Elaine Burnett: ‘Mum was a loving kind person. It was such a privilege to be her daughter’ – her child Julie pays tribute after her mother’s death aged 68 this month
A grieving family have slammed the ‘rip off’ government after it wrongly denied a woman a state pension for two years, then slashed a promised lump sum after she died.
Elaine Burnett died in hospital the day after the Government rang up to correct its error in refusing her a pension after she turned 66.
Her husband Paul took the call because she was already seriously ill, and it came too late for her to learn she was owed thousands of pounds, or deal with the paperwork involved.
Elaine could have received around £10,800 in total over the last two years of her life, if not for failures by both HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions.
The taxman omitted ‘home responsibilities protection’ for bringing up children from her National Insurance records, then DWP staff brushed her off instead of investigating when she rang about her state pension in 2020.
The DWP recently said HRP inaccuracies were the second largest reason for state pension underpayments.
The admission follows a cascade of other errors, including a £1.5billion underpayment scandal discovered by former Pensions Minister Steve Webb and This is Money.
>>>Were you refused a state pension? Find out what to do below
Had she lived, Elaine would have been handed a £5,200 backpayment, and started receiving a slightly enhanced state pension – due to the delay – of around £110 a year.
But since her death earlier this month, Paul has been told by the DWP it will now only award a three-month backpayment worth around £1,300.
This is Money had initially flagged Elaine’s case to the Government in mid-June, and has chased it up ever since.
On hearing of her sad death, we immediately appealed to DWP officials to ensure her family receive a fair and swift payout.
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb says it is ‘tragic and unacceptable’ that Mrs Burnett never actually received the money she was entitled to, and he is demanding her grieving family get every penny of her missing payments over the past two years ‘without further question’.
Her daughter Julie Ritchie said after learning of the drastically reduced backpayment to her stepfather: ‘Wow and wow, our government really does take the biscuit when it comes to ripping off old people.
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb: It is tragic and unacceptable that Mrs Burnett never actually received the money she was entitled to
‘If they had done their job properly in the first place there would be no need for anything to be backdated.
‘My poor mum never even knew she had got her pension. Hope they can sleep at night. Thank you so much for all your help and mum really would have been over the moon to get her pension.’
Julie paid tribute to her late mother, a retired shop assistant who lived in Scotland, saying: ‘Poor mum was a loving kind person. It was such a privilege to be her daughter.’
She says the backpayment is ‘measly’ given the errors involved in her mother’s case which meant she was denied a state pension for more than two years.
And she says her stepfather supported her late mother financially during this time, including buying the medical equipment needed when she became ill.
‘This is all so sad. DWP said they were backdating for a year. It should go to her husband Paul Burnett as he has been supporting her since she wasn’t getting a pension,’ Julie told us.
‘She is due that money so I don’t see why they wouldn’t but we both know the Government rip off the wrong people. They said they were sending out paperwork and she would need to sign it, which obviously she can’t now.’
Julie, who notes there has been no apology to her family, adds: ‘So very disappointing that our Government sees fit to treat people like this, more so the elderly.’
She wants to tell her late mother’s story now, as she feels sure Elaine would have wanted to alert other women to state pension errors, and if it helps one other person it will be worth publicising what happened to her.
Julie and her mother had themselves contacted This is Money after seeing our recent story where Steve Webb raised the alarm about women turning 66 and wrongly receiving ‘zero’ state pension.
The Government has since denied it is reviewing recent state pension rejections, despite an official telling Webb that it was implementing checks on ‘all disallowances’ of claims.
Before her death, Elaine told us: ‘I was shocked when they said I wasn’t due a pension at all.’
She recounted how she rang the DWP in 2020 to ask about her state pension, but a staff member said she was not entitled to anything and was not polite about it.
Former Pensions Minister Ros Altmann: So many women seem to be losing out as a result of errors made by the DWP and it is almost always women
During the call to the DWP, the staff member asked her mother if she had children, according to Julie. But she and her mother said there was no mention of HRP or making a claim for that.
Meanwhile, This is Money understands that HMRC sent Elaine an HRP claim form in spring 2020.
Julie has no recollection of this, though she cannot be certain whether it arrived because her mother was dangerously ill in hospital for a lengthy period that spring, and as it was during a lockdown period she didn’t see all the paperwork that was received.
During our investigation it emerged that Elaine’s NI record wrongly had seven qualifying years, but when the HRP the taxman had missed off her record was added she had 19 years – well over the 10 needed to get a minimum state pension.
>>>What is HRP? What is the married women’s stamp? Find out how to check if you were underpaid below
Webb, who is now a partner at pension consultant LCP and This is Money’s pensions columnist, says: ‘Like many women, Mrs Burnett spent many years bringing up her family and these years should have earned her credits towards her state pension.
‘But a Government computer bungle meant these credits were missing from her record.
‘When she first rang up in 2020 to ask why she was not getting a pension this error should have been picked up and a pension put in place immediately.
