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ONS data blunder drastically under-estimates pension income

A blunder by the Office for National Statistics may have under-estimated private pensions income by four times their true level.

The ONS has admitted that data published on 14 April this year, estimating private pension and state benefit income, contained a significant error.

The error was contained in chapter 15 of a document entitled Pension Trends, which has now been withdrawn from the website until the estimates have been re-calculated.

The drastically under-estimated income statistics were used in a news release headed “Pensions provide only modest incomes for many”, which resulted in press reports stating that half of pensioners survive on an income of less than £6,000 per year.

The ONS data showed, incorrectly, that the average annual private pension income for pensioner couple in 2005/06 was just over £2,000, when in fact this may be in the order of £9,000 – £10,000.

A programming error was the cause of the blunder, as the core data used provided weekly income figures, but in some cases these were taken as monthly amounts in calculating annual income.

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