As the cost-of-living crisis hit and energy prices rose in April 2022, the government launched a campaign to encourage low-income pensioners to apply for Pension Credit, which is a form of benefit designed to supplement the income of low-income pensioners over the age of 66. Following this campaign, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), who administer Pension Credit, received a large number of claims.
These claims are purportedly processed within 6 weeks, but in practice evidence suggests this target time was not being adhered to. On 6 November 2022, The Observer reported that pensioners were waiting “months” for their claim to be processed.
Greater Manchester Law Centre (GMLC) and National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers (NAWRA) conducted a survey of advisers and claimants in December 2022 to investigate Pension Credit delays. We found that delays were significant and widespread, with 98.7% of our 77 welfare rights adviser respondents, representing over 2000 claims, saying they were waiting over 6 weeks for claims and changes to be processed. We made recommendations to the Pension Service, including asking them to provide a public admission of the processing failures that have been taking place. (Click here for full results.)
Following our survey, on 23 January 2023 Labour MP Fleur Anderson asked the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Laura Trott to address the Pension Service’s processing failure and what steps it would take to bring the average time it takes to deal with claims for pension credit down to the target time of six weeks.
On 8 March 2023, Labour MP Thangam Debonnaire asked “what is the current average processing time of Pension Credit applications from date of application to date of (a) decision and (b) first payment?”, and Laura Trott replied that the DWP “does not have a business requirement for this information to be retained”.
This appears contradictory: if there is no ‘business requirement’ to retain information about processing times, then how can Laura Trott be so sure that waiting times have decreased? Should this sort of monitoring not be standard if the Pension Service is committing to a target waiting time of 6 weeks?
Laura Trott also replied to us directly in a letter on 9 March 2023. This claimed that “’cases in progress’ would return to expected levels this month’ – presumably now meaning March 2023.
Between 2 March 2023 and 15 March 2023, GMLC and NAWRA ran a follow-up survey with advisers to put Laura Trott’s claims to the test and ask whether they had seen an improvement. 75 welfare rights advisers filled in the survey. The majority of our respondents were still working on delayed claims or changes. Whilst 16 (21.3%) had seen some improvements, 47 (62.7%) had not. A further 12 (16%) were unclear whether there had been improvements – a further argument for the DWP publishing statistics to show how they have improved the service.
Click here for our March 2023 report on Pension Credit delays, including a summary of how the DWP have done so far on implementing our and NAWRA’s recommendations: Pension Credit delays (March 2023 report)