Money Grouse: Pension blow for retired couple

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The Independent Online
VERONICA ANSELL, 56, and her husband Reg, 62, both retired in the early 1980s and have worked in India and Kenya as missionaries since then.

They both kept up their National Insurance contributions while abroad, thinking this would preserve their entitlement to full state retirement pensions.

But Mrs Ansell was recently told by the Department of Social Security that she will never be able to claim this in her own right.

She calculates that she has paid pounds 200 in unnecessary National Insurance, which the DSS says it is not obliged to refund.

A spokeswoman for Age Concern said Mrs Ansell appeared to have fallen into a classic trap affecting married women.

Her failure to qualify for a full state pension may be connected with the break in her National Insurance contributions when she was bringing up her children.

To receive a full basic state pension - at present worth pounds 54.15 a week - both men and women must have paid a certain amount in National Insurance.

The Age Concern spokeswoman explained: 'A man normally needs to have contributed for 44 years and a woman for 39 to receive the full basic pension.

'But many women do not have the opportunity to build up a full record. They will receive either a reduced pension or one based on their husband's record.'

Since 1978 it has been possible for people bringing up children to preserve their NI record through the Home Responsibilities Protection scheme. But this would not apply before 1978.

A married woman of 60 whose record has not been enough to build up a pension of more than pounds 32.55 a week can claim that amount as soon as her husband is 65 and drawing his pension. This assumes his record is complete.

If her NI contributions were sufficient to buy a pension of more than pounds 32.55 - say pounds 40 a week - she would receive the higher amount instead.

A married woman may be able to improve her pension by paying extra contributions to make up for lost years, but not necessarily.

Her extra contributions will only be worthwhile if they raise her entitlement above what she would receive through her husband's record.

The spokeswoman suggested that anyone unsure about their future pension should obtain a forecast through their local DSS office before volunteering to paying extra contributions.

Age Concern produces a leaflet on state pensions called National Insurance Contributions and Qualifying for a Pension, available free from Age Concern England, Astral House, PO Box 9, London SW16 4EX. Send a stamped addressed envelope.

The Department of Social Security would not comment on the Ansells' case specifically but agreed that Mrs Ansell appeared to have over-contributed.

'People should take advice from a benefit office before they make voluntary contributions,' said a spokeswoman. She claimed the department would normally warn people against making contributions that could not improve their pension entitlement.

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