Waspi women: ombudsman calls for £10.5bn compensation package after it finds DWP guilty of maladministration

Changes to the state pension age for women were not properly communicated, the ombudsman has ruled. But will the government act on its recommendations and compensate the Waspi women?

A Waspi protester is seen shouting slogans.
(Image credit: Photo by Stewart Kirby / SOPA Images)

After years of campaigning, the Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) campaign group could finally be in line for compensation after the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman ruled in their favour last week. However, so far, the government has failed to commit to paying out. 

Changes to the state pension age between 2010 and 2018 left many women born in the 1950s at a financial loss. The Waspi group claimed the state pension changes were poorly communicated by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and that they were implemented with little notice.

After years of campaigning, an investigation from the ombudsman ruled in the women’s favour last week, finding the DWP guilty of “maladministration”. However, the compensation package recommended by the report was less than a third of the size that many were hoping for. 

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The ombudsman’s report does not mark the end of the campaign for the Waspi women – it is just the latest development in an ongoing battle. The government is under no legal obligation to implement the ombudsman’s recommendations, and may decide to ignore them entirely. 

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride delivered a statement to the House of Commons on 25 March, but was decidedly vague on the matter of the compensation package. With an election on the horizon, and the country’s finances in a relatively tough spot, the government’s strategy seems to be one of can-kicking for the moment. We look at the key details. 

Waspi women: ombudsman’s findings

On 21 March, the ombudsman’s report found that the DWP had failed to provide “accurate, adequate and timely information about areas of state pension reform”. It also stated its concern that the DWP did not acknowledge its failings or offer redress.

As such, the ombudsman has called on Parliament to secure funding for up to £10.5 billion. This would allow for a payout of between £1,000 and £2,950 for the women affected – though this is a far cry from the £10,000 some Waspi women were hoping for. 

The report clearly states maladministration. It says that the DWP did not take action to ensure communications about the state pension age reached the right people, adding that a survey in 2006 showed that too many women still thought their state pension age was 60.

“In November 2006, DWP proposed writing directly to women to let them know about their State Pension age. But it failed to do anything about that proposal until December 2007,” the ombudsman report highlights.

While this “gap between awareness and understanding” was highlighted by the Work and Pensions Committee and the National Audit Office, the DWP did not take action to address their concerns.

The report also identified failings in how information about National Insurance qualifying years was communicated.

Ombudsman chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath, said: “The UK’s national Ombudsman has made a finding of failings by DWP in this case and has ruled that the women affected are owed compensation”. She added that the DWP “has clearly indicated that it will refuse to comply”, calling this “unacceptable”. 

“The Department must do the right thing and it must be held to account for failure to do so”, she added.

The report found that when complaints were made by the women impacted, the DWP did not investigate them adequately or in a timely manner. This resulted in “unnecessary stress and anxiety”. 

While it did not find any evidence that the complainants suffered “direct financial loss” as a result of the DWP’s failings, it did say that the DWP’s maladministration had resulted in lost opportunities. Specifically, the complainants lost the opportunity to make informed financial decisions, and had their “sense of personal autonomy and financial control” diminished, the report says.

Will the Waspi women receive compensation?

The ombudsman can only make recommendations – it does not have the power to enforce compensation. While significant, this means that the report is just one step forward in the Waspi women’s fight for financial redress.

In her statement which accompanied the report, Hilsenrath expressed concern that the DWP would fail to act on its findings, and has called on Parliament to intervene. “Parliament now needs to act swiftly, and make sure a compensation scheme is established. We think this will provide women with the quickest route to remedy”, she said.  

Women born in the 1950s will be watching closely to see how this plays out. If the Wapsi women receive a payout, it could cost the government between £3.5 billion and £10.5 billion, the report suggests.

How has the government responded?

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride made a statement to the House of Commons on 25 March. He expressed gratitude to the ombudsman for its investigation, but failed to commit to whether the government will follow its recommendation of compensation. Even the most optimistic Waspi campaigners are unlikely to be encouraged by his words.

Stride emphasised the “complexity” of the matter, adding that the investigation’s five year timeline was testament to this. He was also at pains to point out that the verdict against the DWP focused on maladministration, and that the women in question had not suffered direct financial loss.

The government was clearly under pressure to respond to this high-profile issue – but unfortunately Stride’s speech doesn’t bring the Waspi women’s campaign for compensation any further forward. Cynics will read it as an exercise in placating the complainants with sympathetic words, while buying the government some extra time. 

“We continue to take the work of the ombudsman very seriously, and it is only right that we now fully and properly consider the findings and details of what is a substantial document”, Stride commented. In other words, don’t expect a decision any time soon. 

“It now seems increasingly likely [that] if any compensation is to be paid, it will be under a new government after a general election”, says Tom Selby, director of public policy at AJ Bell. “If polling is to be believed, that is likely to be Labour, meaning it could be shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves who is ultimately left with the headache of whether to implement the Ombudsman’s findings”, he adds.

Many Waspi women would have been disappointed by the size of the compensation payment recommended by the ombudsman – between £1,000 and £2,950. However, unfortunately, the latest developments suggest they might struggle to get even that.

Who are the Waspi women?

Between 2010 and 2018, the state pension age for women was gradually increased from 60 to 68. This reform brought it in line with men. 

More than three million women (mostly those born in the 1950s) were impacted by this change – and many say that the changes were not adequately communicated. This left them with insufficient time to make financial preparations. 

Nine years ago, the Waspi campaign group was set up to protest against this injustice. 

Katie Williams

Katie has a background in investment writing and is interested in everything to do with personal finance and financial news. 

Before joining MoneyWeek, she worked as a content writer at Invesco, a global asset management firm, which she joined as a graduate in 2019. While there, she enjoyed translating complex topics into “easy to understand” stories. 

She studied English at the University of Cambridge and loves reading, writing and going to the theatre.