As Ombudsman watchers since 2013 members of PHSOtheFACTS have first-hand knowledge of the ways in which the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman allows public bodies off the hook. In essence, the Ombudsman can only recommend compensation if he finds ‘harm’ caused by ‘maladministration’. Despite the evidence, invariably the Ombudsman will overlook the most damning maladministration whilst at the same time minimising the harm, and then inform disappointed complainants that they didn’t ‘manage their expectations’. Will he get away with such trickery when concluding the investigation into the poorly communicated change of pension age for women born in the 1950’s?

Nicholas Wheatley – PHSOtheFACTS member

The Ombudsman has acted in a very strange manner in the WASPI investigation. Usually he investigates and then reports. In this case he has split the report into three separate reports. The first one was produced in July 2021. The current “leaked” one is due for publication in January 2023. Presumably the final report will be produced later in 2023 or even 2024. Meanwhile nearly 100 women born in the 1950s die every day, and will never see justice, while the Ombudsman slow-walks the report. No-one has questioned why the Ombudsman is following this drawn out method instead of just producing one report at the end of the investigation. It seems most likely that he is doing this for two main reasons. 

First, by drip-feeding the bad news people can become inured to each part before the next part is produced. If it was all produced in one report there might be outrage across the country and in the media.

Second, the seriousness of the complaint can be gradually downplayed in each report in order to minimise any recommended compensation payments.

So in the first report the Ombudsman decided that, although there was a 15 year period before the change to the pensions was rolled out, there was only maladministration for a short period of 28 months after 2006 when, although they had finally realised that many women were not aware of the imminent change to their retirement age, the DWP took no action. This seems to be a bizarre argument because the Ombudsman has admitted that the information campaign by the DWP between 1995 and 2006 did not work properly. But he claims it was not maladministration because it followed standards that the Ombudsman thought were acceptable. So although there was service failure leading to appalling injustice for many women approaching pension age, there was, according to the Ombudsman, no maladministration.

The issues have been highlighted by investigative journalist, David Hencke, in his blog at Westminster Confidential. The link to his blog can be found here.

If David Hencke is correct about the details of the second report then the Ombudsman has downplayed the level of injustice as well. Although the women claimed that the increase in pension age caused them financial hardship and health issues due to the stress, the Ombudsman seems to have claimed that the injustice was limited to worry, confusion and emotional stress. How much compensation is a few years of worry, confusion and emotional stress worth?

It’s also noticeable, if David Hencke is correct, that the Ombudsman has also pulled another couple of his favourite tricks, which at PHSOtheFACTS we are all aware of, but which will confuse anyone who thinks that the Ombudsman is a champion of justice.

First, he blames the victims by claiming that they should have been aware of the changes to the state pension age.

Second, he refuses to believe that the 28 months of maladministration led to the financial losses claimed.

Victim blaming and refusing to believe what complainants tell him are straight out of his usual playbook, but they probably haven’t been seen in a major investigation in the eyes of the media before. But Ombudsmen are held in such undeserved high esteem will anyone question his approach when the final reports are released and will the WASPI women have legal recourse to challenge the findings of the so-called independent Ombudsman?