I have been contacted by many constituents about the effect of State Pension Age (SPA) equalisation on women and the investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). As you know, on 21 March 2024, the Ombudsmen presented his final findings to the Government.

It is important to note that the investigation was not into changes in SPA itself, but into how that change was communicated. The High Court ruled in 2019 that the PHSO could not recommend that the Government reimburse ‘lost’ pensions or change the law on the pensions age.

The accelerated timescale in the Pensions Act 2011 produced considerable hardship for many women. I note that, at the time the 2011 Act was being debated in Parliament, Ministers were urged to introduce fair transitional arrangements to protect women born in the 1950s. However, despite this, they granted only minor concessions. This meant some women born in the 1950s had very little notice of an increase in their state pension age and therefore fewer years to prepare and plan. This accelerated timescale, together with the then Chancellor George Osborne’s comment that “this probably saved more money than anything else we’ve done”, understandably angered many women who were affected.

The Ombudsman has rightly said it is for Ministers to respond. He has also said that Parliament should consider his findings. To aid MPs in doing so, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary has also urged Ministers to publish “all the relevant information about this issue, including all impact assessments and related correspondence”. I agree with her that this is important so that MPs from all parties can give this matter proper consideration and more effectively scrutinise the Government’s response when that is announced in due course.

More widely, lessons must also be learnt from what has happened over recent decades to ensure everyone can properly plan for their retirement. This includes guaranteeing that information about any changes to the SPA is communicated in a timely and targeted way, and that it is tailored to individual needs. In my view, this needs to be an iron cast commitment.

Best wishes

Rt Hon Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central
Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

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