State pension accrual? Not in the DWP’s Orwellian world – Editor’s view

Nobody in the UK has accrued any state pension, according to a deliberately obtuse statement from the Department for Work and Pensions received by Corporate Adviser today.

Refusing a straightforward Freedom of Information Act request for information on how much state pension different cohorts have accrued to date, the DWP’s Freedom of Information officer – adopting something between Orwellian doublespeak and £500-an-hour legalese – writes that ‘A person does not ‘accrue’ an amount of State Pension’.

Apparently we don’t accrue state pension, we get paid an amount calculated in accordance with the rules ‘in place at the time’.

If the DWP had been more open about the impact of the single-tier pension on the nation’s workers’, dare I use the word, accrual, then maybe they could be forgiven for not bothering with such an enquiry.

With just seven months to go until the new system comes in, Corporate Adviser had hoped to shine at least some light on the way this new policy will impact tens of millions of UK workers. The lack of detail from government around the policy – there are guidance notes but nobody has seen a hard and fast formula for how the amounts will be calculated – has been lamentable. Our detailed FOI Act request had aimed to do something to inform and stimulate the debate around how employers and individuals should respond to this major policy change.

But the DWP has chosen the opaque approach to policy development, preferring to wait almost to the end of the requisite 4-week waiting period before saying, effectively, ‘technically speaking, nobody accrues anything, so we aren’t answering your question’.

Here’s what the DWP said:

A person does not ‘accrue’ an amount of State Pension. The amount payable is calculated at the time that they reach State Pension age in accordance with the rules in place at that time and is based on their National Insurance record. Therefore, although we hold information on National Insurance records, we do not hold individual level information on the amount of State Pension ‘accrued’ and are unable to answer your question on this occasion. 

I’m particularly worried about the idea that they don’t have individual information on the amount of state pension accrued. Under any normal person’s understanding of the word, how can they have any proper costing of the policy if they don’t have this?

And anyway, if our original FOI Act request is poorly worded, then so is the DWP’s own original Single Tier Pension consultation, House of Commons documents, HMRC papers and countless other government communications, all of which use the word ‘accrue’ and ‘accrual’ in relation to state pension – not to mention the statements of pension ministers past and present.

Cue a trip to Thesaurus.com, which suggests ’build up’, ‘amass’, ’accumulate’ and ‘collect’ as alternatives to ‘accrue’. But sadly all of these fail at the same hurdle. It appears for the DWP there is no verb that describes the process of passing through time increasing state pension entitlement by making NI contributions.

But maybe they are right. You don’t accrue it, because if you did, they wouldn’t be able to take it away quite so easily, or move the goalposts half way through the contract so you lose a quarter of what you’d thought you were going to get.

So readers, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for the latest Corporate Adviser instalment on how the switch to the single-tier pension is probably the biggest transfer of cash from poor pensioners to rich ones. Or maybe it isn’t. The problem is, they just won’t tell us.