After years of waiting, war widows have been given the ammunition to claim

Are you eligible for a war widow's pension? By Mary Wilson
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The Independent Online
After years of wrangling it was finally agreed last year - with the Royal Assent to the new law being given on 19 July - that a war widow whose husband died before April 1973 and who had re-married and therefore lost her war widow's pension would be entitled to it again, should her subsequent husband die, or should she divorce or legally separate.

The difference between the two single-person's pensions - war widow and otherwise - is quite substantial, the current single person's pension being pounds 58.85 a week (pounds 3,060 a year) and the top basic war widow's pension pounds 81.25 a week (pounds 4,225 a year).

This would be due to someone who was married to a brigadier or major- general, but lower down the ranks the widow of a captain will receive pounds 78.11 a week (pounds 4,062 a year), and a widow of other ranks pounds 76.35 a week (pounds 3,970).

Some widows of servicemen will also be entitled to an extra occupational widow's pension, but the rules for this are complex and depend on how and when he died and whether it was due to his service. There will also be a supplementary pension paid of pounds 2,517 a year if the serviceman paid into that scheme before his death.

It is expected that the average payment to a 70-year-old will therefore be around pounds 142 a week. "The whole exercise is costing pounds 40m," says Enid Miller of the War Pensions Bureau.

However, although these pensions were expected to come through last October, it has taken considerable time and manpower to establish exactly how much is due to the 16,500 widows who are now entitled to it and the first payments are unlikely to be made until the end of February.

The bureau has taken on 12 extra staff to handle the work.

"Some of the applications have been very complicated and difficult to check as we are going back 50 years for many of them" says Ms Miller.

So far, 15,908 widows have applied - "which is pretty good, although I would like to see the remaining 592 apply for what is their right, too" she says. "They only have to ring us up, or write - our number is in all telephone books throughout the country - and we will send them a form to fill in.

"The more details they can supply us, such as when their husband died, what was his rank etc, the better. It is a very long process, we have to go back a long way to locate records and check them to make sure that each widow is entitled to what she is claiming for. We hope to have every claim processed b the end of March".

One widow, whose husband died in February 1944, has been waiting with bated breath since the decision to pay out was made. "It has been a nail- biting time. There are things that need doing to my house, but I cannot budget for them until I know what and when I will be getting" she says.

She applied well before the July date and after being sent the form has had three letters saying that things were in hand and that the bureau was still working on her claim, but no definite information.

After writing again, she has just been sent two booklets setting out the sums she might receive and has heard from another friend who inquired that the money should arrive some time in February.

"At my age, it is the uncertainty which is so difficult to deal with. We have had our hopes built up and I do not want to see them dashed down," she says.

Anyone claiming before the legislation went through on 19 July will have arrears paid from that date in a lump sum. If a widow claims after that date, then the back payment will be dated to when they claimed.

Each widow will get differing amounts, depending on the rank of their deceased husband, their age and whether they are on any other benefits.

Jeanne Cain, of the War Pensions Policy Section, says: "It has been a basic principle of the national insurance scheme that duplicate payments should not be made for the same purpose, i.e. the widow's maintenance.

"Thus, payments made in respect of income maintenance such as war widow's pension, cannot be paid concurrently with another benefit such as retirement pension, income support and widow's pension paid under the NIS.

"However, if a widow has paid sufficient contributions to qualify for a personal NIS income maintenance benefit she should be able to receive war widow's pension in addition to that benefit."

So, if the applicant has been on income support, for example - then the sums received for that from 19 July will docked off the sum to be paid in retrospect.

The extra age allowances for anyone over 65, 70 or 80 years old will be added on, but widows will not be entitled to any pension they have been receiving from a subsequent husband.

Should the widow have claimed and subsequently died then any pension due from the time she claimed until her death will be paid to the estate.

If you think you are entitled to claim this pension and have not yet done so the address is: War Widows Pension Bureau, Norcross, Blackpool,Lancashire FYS 3WP. Telephone 01253-858858.

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