By Sam Lister
Daily Express – 9 March 2019
Prime Minister Theresa May has personally intervened to order officials to find a solution to the war widows pension scandal. She has called for a way of closing the legal loophole that means around 300 women lost their payments because they remarried.
It comes as Tory MPs stepped up the pressure on Chancellor Philip Hammond to "do the right thing" by announcing changes when he gives his Spring Statement on the economy. The Treasury has been at War Widows the centre of the resistance to demands for change highlighted by the Daily Express's support for war widows. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has raised the issue on a number of occasions during talks with the Prime Minister.
Mrs May's involvement will raise hopes that reforms are imminent. She has ordered Ministry of Defence and Treasury officials to work together to find a solution. A Whitehall source said:
"We are looking at remedying this situation as quickly as possible."
MPs want Mr Hammond to set out reforms when he gives his economic update to the Commons on Wednesday. But the Chancellor has warned his statement will focus mainly on financial forecasts and intensive work is still being carried out on how to implement the changes. It is understood an announcement may follow soon after if the details are still being finalised.
A change in the law in 2015 allowed war widows and widowers to keep the tax-free "killed on active service" pension they were entitled to even if they later remarried. But those who walked down the aisle again before then lost their payments of around £7,500 a year. And "perverse" rules mean if they were to get divorced and remarry, their pension would be reinstated.
The War Widows' Association has been pressing for the law to be reformed and the changes would cost just an estimated £3million. MPs stepped up their demands for Mr Hammond to take action last night. Dr Julian Lewis, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, called for an end to the "appalling" rules. He has raised the issue in the House of Commons.
Dr Lewis said:
"The Prime Minister's intervention is essential to end the scandal that more than 200 war widows can have their lost pensions permanently restored only by divorcing their second husbands or being widowed again.
"Why should they have to divorce and remarry their second husbands in order to secure this recompense for their sacrifice? It is appalling that they have been put in this perverse situation."
Tory MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who co-chairs a parliamentary group on the Armed Forces Covenant – a pledge about the way personnel, veterans and their families are treated – called on the Chancellor to announce a solution. She said:
"I hope that the Chancellor will take the opportunity next week in his Spring Statement to show that the Treasury also is learning to live and breathe the covenant in its policy decisions. It's the right thing to do."
Army general Sir John McColl, of the Confederation of Service Charities and a former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, criticised the Government for "breaking their trust" with our heroes. He said:
"These people's spouses sacrificed everything for their country, believing their families would be looked after by the nation when they were gone. That trust between the servicemen and women and the nation has been broken and it's unacceptable."
War Widows' Association chairman Mary Moreland said the Treasury had gone silent despite a visit last year that left Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss moved to tears by their plight. Mrs Moreland said:
"I was feeling more positive after meeting Mrs Truss. But I've had no contact with her office since our meeting. It's a ridiculous situation considering the war widows pension is a no-fault compensation. In what other walk of life is compensation removed on remarriage?
"It's appalling that nothing has yet been done. We have to do right by these widows, whose only mistake was to move on with their lives and find new love. There's so much we're having to fight for, and we really shouldn't have to fight."
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said:
"The Government recognises the unique commitment that service families make to the country and is sympathetic to the circumstances of those widows who remarried, or cohabited before April 1, 2015.
"This is a complex policy area and we are taking time to carefully consider the potential options."