Several British people living in France saw their UK pensions wrongly stopped over an “issue” in the system which led officials to believe that they had not returned their life certificates, the Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed.
Life certificates, also known as a ‘Declaration of Existence’ or a CF(N)698 form, are periodically sent out by pension providers to retirees living outside of the UK to check that a recipient is still alive and well enough to handle their own affairs, living in the same place and receiving the correct amount in payments.
UK state pensioners over the age of 75 will receive one every two years, while younger pensioners will receive one sporadically.
Pensioners are required to fill them in the presence of an independent witness such as a bank clerk, social worker, local council worker or solicitor, and send them back to avoid losing their pension.
In France, especially in rural communes, the easiest way of doing so is to take it to the mairie and ask the mayor, an assistant or the secretary to sign and stamp the form with the commune seal.
David Elliott, 73, who lives in Plougasnou (Finistère), was sent a life certificate on December 12, 2021, which he sent back with recorded delivery after having it witnessed at his local mairie. The letter was received by the DWP on January 20, confirmed with a tracking number.
However, “I was expecting my state pension in April but when I went to my letterbox I found a letter postmarked in the Netherlands containing a letter from the DWP dated two weeks before retrospectively stopping my pension,” he told The Connexion.
The letter said that payments were being stopped because Mr Elliott had not responded to the life certificate sent to him.
“I was staggered. My direct debits go out at the beginning of the month and bouncing them would have cut off my route to credit,” he said.
The letter had taken over two weeks to reach Mr Elliott, who said: “You would think that if they were going to stop my pension, they would give at least a month’s notice.
“But due to saving just a few pennies by mailing via the Netherlands, I got zero notice.”
Mr Elliott rang the DWP and was told that the life certificate was indeed in his file. His pension was then reinstated but he said the staff member he spoke to could give no explanation as to why it had been stopped.
Sue Helm, who has lived in Burgundy since 2006, received a letter in March stating that her pension had been stopped from February, with the DWP saying that it had not received her life certificate.
However, the certificate “had been posted on November 20, 2021,” she told The Connexion.
“I called the International Pension Centre straightaway, and after a quick search I was told: ‘Sorry, it was on our postal system but has not been registered’.”
Several other Connexion readers also experienced the same issue. Shirley and James Supple, who live in Var, were told “there was a backlog of life certificates to sort and these letters [stopping people’s pensions] had been automatically generated.
“The DWP, we were told, did in fact have our certificates and pensions would be reinstated which they have been. There was no apology.
“We know of two friends who have had a similar experience whose pensions had to be back-dated and reinstated.”
On calling the DWP after his pension was stopped earlier this month, Peter Smith, who lives in Lot, was informed that the error was due to a “computer problem”.
“They apologised for the error and said the payments would be resumed and the missing payment backdated,” he told The Connexion.
“The experience certainly got the heart racing. Apparently there were quite a few people affected.”
Another reader was told that the certificate had been filed online but marked as “not received”.
The DWP confirmed to The Connexion that an issue had indeed been identified, resulting in a “small number” of customer records failing to be updated even after life certificates were received.
However, the error has now been resolved, so people should no longer be affected.
A spokesperson added: “This year we will spend over £110 billion on the State Pension and our priority is ensuring every pensioner receives the financial support to which they are entitled.
“Where errors do occur, we are committed to identifying and rectifying them as quickly as possible.”
They would not say how many people had been affected in all.
If you do experience any issues with your pension, you can contact the International Pension Centre by online contact form or by ringing +44 (0) 191 218 7777.
Further information can be found here.