Extra staff were drafted in to the state pension helpline last week after a surge in queries, driven by changes to the state pension age, left some customers’ calls unanswered.
The Department for Work and Pensions took the unusual step of deploying more staff after customers calling the state pension service complained about not getting through or being left on hold for more than half an hour.
The influx of callers was the latest sign that the state pension service is struggling to cope with queries over a rise in the state pension age.
“I was frustrated as I couldn’t find out was what’s going on with my first pension payment which I was expecting in January,” said Jon Webster, 65, of Ludlow, who reached pension age this month.
“I called the state pension service three times; on two occasions the call was terminated and on the third I was left on hold for half an hour. I gave up.”
Mr Webster had called the state pension service on January 6. He had not received his first pension payment on that day, as anticipated, having successfully applied for the benefit in October last year.
When he finally got through to the helpline on January 7, he said a call operator explained there were delays in processing claims for people who came of state pension age on January 6.
“They said they were behind because of Christmas. Presumably it was a surprise when Christmas arrived after they had had my application since October 10,” Mr Webster told the Financial Times.
Experts said problems with the state pension service were not new.
“I too have heard stories of people being unable to get through on the state pension helpline and it seems likely that the service is not delivering the level of service it ought to be at the present time,” said Malcolm McLean, senior partner with Barnett Waddingham, an actuarial consulting firm.
“Given the importance of people knowing when they are entitled to receive their state pension and being able to actually start receiving the income when they need to (perhaps immediately on finishing work) this is a situation that the service has to address as a matter of urgency.”
The state pension age is rising from 65 to 66 by October this year.
“The gradual phasing-in of these increases inevitably creates periodic spikes in demand which, if they have not been planned through properly, will give rise to problems at particular points in time,” said Mr McLean.
The DWP said the delay in Mr Webster receiving details about his first pension payment was due to an “administrative error”.
“We are not aware of any similar cases,” the department said. It added that Mr Webster would receive his payment on time.
“The department continues to ensure that customers receive their correct entitlement on time. We are not aware that any customers have had state pension payments delayed.”
The DWP added: “To meet the increased demand more staff were brought in to answer customers’ calls and more new operators have been recruited recently.”
Revelations of service problems at the state pension helpline comes weeks after the Financial Times reported that HM Revenue & Customs was to overhaul how it deals with taxpayers investigating unexplained gaps in their state pension records.