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Newly retired women urged to check for little-known State Pension boost

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

Women should check if they paid “married woman’s stamp” any time in the past 35 years.

Newly retired women and those coming up to retirement are being urged by insurer Royal London to check that they are benefiting from a little-known feature of the new State Pension system designed to protect those who paid a reduced rate of National Insurance (NI) contributions.

When the modern welfare state was designed in the 1940s, the government’s assumption was that men would be the main breadwinner, whilst married women’s primary role was to raise children.

The married woman’s stamp

Married women who did go out to work were allowed to opt to pay a reduced rate of National Insurance contributions – commonly known as the ‘married woman’s stamp’.

These women would not build up a State Pension in their own right but would be entitled to claim a partial State Pension based on the NI record of their husband when he retired.

Over the years, the number of women paying the reduced stamp rose steadily and peaked in 1977/78 at around 4.4 million. From 1978/79 onwards, no new married women were allowed to opt to pay a reduced rate of contributions, but those who were already paying the reduced rate were allowed to continue to do so. This entitlement has continued to this day and only lapses if a woman does not pay contributions for a period of two full years.

Royal London submitted a freedom of information request to HMRC and found there are still about 200 women in Britain paying NI at the reduced rate. HMRC says that, in principle, there could still be some women left on the reduced rate until the second half of the 2020s.

Although only a small number of married women are still paying the reduced rate, many millions of women have done so at some point in their working life.

New State Pension system

Prior to 6 April 2016, women could claim a partial State Pension based on the NI record of their husband. But the new State Pension system is based on an individual’s own record of NI contributions, not those of their spouse. When the system changed, this could have disadvantaged women who were expecting to claim based on their husband’s record but suddenly could not do so.

As a result, the government introduced a little-noticed concession which allows any woman reaching State Pension under the new rules and who paid the married woman’s stamp at any point in the 35 years before reaching pension age to make a claim based on her husband’s NI record.

The rate payable would be a full ‘basic’ State Pension of £129.20 if they are now divorced or widowed or 60 per cent of the ‘basic’ State Pension (£77.45 per week) if they are married.  The government estimated that around 10,000 women could potentially benefit from this concession.

Are you entitled to a higher pension?

Royal London is calling on women receiving less than these amounts to check if they paid the married woman’s stamp at any point in the 35 years up to retirement. If they did, they should contact the Pension Service to see if they are entitled to a higher pension.

Steve Webb, director of policy at Royal London, said: “It is amazing that in designing a State Pension system in the 21st Century, the government had to include special rules to protect women affected by a rule designed in the 1940s.

“It is not widely known that women who paid the reduced stamp at any point in the 35 years before they retired, and who come under the new State Pension system, can claim a minimum payment under the new system. If any woman is getting a substantially reduced amount from the new State Pension she should check if she paid the reduced stamp and contact the Pension Service if she is in any doubt”.