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Steve Webb’s best pension columns of 2020: Six Christmas crackers to help YOUR retirement finances

Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is our agony uncle and we’ve compiled six of his best and most popular answers to readers in 2020.

Steve and This is Money uncovered a huge state pension scandal this year after a question to his weekly column about a 13-year underpayment.

Our joint investigation has forced the Government to hand an estimated £25-30million so far to elderly women who were on incorrect pensions, and you can find Steve’s first response back in January below.

Festive treat: Steve's Christmas crackers to help YOUR retirement finances Festive treat: Steve's Christmas crackers to help YOUR retirement finances

Festive treat: Steve’s Christmas crackers to help YOUR retirement finances

That was before the coronavirus took hold in the UK, and the pandemic prompted many people to write to Steve for help this year.

Volatile markets made savers worried about the short-term hit to their investments, and he offered both practical advice and reassurance on that issue.


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Meanwhile, some who were struggling financially wanted to know if they could access their pensions early, but Steve warned this is a ruinous mistake if you do it before you are 55, and there is a serious risk of being defrauded.

Steve, who is now a partner at pensions consultant LCP, also answered many questions on topics that people write in about week after week, like inheriting state pension from a spouse or buying top-ups.

Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below

Steve Webb: Find out how to ask the former Pensions Minister a question about your retirement savings in the box below

Keen readers can find a full list of Steve’s past columns here. 

If you have something you would like to ask, scroll down to find out how to send in your own pension question. 

1. My wife’s state pension was underpaid for 13 years, so why will she only get ONE back? 

Steve called on elderly women to get in touch if they suspected they were missing out like the reader he responded to here.

This is Money followed up with those who wrote in and contacted the Department for Work and Pensions on behalf of any whose payments looked too low.

This led to two women receiving payouts totalling £14,000, and a stream of other cases and major publicity due to Steve’s awareness raising efforts. 

Steve also asked his current employer LCP to develop a web tool that gives elderly married women a quick and easy way to check whether their payments are correct, and his firm has now added a similar web page for widows.   

Based on information the DWP recently released, it is already estimated to have paid out tens of millions of pounds in total to 1,900 women – one in four of the cases it has processed so far – and it has 37 staff and rising working to fix the debacle. 

The Government’s eventual bill to put this right is expected to top £100million.

The couple in the original column, Audrey and Brian Watson, whose question resulted in so many women receiving huge sums from the Government, are still campaigning to get her a full backpayment and we will continue to cover their story. 

Steve is often asked why he didn’t address this issue while he was Pensions Minister, and his answer is he didn’t know about it and would certainly have acted had he learned women were losing out when still in office.


The cash transfer value of my pension  has dropped by £300k: Why wasn’t I warned? Aviva is withholding my late husband’s pension until a coroner confirms I wasn’t involved in his death My complaint against a financial adviser about a final salary pension transfer was upheld by the Ombudsman, so what happens now? Help! Paying married women’s stamp for one year hit my state pension record Why did my pension lump sum have to come out of the inflation-protected portion? I’m 75 and have been underpaid state pension for 15 years but HMRC has done nothing to fix it Why aren’t company pension schemes forced to give people ‘triple locked’ annual increases? I pay into a police pension, but could I save tax and keep child benefit by opening a private pension plan too?        

If you think you have been underpaid state pension, find out what to do here. The Government’s contact details are here. 

2. Will I inherit any of my terminally ill husband’s state pension when he dies? 

Whether you can inherit a state pension from a spouse and how much you could receive are questions Steve constantly receives in his inbox.

The rules are complicated and the answers are individual, but here Steve explains the pre and post-April 2016 systems in simple terms that should enable you to work out where you stand personally.

3. I’m desperate not to lose my £480k pension pot, but it’s down thousands – what can I do?

Protecting your pension in falling markets was an understandable concern this year, after the shock of the pandemic. 

Steve offers what he describes as ‘timeless truths’ about how best to build a decent pension pot in the longer term.

‘You can take comfort from the fact that you have made a solid start to saving for a pension and are already doing many of the right things,’ he tells this worried reader.

4. I’m 39, have lost my job and am in debt – can I unlock my £18k pension? 

Steve sounded the alarm about the dangers of tapping a pension early due to the huge tax penalties and scam risks, except in very special circumstances such as terminal illness.

Unfortunately, he has received a steady stream of questions similar to this one from younger cash-strapped pension savers throughout the year.

This is Money sends the link to this column and strong words of warning to all those who write in to deter them from a catastrophic blunder that will put them in an even worse financial hole.

We know of no legitimate companies that will help you access your pension before you are 55.

If you come across one that does, it is likely to be a scammer out to steal your savings. And even if you have lost your entire pension to fraud, you will still be on the hook to the taxman for huge extra sums as well.

5. Help! I’m a retired teacher and need to know how state pension top-ups work 

This is a subject that confuses many people, because the system for making payments to boost your state pension is complicated and it’s hard for individuals to know if it is to their benefit.

‘Unfortunately you are largely left to work it out for yourself and in fact are at risk of wasting money if you pick the wrong years,’ says Steve.

‘It is a kind of government sponsored ‘Russian Roulette’ with your money.’

And he tells this reader: ‘I have to say that it is deeply unhelpful that DWP have in effect sent you a letter suggesting you pay them money which would not actually boost your state pension.

‘This is hardly the most consumer-friendly way of communicating with people, and the sooner this process is changed, the better.’

Steve subsequently received a message of thanks from the retired teacher who sent the question, praising his explanation of the topic which they now understood.

6. I’ve never had a pension because I don’t think they’re worth the paper they are written on – am I right? 

This is a cheeky question to a former Pensions Minister, but Steve gave a thoughtful response that will hopefully persuade a few naysayers that throwing away free money is not in their best interests.

Ask Steve Webb a pension question

Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is This Is Money’s Agony Uncle.

He is ready to answer your questions, whether you are still saving, in the process of stopping work, or juggling your finances in retirement.

Steve left the Department of Work and Pensions after the May 2015 election. He is now a partner at actuary and consulting firm Lane Clark & Peacock.

If you would like to ask Steve a question about pensions, please email him at

Steve will do his best to reply to your message in a forthcoming column, but he won’t be able to answer everyone or correspond privately with readers. Nothing in his replies constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.

Please include a daytime contact number with your message – this will be kept confidential and not used for marketing purposes.

If Steve is unable to answer your question, you can also contact The Pensions Advisory Service, a Government-backed organisation which gives free help to the public. TPAS can be found here and its number is 0800 011 3797.

Steve receives many questions about state pension forecasts and COPE – the Contracted Out Pension Equivalent. If you are writing to Steve on this topic, he responds to a typical reader question here. It includes links to Steve’s several earlier columns about state pension forecasts and contracting out, which might be helpful.  

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