We live with errors – we have no choice.


When I was in my twenties , I thought it would be useful service to check for my clients whether the amounts of national insurance rebates promised my clients were actually reaching their rebate only personal pensions. I was shocked to discover that not only was there no way of doing this, but that my customers weren’t bothered whether they were getting the full value for not picking up their SERPS entitlement.

When I was in my fifties, I spoke with John Greenwood who had rejected the salesman’s call and stayed in Serps, We compared notes and it turned out that John and I had the same entitlement to the Single State Pension when we got to 67, except I had a rebate only personal pension pot of £71,000. It might have been a little more or less but it was certainly £70,000 more than John had got.

John , who is editor of Corporate Adviser, was rightly pissed off. The choice that had been presented him was “trust the markets or trust the state”, he trusted the state and got nothing more than I did, I got a big fat pension pot (despite being in an awful rebate only plan).

Now I read that almost everyone is getting a state pension slightly different from what they should be getting.

These people have no more way of telling if they are being short-changed or getting a bumper deal than John and I would have had (had we not compared our BR19s). Most people haven’t a clue about entitlements to the various versions of the state pension , let alone an understanding of “contracting out” which was such a feature of many of our savings’ careers.

One man who knows all about this is my friend , Andrew Young, who for many years was the Government Actuary with charge of national insurance. He grew up with SERPS and it’s bastard offspring S2P and he helped engineer its integration into the Single State Pension . Like Steve Webb, he also knows that there are many different systems that manage entitlement and that some of the top-up pensions (the graduated state pension for instance) are almost certainly paying the wrong benefits.

Andy is a very caring man, so is Steve Webb, so am I. I care about the gross injustice done John Greenwood and I care about the near £2bn not being claimed in pension credit and I care that many elderly people are not getting their proper state pension because of system glitches. There are many caring people at the DWP who feel the same.

What makes me cross is that we do have resource to fix many of these problems but that we choose instead to focus on relatively minor adjustments to people’s benefits due to the ludicrously over-engineered GMP equalisation project. We are now embarking on another huge project to ensure that the McCloud case’s judgement properly rewards thousands of public servants. These “exercises” can never be justified by a cost benefit analysis but they don’t have to be. They are driven by the law.

We will soon have a pension dashboard , which will expose our pension entitlements to our scrutiny, but we will have no more means of assessing whether what we are getting from our private pension is the true and fair amount than from the state pension

Meanwhile, the state pension just meanders on , starved of systems resource and with a public becoming increasingly uneasy about what they are being paid or expected to be paid.

We live with the errors, we have no choice. We must trust in our Steve Webbs and Andrew Youngs , whether we are John and Henry or the man down the pub know doesn’t know his Serps from his cider.

I liv in hope that the public will be given better information in time, but conclude – for all the noise – that we are mostly clueless about our pensions and that learning that most of them are wrong, will come as no surprise to the general population, We live with errors, we have no choice.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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1 Response to We live with errors – we have no choice.

  1. Peter Tompkins says:

    I’m like you Henry. And we are similar ages. So we are currently accruing the difference between the old state pension and Steve Webb’s shiny New State Pension. Why? Because we have no SERPS like John who accrues zilch because he is already over the NSP level. I was shocked when I saw the new rules and mentioned it to Steve Webb.

    And keep trumpeting the lack of takeup of pension credit etc.

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