09 October 2019

Newly retired women urged by Royal London to check state pension for little-known boost

6 min read

 
Steve Webb - Director of Policy

Steve Webb

Director of Policy, Royal London

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  • New State Pension system has little-known special concession for women who paid ‘married woman’s stamp’ any time in last 35 years
  • Royal London encourages recently retired women to check their entitlement
  • At its peak, over 4 million married women paid reduced contributions, expecting to depend on their husbands in retirement
  •  New FOI reveals anachronistic feature of National Insurance system lingers on with 200 women still on special reduced rate designed in the 1940s

Newly retired women and those coming up to retirement are being urged by mutual insurer Royal London to check that they are benefiting from a little-known feature of the new state pension system designed to protect those who paid a reduced rate of NICs.

When the modern welfare state was designed in the 1940s, the government’s assumption was that men would be the main breadwinner, whilst married women’s primary role was to raise children.  [See Note 1].

Married women who did go out to work were allowed to opt to pay a reduced rate of National Insurance Contributions – commonly known as the ‘Married Woman’s Stamp’.  These women would not build up a state pension in their own right but would be entitled to claim a partial state pension based on the NI record of their husband when he retired.

Over the years, the number of women paying the reduced stamp rose steadily and peaked in 1977/78 at around 4.4 million.  From 1978/79 onwards, no new married women were allowed to opt to pay a reduced rate of contributions, but those who were already paying the reduced rate were allowed to continue to do so.  This entitlement has continued to this day and only lapses if a woman does not pay contributions for a period of two full years.

Seventy seven years on from the original Beveridge Report, a new FOI supplied to Royal London has found that there are still around two hundred women in Britain paying NI at the reduced rate, and HMRC says that in principle there could still be some women left on the reduced rate until the second half of the 2020s.

Although only a small number of married women are still paying the reduced rate, many millions of women have done so at some point in their working life.   And Royal London is today highlighting a little-known feature of the New State Pension which makes special provision for these women.

Prior to 6th April 2016, women could claim a partial state pension based on the NI record of their husband.  But the new state pension system is based on an individual’s own record of NI contributions, not those of their spouse. When the system changed, this could have disadvantaged women who were expecting to claim based on their husband’s record but suddenly could not do so.

As a result, the government introduced a little-noticed concession which allows any woman reaching state pension under the new rules and who paid the married woman’s stamp at any point in the 35 years before reaching pension age to make a claim based on her husband’s NI record.  The rate payable would be a full ‘basic’ state pension of £129.20 if they are now divorced or widowed or 60% of the ‘basic’ state pension (£77.45 per week) if they are married.  The government estimated that around 10,000 women could potentially benefit from this concession.

Royal London is calling on women receiving less than these amounts to check if they paid the married woman’s stamp at any point in the 35 years up to retirement.  If they did, they should contact the Pension Service to see if they are entitled to a higher pension.

Commenting, Steve Webb, Director of Policy at Royal London said:

“It is amazing that in designing a state pension system in the 21st Century, the government had to include special rules to protect women affected by a rule designed in the 1940s.  It is not widely known that women who paid the reduced stamp at any point in the 35 years before they retired, and who come under the new state pension system, can claim a minimum payment under the new system.  If any woman is getting a substantially reduced amount from the new state pension she should check if she paid the reduced stamp and contact the Pension Service if she is in any doubt”.

Notes to Editors

1. The 1942 Beveridge report, which laid the foundation for the modern welfare state and which uses language which governments would not use today, made clear the rationale for having a special regime for married women:

The attitude of the housewife to gainful employment outside the home is not and should not be the same as that of the single woman. She has other duties …In the next thirty years housewives as Mothers have vital work to do in ensuring the adequate continuance of the British Race and of British ideals in the world. (Beveridge Report, paras 114,117);

2. More information on the NI regime for married women can be found in this House of Commons research note: https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN01910

3. Please email Steve Webb on steve.webb@royallondon.com for the full text of the FOI response.

For further information please contact:

Steve Webb, Director of Policy, Royal London

About Royal London:

Royal London is the largest mutual life, pensions and investment company in the UK, with funds under management of £130 billion, 8.8 million policies in force and 4,046 employees. Figures quoted are as at June 2019.