The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has had to hire more staff. This is to deal with the levels of complaints from claimants. But the news also raises questions over how well it deals with them.
The DWP: buckling under the pressure?
As the FT Adviser reported, the DWP has had to hire 13 more staff. This is to cope with the amount of people complaining about the rise in the women’s state pension age. A body within the department deals with complaints. It’s the Independent Case Examiner (ICE).
As the FT Adviser reported:
The [ICE] office has been handling complaints about the changes which led to the creation of the Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) campaign…
The number of complaints received by the ICE in 2017/18 nearly doubled to 5,857 from the previous year, when 2,940 were received.
Of these 3,161 were related to pensions, which had ‘increased significantly’ due to state pension age complaints
In a written answer on 16 October, DWP permanent under-secretary Justin Tomlinson said the DWP was funding 13 more ICE staff in 2018/19. It may need it – as the WASPI issue affects hundreds of thousands of women.
As The Canary previously reported, the 1995 Conservative government’s Pension Act included plans to increase women’s state pension age to 65, which is the same as men’s. But the government did not contact the women affected until 2009 – 14 years later. At first, the government planned to slowly phase the reforms in. But in 2011, then chancellor George Osborne decided to speed up the process by several years.
As the WASPI campaign explains, the result of these reforms is that:
hundreds of thousands of women born in the 1950s (on or after 6th April 1951) have been hit particularly hard.
They have seen their retirement age increase by up to six years. It has meant women cannot claim their pension until 65 from November 2018 and until 66 from October 2020.
It is these women that have been complaining in their thousands to the ICE. But, as its annual report shows, the majority of these women’s complaints are dismissed.
Of the 3,161 complaints people made to the ICE, it looked into 1,810 of them. Of these, it “resolved or settled” 14 without investigating. People withdrew five others. The ICE investigated the remaining 115, of which it:
- Did not uphold 84 (73%).
- Partially upheld 20 (17%).
- Fully upheld 11 (10%).
In other words, the ICE ignored or threw out around 3,111 cases – 98% of all complaints.
It comes as the ICE’s own service standards report showed it was struggling to manage the number of complaints. Figures showed that for 2017/18 the ICE was only clearing 40.1% of its investigations into complaints within the standard 20 weeks:
MPs have also been asking questions about ICE and its work.
A ‘consistent approach’?
On 13 September, Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine asked the DWP whether or not ICE was effective. Specifically, she asked:
what assessment she has made of the efficacy of the [ICE] in investigating complaints from women affected by state pension age equalisation measures.
DWP parliamentary under-secretary Guy Opperman said, in part:
The approach of successive governments has been consistent. The [ICE] is independent. She is appointed under contract to adjudicate on escalated complaints about the DWP… in cases where the complainant has exhausted the relevant internal complaints process and remains dissatisfied. If a complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome of an [ICE] investigation (or the service provided…) they can ask their Member of Parliament to escalate their complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
Chaos at the ICE?
On 16 October, Tomlinson answered another question over the ICE and women’s pensions. He published the numbers of people who had complained to the ICE since 2010. “Determined” means the ICE investigated:
It seems the ICE has a far from a ‘consistent approach’, contrary to what Opperman said. Because in 2010 it “resolved or settled” 56% of complaints “to the complainants satisfaction”. But by 2017/18, this had collapsed to just 8%.
Complaints to the ICE are skyrocketing. Whether or not this is the reason for the high levels of cases it dismisses is debatable. But what is apparent is that with WASPI complaints through the roof, the DWP won’t brush this issue off easily.
– Follow WASPI on Facebook.
– Write to your MP and tell them to support WASPI.