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Can a widow benefit from pension she forgot to claim 25 years ago?

Q&A: People need to apply for the widow(er)’s pension, as it is not paid automatically unless you are a dependent adult of a State pensioner

My father, who had a full stamp record, died 25 years ago. My 94-year-old mother has been getting a reduced State pension, as she worked part-time for most of her working life.

Should she have been transferred on to the widow’s pension when my father died? And if she should have been, can it be backdated?

Ms L.C.

I’m always slightly wary of queries about historical claims like this, as the rules on benefits and tax do change from time to time. However, I cannot see why your mother would not have qualified for a widow’s pension from the time that your father died. The problem is that she would have had to apply for it, rather than simply being “transferred to it” by social welfare, and I am presuming she didn’t.


I am assuming the confusion arose as your mum would already have been drawing down her State pension at the time – albeit at a reduced rate given her employment record – because she would already have been 69 years of age.

Once she starts receiving the contributory widow’s pension, it is paid for life as long as the recipient does not start to live as a partner or spouse with someone else

It’s unclear from your letter whether her husband was of an age to have been drawing down a State pension at the time. If he had, I would have expected some communication from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, as the Department of Social Protection would have been called at the time. I gather it is now the case that if your dad was getting a contributory State pension with an increase for a dependent spouse, she would expect to automatically receive the widow’s pension on the back of that. However, as your mum had a reduced pension in her own name, this would not have been triggered in her case.

Certainly, under current rules, it would have been open for her to apply for the widow’s pension at the time. The widow’s pension has, after all, been in force since 1936 precisely to provide for widows whose financial means would have been dramatically reduced due to the death of a spouse.

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It was extended to widowers in October 1994 and to surviving civil partners in 2011.

The basic eligibility rules today are that one or other of your parents will have to have had a certain number of PRSI weekly stamps. In this case, with your mother’s part-time work, it will be your father’s record that is relevant. If there is any doubt about that history, you should be able to get his PRSI record from the Department of Social Protection, as I mentioned previously – either through or, more likely in this case, an Intreo office.

On the date he died, or when he started drawing down the State pension, whichever is the earlier – known as the relevant date – he should have had at least 260 paid weekly PRSI contributions. Also required is an average of 39 paid or credited stamps in either the three years before that date, or five years if that makes it easier to hit the target, or an average of 24 paid or credited stamps over all the years of his working life.

If you are using the latter alternative, he would have had to have 48 weekly stamps per year for your mum to get a maximum widow’s pension. The 24 only qualifies you for the minimum.

Current social welfare rules generally only allow for very limited backdating and, as far as I am aware, in the case of the widow’s pension, the maximum ‘back claim’ you will be allowed is six months

State pension claim rules have tightened in the period since 1988, and I would expect any claim of your mother’s – even at this late stage – to be measured against the rules that were in place when her husband died if they are more onerous now. However, if her husband had a full PRSI record I would expect she would qualify, regardless of whether they measure her against 1988 standards or those in place now.

The issue for so many people on PAYE is that they never even think about what they may or may not be entitled to. They have their taxes paid at source and they assume their tax credits are correct without checking and, as a result, can miss out on entitlements. They often don’t even claim for things such as medical expenses. This is especially true in families, such as your mum’s, where the husband would be the main earner and, if anyone was claiming, it would likely be them.

In this case, your mum would have had to proactively complete a Form WCP1 – which you can find with an online search, in your local post office or in any Intreo office. She will still need to do so at this point, presumably with your help.

When it comes to the State pension, most employers have systems in place to advise staff approaching retirement age of the need to get in touch. However, entitlement to a widow’s pension can very much fall through the cracks, unless you are the sort of family that has the benefit of outside financial advice on tax returns via an accountant or other financial expert.

Once she starts receiving the contributory widow’s pension, it is paid for life as long as the recipient does not start to live as a partner or spouse with someone else. You also cannot receive the widow’s pension and a State pension. In fact, almost all other welfare payments – though not age or living alone allowances – are not available to someone on the widow’s pension.

The key thing from your mother’s perspective is that where there is a clash between entitlement to the widow’s pension and to the State pension, the department should ensure she receives whichever will offer her the higher income.

From what you say, she would be entitled to a full widow’s pension of a €287.30 a week (including the increase for being over 80), whereas her State pension is some way short of this. You don’t say how much her pension is, but the difference could be as much as €176.50 a week.

The bad news is that your mother is not likely to be able to recover the 25 years of additional payments.

Current social welfare rules generally only allow for very limited backdating and, as far as I am aware, in the case of the widow’s pension, the maximum “back claim” you will be allowed is six months unless you can show she was victim of false or misleading information from the department, or that she was incapacitated by illness or infirmity.

I cannot see the first scenario applying. Possibly, depending on her current health, you might find some wriggle room under the second scenario, though it’s a reach.

Between 1997 and 2012 – the period covering the time when she was widowed – a more generous 12-month period of backdating was allowed, and any longer period was paid on a proportional basis. You can try to plead under this measure, but it really does apply only to the time when claims were actually made.

Even if it is only six months, your mother could be in line for a significantly higher pension payment for the rest of her life, and up to €4,329 in back money, which would no doubt be welcome and worth chasing.

I think you should get her to apply immediately so that she does not lose out any further, and make whatever case you can to explain the extreme tardiness of the claim. The department’s deciding officer may show some discretion, though that is clearly up to them.

Please send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street Dublin 2, or by email to This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice