Women at home are denied rights to pension benefits

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The Independent Online

Thousands of women are missing out on their right to claim a proper basic state pension, a leading pension expert is warning. The shortfall is a result of a Government failure to publicise the benefits available to carers, foster parents and mothers who have taken time out of the workplace.

The Home Responsibilities Protection (HRP) scheme, which was launched in 1978, is designed to ensure that mothers who take time out of work to look after their family do not lose out on the National Insurance contributions that go towards financing their pension.

Although women who claim child benefit for their children, or income support, are theoretically awarded HRP automatically, increasing numbers of carers and mothers have slipped through the Department for Work and Pensions' systems.

Those who cared for someone between 1978 and April 2002 can still claim the HRP they are entitled to. But new rules stipulate that any claims for HRP relating to care after April 2002 must be made within three years of the end of the tax year when you stopped being a carer.

Dr Ros Altmann, a government pensions adviser and governor of the London School of Economics, said she had evidence that a large number of women are not claiming the HRP they are entitled to.

"Not only is HRP unfair anyway - because you have to have a full tax year's worth before you get anything - but most people don't even know about it because the DWP don't publicise it," she said.

"Surely there has to be a responsibility on Government to make sure people know what they're entitled to. When your state pension statement is sent out, they should tell you about HRP."

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions denied the suggestion that the Government was deliberately failing to promote HRP, saying there was information about the benefit available on the DWP's website. But Dr Altmann said that the Government must take action to eliminate the inequality within the system.

Earlier this year, the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Alan Johnson, described women's pensions as a "national disgrace". And last month, David Blunkett, Johnson's successor, said he was launching a new departmental investigation into the issue, with a report to be published ahead of Adair Turner's Pensions Commission findings in the autumn.