This piece first appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 26 June 1999
The text here may not be identical to the published text

Serps pain of moving to Spain

A test case has implications for those misled over Serps

A retired policeman has been awarded more than £50,000 compensation by the Ombudsman because the Benefits Agency gave him incomplete information. In a report out next week the Ombudsman is expected to say that incomplete information - even if it is true as far as it goes - is misleading and unacceptable. That is a principle the Benefits Agency has never accepted before. The case could have wide implications for the thousands of people who have were misled over the amount of SERPS that would be paid to a widow who loses her husband after April 5 2000.

The Government has already admitted that it gave out incomplete information about the change for more than ten years. But it is still considering how to compensate those it misled. The policeman, who does not want to be named, retired early on health grounds in 1986. A year later he decided to move to Spain with his wife. He asked the Department of Social Security about getting cover from the Spanish state health service.

"I asked about form 121 but I was told that I could not have it until I was 65. But in fact because I was on invalidity benefit, I could have had it then. They told me I should join PUPA, which I did. They also didn't tell me that I could continue to claim invalidity benefit. "

When his invalidity benefit stopped in 1988 he thought it was because he was living abroad. In fact the Benefits Agency should have told him he could continue to claim it in Spain.

"I didn't realise it was wrong for six years - until 1993 when my wife asked for a forecast of her own pension. She got a leaflet and when she read it she realised I had been given the wrong advice. Luckily she doesn't throw anything away so she had the original letters. But even so it's taken another six years to get the compensation. Every time I complained it just went back to the same person at the DSS and he just kept saying the same thing."

Eventually the policeman went to his MP and his complaint went to the Parliamentary Commissioner (Ombudsman) who found against the Department.

"The letter which [DSS] sent…on 30 January 1987 was correct as far as it went but it was misleading in that it omitted information…that was a serious omission for which I criticise them."

Age Concern says these words give hope to thousands of people who were misled over the amount of State Earnings Related Pension Scheme (SERPS) which is inherited by a widow from her husband. At the moment a widow gets all her late husband's SERPS. But from next April newly widowed women will only get half. For more than ten years after Parliament agreed to the change the DSS failed to warn tell the public about the cuts which would begin in the new millennium. As a result, many people have not taken out extra private cover for the lost benefit. Age Concern wants the Government to act now. A spokeswoman told Money Go Round.

"This case is about incomplete information. The people who might be affected by the SERPS legislation will be impossible to compensate - they may not have the documentation he had. The only fair thing for the Government to do is to rescind the legislation - or at least delay it --- so that people can plan effectively for the future."

For those two omissions by the Department of Social Security the Ombudsman awarded the policeman £51,046 for lost benefit, unnecessary expense on health insurance and interest on the loss over 12 years. "I'm a very happy man now. But I advise anyone else to keep trying. That's all I would say." 634 words

26 June 1999

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