State pension Universal Credit cover-up: DWP admits records ‘still not fixed’

Shocking state pension failures exposed by a This is Money investigation were challenged in Parliament by Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain

The Government has confessed an automated system meant to update the state pension records of millions of Universal Credit claimants broke in 2017, and it will take another year to fix all the mistakes.

A This is Money probe exclusively revealed many National Insurance records are riddled with holes, and that the Government had dodged our attempts to uncover the scandal.

Lost NI credits can mean pensioners face state pension shortfalls in retirement unless they are fixed in time. 

The Government was forced to come clean about errors after Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions Spokesperson Wendy Chamberlain MP demanded answers in Parliament.

A letter to Chamberlain from Employment Minister Guy Opperman confirms our report that people on Universal Credit are only having state pension records manually corrected as they reach state pension age.

But as we have discovered they can fall through the net and be underpaid state pension as a result, or waste money buying top-ups they don’t need.

Opperman’s letter reveals an automated process to add Universal Credit claimants’ data to their state pension records was suspended in 2017/18, and corrections will not be completed until next April.

‘The vast majority of people affected are many years away from reaching state pension age and will not be impacted by this issue when they make a state pension claim,’ he writes.

‘For those who do need to claim their state pension, HMRC and DWP have implemented a manual process to correct NI records and state pensions.’

Mr Opperman – after a five year stint, the UK’s longest-serving Pensions Minister before his promotion last year – adds: ‘For those already claiming their state pension, who are affected by this issue, their state pension will be re-assessed and any underpayment issued accordingly as part of normal processes.’

 DWP has made no effort to tell the public what was going on behind the scenes, and in particular to make sure that people do not risk wasting their money paying voluntary National Insurance Contributions

Steve Webb, former Pensions Minister 

Nearly 5.9million people were on Universal Credit at the start of this year, and many more could have been affected once those who no longer claim are taken into account too.

However, the DWP and HMRC have apparently never revealed serious problems with these people’s state pension records officially, either to the wider public or MPs.

And the website still currently misleads Universal Credit claimants into thinking their NI credits are being updated automatically.

This is Money was the first to reveal last November that a mystery ‘glitch’ in state pension records was leaving savers struggling to fix potentially costly holes in their income.

We have since flagged many more cases, and exposed how people were being stonewalled by staff in three separate Government departments – Universal Credit and the Future Pensions Centre within the DWP, as well as HMRC – who all refused to help them.

Readers handed us startling evidence, in individual letters and an email to them from junior DWP staff, that revealed it was a longstanding and internally well-known issue that there was no working system for automatically updating Universal Credit claimants’ NI credits.

Lib Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain told us: ‘Pensioners deserve better than being the collateral damage of failed Government systems.

‘Steps to correct this are welcome, as is the Government belatedly coming clean about their errors.

Is Universal Credit missing from your NI record? 

You can check your National Insurance record here.

The current year of 2022/23 will not be updated yet – this usually happens in October. 

If you think you have NI credits missing, the Government’s contact details are here. 

If you have not received credits for a period when you claimed Universal Credit, write to tell us your story at

Please include your age, tell us if you have bought state pension top-ups unnecessarily, and put UNIVERSAL CREDIT in the subject line.

If you are struggling to get NI credits updated, you can also contact your MP and ask them for help. 

‘But it is clear from the number of pensioners who have come forward during this investigation that the manual process isn’t working. The Government must act now to make sure no more pensioners are left going without, particularly during this cost-of-living crisis.’

Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb says of Opperman’s admission: ‘This letter reveals that the shambles over the National Insurance records of people on Universal Credit has been going on for years, and will still take at least another year to sort out.

‘Yet DWP has made no effort to tell the public what was going on behind the scenes, and in particular to make sure that people do not risk wasting their money paying voluntary NICs for years which should be covered by credits.

‘DWP admit in their letter that there are people in retirement who are being underpaid which shows that the current manual processes are not working reliably.’

Webb, now a partner at LCP and This is Money’s pensions columnist, adds: ‘There needs to be a change of culture at DWP where they are transparent when things go wrong rather than trying to fob people off with excuses.’

In response to the first case we raised, the Government evaded our questions about the cause of missing NI credits and how many people were affected, and said: ‘For your background, there is no indication of a wider issue’.

We challenged this statement when we sent further cases, and repeated our questions. But the Government again attempted to cover up the true situation for Universal Credit claimants, and said: ‘The vast majority of National Insurance credits relating to benefit claims are added to a person’s account automatically’.

The DWP also fobbed off a shadow Labour minister who attempted in early December to get to the bottom of the failures.

Gerald Jones MP, Shadow Minister for Wales, asked in a written question ‘when the technical issues that have been outstanding since 2018 to award National Insurance credits to Universal Credit claims will be resolved’.

Opperman replied at the time: ‘The technical issues referenced were identified, and DWP have taken the steps to correct them.’

The DWP and HMRC were approached for comment, but did not respond by the time of publication.

When we published our last story, we confronted them with 10 cases of missing credits and asked why they had attempted to cover up serious failures to automatically update state pension records of people claiming Universal Credit.

A DWP spokesperson said: ‘All of the cases raised have now been resolved and we are sorry for any inconvenience caused.

‘We are working with HMRC on an improved process to add historic and future Universal Credit National Insurance credits to National Insurance records.’

The Government told us customers are advised by HMRC to wait until Universal Credit related NI credits are showing on their record before making any voluntary payments needed to make that a qualifying year, and that if any payments are made unnecessarily they can be refunded.  

However, people aware they are missing NI credits have found it almost impossible to get them updated, and meanwhile many people may be unaware because the Government website tells them credits towards their state pension are updated automatically. 

The Government gave the following further guidance to UC claimants.

– The presence of some National Insurance credits for a given year does not necessarily mean a customer will reach the threshold for these to count as a ‘qualifying year’ for state pension purposes, once this is recorded by HMRC.

– Customers with queries, including those above state pension age, can contact the universal credit helpline, or speak to their work coach or case manager.

> Savers FINALLY win battle for NI credits: We highlight 10 cases here

Is it worth buying state pension top-ups? 

The new flat rate’ state pension is currently worth £185.15 a week or around £9,600 a year.

The older basic state pension is currently £141.85 a week, or around £7,400 a year.  It is topped up by additional state pension entitlements – S2P and Serps – accrued during working years.  

Both amounts will rise by 10.1 per cent next April – the old state pension to £156.20 and the new to £203.85 a week. 

Making voluntary contributions can give a huge boost to state pension income.

Right now the usual six year deadline for buying top-ups is extended back to 2006/07 – a special deal that was due to expire on 5 April, but the deadline has now been pushed back to 31 July.

People are often baffled over whether buying top-ups will be worthwhile depending on what they have paid already, and if it is which years to fill up or purchase from scratch.

This is Money has a guide to buying state pension top-ups here, and Steve Webb has a website to help savers through the process  here.

The Government has information about making voluntary NI top-ups and eligibility here.