[ENT] The silver splitter women who don’t get their pension share

Legions of older women who divorced later in life could be missing out on thousands of pounds in extra state pension cash.

There has been a surge in so-called ‘silver splitters’ since the turn of the century, but many may not know they can claim a better pension when single.

A married woman is entitled to the equivalent of 60 per cent of their husband’s basic rate if they reached state pension age before April 2016. 

Short-changed: There has been a surge in so-called ‘silver splitters’ since the turn of the century, but many may not know they can claim a better pension when single

Those who retire after that date are covered by separate provision in the new state pension.

The ‘married woman’s rate’ can be claimed by those who did not earn a bigger pension in their own right, and is currently worth £80.45 a week.

Yet a divorcee can claim a bigger pension – of up to 100 per cent of their husband’s, to compensate for the loss in household income following the separation. 

The rate is based on National Insurance contributions of an ex-husband up to the date of divorce.

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So, if a woman splits from her husband after he retired with a full pension, she can claim a full basic state pension worth £134.25 a week.

Claim denied 20 times 

Divorcee Julie Parker* was turned away more than 20 times by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) when she asked for her state pension increase.

Julie, from Surrey, divorced her husband in 2016, after 40 years of marriage.

But when a financial adviser told her that she could collect a full state pension based on her ex-husband’s contributions, she spent three months trying to get the DWP to agree.

She says: ‘Nobody knew what I was talking about, and I spoke to a different person every time.

‘Because they didn’t know anything about it they weren’t prepared to find out.’

Julie, 75, says she was only put through to someone who knew about the provision when she broke down in tears on the phone. Her pension was then increased by 40 per cent to the full rate.

She says: ‘I was repeatedly told there was nothing like this available and, in other words, I should stop pestering. It was unbelievable.

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‘It shouldn’t be allowed to continue.’

*Not her real name

But if a woman is already collecting her pension when she divorces, the onus is on her to inform the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to claim the increased rate.

Failure to claim could cost a divorcee £50,000 over a 20-year retirement. Yet new analysis today, from former pensions minister Sir Steve Webb, shows 100,000 divorced women do not collect the full basic state pension.

And Sir Steve, now a partner at pensions consultancy LCP, warns many divorcees are likely unaware of the entitlement.

Earlier this year, Sir Steve found thousands of married women, widows and divorcees were likely being underpaid as they did not know they could claim a state pension based on their husbands’ records.

Scores of women have since had pensions increased. Others have secured back payments worth tens of thousands of pounds.

More than 100,000 women aged 60 and over divorced between 1998 and 2018, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

In the Nineties, there were around 4,000 divorces involving women over 60 every year, and now there are around 6,000.

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Most will have reached state pension age before April 6, 2016, and therefore come under the ‘old’ state pension system which offers the provision.

If a woman gets divorced and remarries before they collect their state pension, their rate is based on their new husband’s record.

However, if they divorce after collecting their pension, their income will not change.

Experts say more should be done to raise awareness of the entitlement.

Sir Steve says: ‘Worryingly, even some financial advisers, lawyers and DWP call handlers seem to be unaware of the rules.’

Divorce lawyer Karin Walker says: ‘State pensions are all too often disregarded during divorce when they should be one of the first things looked at.’

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And financial adviser Paul Cobley, of Oak Barn Financial Planning, says clients were increasingly rejected by clueless DWP staff when trying to claim. He says: ‘Many years ago, these claims were turned around quite efficiently, now they can take up to a year.’

If a woman is already collecting her pension when she divorces, the onus is on her to inform the Department for Work and Pensions to claim the increased rate

If a woman is already collecting her pension when she divorces, the onus is on her to inform the Department for Work and Pensions to claim the increased rate

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Retired NHS nurse Sybil Allee, 78, was underpaid her state pension for more than 15 years.

She had no idea she could claim the married woman’s rate when her husband retired in 2003. And when she divorced in 2005, she did not know she could claim even more.

The great-grandmother has, instead, got by on a pension of less than £40 a week.

After hearing about Sir Steve’s research, she contacted the DWP and has had her income increased to £118-a-week. But she has only received a back payment covering 11 weeks — an extra £871.

Sybil, from Lewisham, South London, says: ‘It doesn’t seem fair. No one told me. How was I supposed to know?’

Another divorcee, from Newcastle, says DWP call centre staff could not help her when she rang asking if she was entitled to a better pension. 

The 73-year-old, who divorced in 2015 after nearly 50 years of marriage, was only told she was entitled to £50 more every week after she wrote a letter.

Yet she says she deserves more than a back payment covering the last year.

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She says: ‘They said ignorance was no defence. I thought that was quite insulting. It isn’t fair.’

A DWP spokesman says pensioners are urged to report changes of circumstances — such as divorce — in leaflets sent out every year.

He adds: ‘DWP has dedicated, trained teams for handling all contacts from customers asking us to check their pension entitlement.’

Sir Steve has started a petition calling on the DWP to scour its records to find all women who have been underpaid. To sign, visit petition.parliament.uk/petitions/334388

  • Has a DWP adviser given you the wrong information? Email  your story to [email protected] or write to Money Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street W8 5TT.

[email protected]

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