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Ombudsman Service investigation finds Pension Service mistake

An elderly woman’s family has received £26,000 after a Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigation found that she had lost out on three years of help with housing benefits due to a Pension Service error.

The Pension Service failed to send a computerised prompt to her local council that would have automatically triggered a housing benefit claim she was entitled to.

Once her family from Essex discovered the mistake, they spent five years battling with Pension Service officials to put it right.

The Pension Service only looked properly at the complaint after the woman died aged 90 and then refused to compensate the family because it said she had died before the complaint had been considered.

The Pension Service said that their policy prevented them from compensating the next of kin of people who had died. The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) then investigated the complaint and upheld the department’s decision.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said:

An elderly woman and her family were let down because of service failure and poor complaint handling.

'Our investigation upheld the complaint and recommended that both the Department for Work and Pensions and the Independent Case Examiner apologise to the family and to pay her family the £26,514 plus interest she was owed'.

The Department for Work and Pensions also agreed to pay the family £1,000 as an apology for their mistakes, while the Independent Case Examiner paid them £250.

The woman’s son-in-law said:

Dealing with the Ombudsman Service has been a breath of fresh air because we had been led up the wrong road on more than one occasion quite unnecessarily.

'The Pension Service cost us no end of time and expense. They blamed it on the council first of all. Then we had to go to a tribunal which ruled the council did nothing wrong – it was a decision for the Pension Service.

'When the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman said we could have the money, to say we were over the moon is an understatement. After more than five years of heavy battling we got our just desserts. Our late mum would have been very proud, I’m sure'.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is independent and impartially investigates complaints from individuals about UK government departments, and other public organisations, and the NHS in England. It carries out adjudications making final decisions on people’s complaints. The Ombudsman Service investigates 4,000 cases a year and upholds around 42 per cent.