Time running out for £55,000 state pension boost due to ‘nightmare’ phone delays

phone line HMRC delays
phone line HMRC delays

Would-be retirees face missing out on up to £55,000 in a once-in-a-lifetime state pension boost because of backed up civil service phone lines.

Thousands rushing to top up their state pensions by the new deadline of 31 July are facing “nightmare” delays, as phone lines ring out due to staffing shortages and overwhelming demand.

Less than two months remain for workers to apply for a special state pension top up, which allows them to plug gaps in their National Insurance (NI) records dating back to 2006.

A previous April deadline was extended following similar reports in this newspaper of savers struggling to get through to the pension centre helpline due to overwhelming demand and a lack of call centre staff.

But workers are once again finding it impossible to reach the helpline to seek help to top up their pension before a new upcoming deadline in July.

The Telegraph tried several times to call the helpline, but it rang out and once we selected the correct options we were sent back to the start of the automated process.

The automatic service said: “We are experiencing a high volume of calls that may result in longer wait times.”

The pension centre helpline is meant to be open from 8am to 6pm each weekday.

Issues with the helpline raise questions over whether workers will be able to top up their pensions in time, as well as whether the Government will once again delay the deadline.

It comes as less than half of pension department staff were working in its main office at the end of May, official figures show.

The latest delays follow an announcement from HM Revenue & Customs that it is closing its self-assessment helpline for three months from Monday, just as summer starts.

More are expected to pick up the phone in the coming weeks as the deadline approaches, exacerbating problems, with Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis preparing to urge those affected to claim on his television show next week.

Tom Selby, of broker AJ Bell, said workers could be left “out of pocket” if the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) fails to fix the issues.

He said: “While pushing back the state pension top-up deadline gave people valuable breathing room, this was only ever going to be effective if DWP staffed its helplines sufficiently to clear the existing backlog and deal with the extra claims that were inevitably going to result.

“The fact the phone lines are once again jammed suggests this hasn’t happened and means the DWP is in danger of being faced with exactly the same capacity crunch we saw three months ago.

“For those trying to get through to top-up their state pension this is an absolute nightmare and risks leaving them out of pocket in retirement through no fault of their own.”

People without a full NI record are not entitled to the full state pension – currently £185.15 a week – but can plug gaps in their tax history to rectify this. Normally workers can only plug gaps in their NI history dating back six years.

However, a change to the state pension in 2016 created a much longer, one-off concession. Workers can boost their state pension by up to £55,000 through catch-up payments for the tax years from 2006-07 to 2015-16 in the most extreme cases – but the window officially closes at the end of next month.

A government spokesman said: “The Government has extended the voluntary National Insurance deadline to 31 July 2023 to give taxpayers more time to fill gaps in their record and help increase the amount they receive in state pension.

“The quickest and easiest way for people to get information about their state pension and National Insurance record is online. If customers need to contact us, we will ensure calls are answered as quickly as possible.

“Voluntary contributions do not always increase your state pension. People should make sure they would benefit before making any payments, including to fill gaps in their records between 6 April 2006 and 5 April 2016.”