» OIG Reveals Social Security Underpayments to Thousands of Spouses

OIG Reveals Social Security Underpayments to Thousands of Spouses

Hook Law Center (formerly Oast & Hook)

Hook Law Center (formerly Oast & Hook)

Virginia Beach, VA (Law Firm Newswire) May 22, 2014 – The Social Security Administration (SSA) owes thousands of Americans higher benefits, amounting to millions of dollars in total.

SSA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) – the agency's internal watchdog – recently conducted an internal audit that revealed failures to increase some retirees' benefits properly.

“The problem lies with some retirees' receipt of spousal benefits,” explained elder law attorney Andrew Hook. “These retirees initially claimed spousal benefits, but they later became eligible for higher benefits based on their own employment. Social Security failed to notify them of that fact.”

The OIG designated two categories of underpaid beneficiaries. First are those who, at full retirement age, claimed spousal benefits, but who are now eligible for a higher payment on their own benefits due to delayed retirement credits. Second are those who claimed their benefits before full retirement age and who were given spousal benefits even though their own employment entitled them to greater benefits at that time.

The problems have resulted from an SSA failure to apply what is known as the “deemed filing provision.” The OIG claims to be highly confident that between 22,000 and 30,000 spouses are eligible for higher retirement benefits. The estimated due total is between $132 million and $258 million.

The OIG first uncovered the underpayments in a 2008 audit. It created a notification letter and asked SSA to send it to those beneficiaries who might be affected. The agency did not dispute the findings, but claimed it lacked the funds and staff to send the letter.

In its recent follow-up audit, the OIG said that SSA owes underpaid beneficiaries both higher ongoing payments and back payments. And it pointed out that because SSA already notifies widows and widowers of the possibility of greater benefits at full retirement age and again at age 70, the agency should be able to add more beneficiaries to its process.

“If you receive spousal benefits from Social Security, or if you are turning 70 and claimed Social Security at full retirement age, you may be eligible for increased benefits,” added Hook. “If you think these circumstances may apply to you, visit your Social Security office or your elder law or estate planning attorney for assistance. You should also check your Social Security work record to make sure it is complete.”

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