‘Given that the DWP have admitted in their recent annual report that errors on credits for time bringing up a family are far from unique, there needs to be an urgent investigation to track down all such cases, as well as immediate justice for Mrs Burnett’s family.’
Labour’s Shadow Pensions Minister, Matt Rodda, says: ‘This Conservative Government’s inability to deliver essential public services is leading to devastating consequences for ordinary people.
‘It is a minimum requirement that the DWP pays everyone the correct state pension on time, and where it makes mistakes that they are rectified as quickly as possible.
‘The tragic events highlighted in the report should never have been allowed to happen and ministers must work as quickly as possible to make sure they are not repeated.’
Labour’s Shadow Pensions Minister, Matt Rodda: The tragic events highlighted should never have been allowed to happen
Former Pensions Minister and campaigner Ros Altmann says: ‘So many women seem to be losing out as a result of errors made by the DWP and it is almost always women.
‘There seems to have been insufficient attention to detail, despite the fact that the UK state pension is the most complex system in the world and it is vital that the rules are properly applied.
‘HRP was there to protect women against losing pension rights when they were looking after their children and, yet, the errors have led to precisely those kinds of losses.
‘Urgent action to understand why the errors were made and how to ensure they are rectified and do not recur is needed.’
The Government expressed its sincere condolences to Mrs Burnett’s family following her death.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson said: ‘This year we will spend over £110billion on the state pension and support over 12.5million pensioners.
‘Our priority is ensuring everyone receives the financial support to which they are entitled and, where errors do occur, we are committed to fixing them.’
Regarding HRP, a spokesperson said: ‘We are investigating an issue with the historical recording of home responsibilities protection in a small number of National Insurance records, with work under way to identify those affected.’
The Government’s position is that different rules govern a claim for state pension in a person’s own right and for inheriting someone else’s.
State pensions are calculated by the DWP, based on NI records kept by HMRC.
What is HRP and why is it causing state pension errors?
The now abolished ‘home responsibilities protection’ reduced the number of qualifying years needed for a basic state pension if someone stayed at home to care for children or a person who was sick or disabled.
If you were a parent in this situation you needed to sign up for child benefit, as with the replacement system of National Insurance credits towards a state pension.
In its annual report issued this month, the DWP said: ‘The second largest reason for state pension underpayment is primarily attributable to historic periods of HRP not being recorded accurately on National Insurance records.
‘Errors have occurred where periods of HRP were due but not accurately recorded on someone’s National Insurance record.
‘State pension payments are calculated and administered by the Department, based on the National Insurance records supplied by HM Revenue and Customs.
‘These errors may therefore have impacted an individual’s state pension award.’
The DWP added that it was supporting HMRC to understand more about the scale, potential causes and options to correct these cases.
‘Investigations are complex, involving the use of tailored data reports. The potential numbers of people affected and estimates of cost are unlikely to be available until autumn 2022 at the earliest.’
HMRC says at this stage it is aware of a very small number of errors affecting people who received child benefit between 1978 and 2010 and most people will not be affected.
What is the married women’s stamp
A little-known rule means women who paid the ‘married women’s stamp’ towards the state pension can still benefit from it now.
Women retiring from April 2016 onwards get state pension payments based on their own National Insurance record not their husband’s.
But there is a special concession for those who paid the stamp for at least one year during the 35 years before they reached state pension age.
You can claim £85.00 a week if still married or £141.85 if you are widowed or divorced, based on this year’s rates.
Are YOU being underpaid state pension, or were you turned down? What should you do
People who have reached state pension age and are not already receiving a full basic pension of £141.85 a week might be able to add further qualifying years to their National Insurance record by claiming HRP.
You can claim HRP by filling in the CF411 form here, but first check the following to see if it is worthwhile.
– Did you register for and receive child benefit between 06/04/1978 and 05/04/2010?
– Did your partner? It can be possible to swap when the ‘wrong’ parent claims child benefit.
– Does your NI record NOT contain HRP for the period above, even though you qualified for it and did not accrue contributions through another route – check what counts as eligibility for HRP here and your NI record here.
Note that if you paid the married women’s reduced rate NI contributions (also known as the small stamp) during the same period you claimed child benefit, HRP cannot be used to increase your pension.
Also, if you paid standard rate NI contributions and earned enough for it to be counted as a full year for pension purposes while claiming child benefit, HRP will not increase your pension.
Contact details to query your NI record with HMRC are here.
If you were refused a state pension or are receiving less than £141.85 per week and think there has been an error, you can also email This is Money at email@example.com.
Please put DWP CLAIMS in the subject line and include:
– Your date of birth
– Your basic state pension figure, if any – this can be found on your annual statement
– Whether you earned HRP or paid married women’s stamp, and in which years as best as you can remember
– Your phone number – this will only be used to follow up this issue, not used for marketing purposes.
Please be aware that we cannot answer everyone.
If you believe HMRC made an error with your HRP after checking the rules above, you can fill in the CF411 claim form.
If you are concerned that you are being underpaid state pension, you can contact the DWP’s Pension Service.