that although one of the aims of the Pensions Act 1995 was to end the discrimination based on gender that had previously allowed women to claim their pension five years earlier than men, at 60 versus 65, the equalisation of this has not been accompanied by improvements in older women's economic position. Their view was that this constitutes direct age discrimination compared with women who were born before the cut-off date for retiring at 60.

The group also argued that pension increases for women were poorly communicated and did not leave the affected women enough time to prepare, particularly when it was decided to accelerate the increases from 2011.

The court said however that "wide-ranging notification exercises" had been undertaken by the government, referring to green and white papers among others - arguably not the first source of information for most people - and that "the notification exercise must be seen in the context that Parliament introduced a lead time of a minimum of 14 years and 10 months from the date the Pensions Act 1995 was passed before any woman reached a state pension age that had been increased".

Information question remains

The judges acknowledged that a 2012 survey had shown that only about a quarter of women within 10 years of state pension age correctly identified their state pension age compared with three-quarters of men but did not take this gender gap in awareness and pensions knowledge into account in their view that notification had been sufficient.

Baroness Ros Altmann, a former pensions minister who was previously cited saying that the treatment of 1950s women was a major reason why she stepped down, has now said that it is not clear that the increases were discriminatory.

"I have long considered that the increase in women’s State Pension Age may have created injustice and hardship, but it is not clear this qualifies as discrimination," she said. "The problem seems to me to relate more to maladministration and misinformation, rather than gender discrimination."
Despite the judges' view that notification had been wide-ranging, she said that "successive Governments since the 1990s failed to properly inform the millions of women facing a State Pension Age rise, that they would not be able to receive any of the State Pension they may have been relying on at age 60". 

Altmann added: "When Pensions Minister, I saw copies of letters written by the Government to millions of these women in 2003 and 2004 about their State Pension, which failed to clearly highlight that their pension would not be paid at age 60... it merely informed them what State Pension they might receive when they reached State Pension Age, but they did not tell them what that age would be." The letter might have even lulled women into a false sense of security, she added, and accusedthe government of not updating its online information on state pensions: "When I became Pensions Minister in 2015, I discovered that official websites still wrongly stated that women’s State Pension Age was 60."

On the decision to accelerate women's state pension age increases from 2011, she said that "the Government did try writing to women in 2009, but that was so close to the 2010 start date for the pension age increases".
Referring to appeals in progress to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, she said: "If maladministration is confirmed, perhaps there can yet be a resolution to this problem. I have not supported a return to pension receipt from age 60, but I do think there is a strong case for Government to help those women – and men – facing hardship caused by delaying receipt of State Pension. Whether this is in terms of access to Pension Credit, or early access to State Pension for people who are seriously ill or caring for others."