The Pensions Act 1995 provided for the State Pension age (SPA) for women to increase from 60 to 65 over the period April 2010 to 2020. The Coalition Government legislated in the Pensions Act 2011 to accelerate the latter part of this timetable, starting in April 2016 when women’s SPA was 63 so that it reached 65 in November 2018, at which point it started to rise to 66 by October 2020. The Government’s initial intention was that the equalised SPA would then rise to 66 by April 2020 (Cm 7956, Nov 2010, Foreword). However, because of concerns expressed at the short notice of significant increases for some women (as much as two years compared to the timetable in existing legislation) it made a concession when the legislation was in its final stages. This limited the maximum increase under the Act at 18 months, at a cost to the Exchequer of £1.1 bn – see Library Briefing Paper, SN 06082 Pensions Bill 2011 – final stages (Nov 2011).

These changes have given rise to a long-standing campaign, with some women born in the 1950s arguing they have been hit particularly hard, with significant changes to their SPA imposed with a lack of appropriate notification.

The issue has been debated in Parliament on a number of occasions. These changes have been debated many times in Parliament. The Government’s consistent response has been that the issues were debated when the 2011 Act was before Parliament, a concession made at that time, and that it will “make no further changes to the pension age or pay financial redress in lieu of a pension.” (PQ 49721 27 October 2016). It also says that any further change would create new inequality between men and women and cause “younger people to bear a greater share of the cost of the pensions system”, which “would be unfair and undermine the principle of inter-generational fairness that is integral to our state pension reforms.” (HC Deb 8 February 2018 c1693).

On 3 October 2019, the High Court gave judgment on a claim for judicial review brought by the backto60 campaign. The claimants’ grounds were that the mechanisms chosen to implement the increases in the pension age discriminated on grounds of age and/or sex. They also sought judicial review of the government’s “alleged failure to inform them of the changes.” However, the court dismissed the claim on all grounds (Delve and Glynn v SSWP – media summary). In response to questions on 9 March 2020, Pensions Minister, Guy Opperman said “full restitution would cost something in the region of £215 billion […] a case was before the courts last year: on all grounds, these ladies lost their case. Clearly, that matter is subject to appeal, but the case was lost in respect of every ground, including notice.”  

An appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed on 15 September 2020:

The Court unanimously dismisses the appeal, holding that adopting the same state pension age for men and women does not amount to unlawful discrimination under either EU law or the Human Rights Convention. The Court considers whether there is any legal obligation on the Respondent to notify people of the change to their pension age and holds that in any event the Divisional Court was entitled to conclude on the evidence that the publicity campaign implemented by the DWP had been adequate and reasonable. Finally, the Court holds that the application for judicial review had been made substantially out of time and the long delay in bringing the proceedings would have precluded the grant of any remedy even if the grounds of challenge had been made out. (DWP press summary, 15 September 2020)

The Court of Appeal having denied leave to appeal, Lawyers for Backto60 and the two complainants decided to apply directly to the Supreme Court.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) is investigating six sample complaints to see if there was maladministration in DWP’s communication of changes to women’s State Pension age. Where it finds an injustice was suffered as result of maladministration, the PHSO can make recommendations which might include payment of compensation in line with its guidance. However, it says:

The 2019 High Court decision has made clear that we are not able to recommend DWP reimburse ‘lost’ pensions. We also cannot recommend that anyone receive their state pension any earlier than the law allows. To do so would reverse or try to reverse primary legislation.

Following the Court of Appeal decision, the PHSO said it would review this to see if it affected its investigation (PHSO, Complaints about communication of changes to women’s State Pension age).

More information can be found in the following Library Briefing Papers: CBP-07286 Women and Pensions (July 2018); SN-06546 State Pension age review (August 2017); RP 11/52 Pensions Bill (June 2011); RP 11/68 Pensions Bill: Committee Stage Report (October 2011) SN 6082 Pensions Bill 2011 – final stages (November 2011); RP 95/47 Pensions Bill (HL) 1994/95: social security aspects (April 1994)

The supporting documents below show:

i) the number of women affected by the 1995, 2007 and 2011 Acts by country, region and Parliamentary constituency;

ii) how the State Pension age has changed for women with different dates of birth; and

iii) the number of women aged 60 and over claiming key out-of-work benefits for working-age claimants, from 2013 to 2018, by country, region and Parliamentary constituency.

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