Vicar’s widow calls for action over Church pension blunder

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A Leeds vicar’s widow who helped expose a massive Church of England pension gaffe has called for swift action to ensure no one suffers financially because of the error.

Church officials have apologised to nearly 18,000 clergy pensioners over a computer glitch in which many were told their husbands had recently died.

Widows who lost their husbands years and even decades ago were shocked to receive letters from the tax offices offering condolences for their “recent” bereavement.

They were also asked to fill in a four page form for the HM Revenue & Customs stating their income and date of their loved one’s death.

The Church Pensions Board has now written to all its pensioners to apologise after tax officials pointed out the blunder.

It is understood that tax offices were bombarded with calls by devastated pensioners because of the mistake.

Avril Jackson, 71, lost her husband Peter in 2006, when he was struck down by cancer shortly after retiring as vicar of St Luke’s in Holbeck, Leeds.

She said: “This could be very confusing for people and it’s not giving the Church of England a good image.

“When I first got the letter I thought it was a mix-up because I’ve been widowed for seven years.

“So I thought they’re a bit late telling me all this. I just hope they put it right and no one’s money’s been affected.”

Avril’s husband, the Rev Peter Jackson, who died in 2006, was a much loved vicar in Alwoodley and Holbeck, Leeds.

Just after his retirement, and all ready to see his granddaughters grow up, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

After feeling slightly unwell he died only three months later from this rare and aggressive form of cancer. He developed the disease over 40 years after being exposed to asbestos when he was an electrician in the chemical industry in Teesside.

Another Yorkshire widow, whose vicar husband died in the 1970s, said: “It has brought it all back and really upset me.”

A C of E spokesman said: “The notices from HMRC were sent on the basis of incorrect information they had received from the Pensions Board.

“This appears to have been the result of a systems error, which the Pensions Board is working closely with its software suppliers to fix.

“The Pensions Board also assures pensioners that all steps are being taken to make sure this error is not repeated.”

“We have since received several letters of thanks for our apology and the action we have taken to correct the problem, and one complaint. We treat all complaints very seriously.

“The Church of England Pensions Board can’t provide detail about the cause of the problem but we are working closely with our suppliers to correct it.

The letters sent this week underlined that no changes will be applied to tax codes and pensions will continue to be paid as normal.

There was also a personal apology from Pensions Board Chief Executive Bernadette Kenny.

She said: “I am aware that this may well have caused you considerable upset and worry.

“It is not how I want you to be served by the Pensions Board and I can assure you that we are taking immediate and urgent steps to sort this out and to make sure it – or anything like it – does not happen again.

“I fully understand how distressing this might be. I am very sorry indeed if you have received such a letter, and for any worry of distress this may have caused you.”

She warned that pensioners may also receive a separate letter from the tax office, telling pensioners their tax code will change.

“This too is incorrect, and has been caused by the same systems error. We are doing all we can to ensure it does not happen again.”

The glitch affected all three of the C of E’s pension funds – for clergy, lay workers, and administrators.

The letters issued by the PAYE section say: “We are sorry to hear about your bereavement and trouble you at this time. But as you are now receiving, or about to receive, a bereavement benefit this could affect your PAYE tax code.”