Do You Have Any Idea Why Social Security Would Have Applied GPO In My Wife's Case?

Sep 14 2020 - 5:41pm

Larry,

My wife has a modest UK pension, and had her own full social security benefit reduced by roughly one-third of the pension amount, per the windfall elimination rules. I recently pulled the trigger on getting my own full benefits, after waiting and instead getting spousal benefits for a few years (I bought both your book and the subscription to your website and found both very helpful in our planning!!)

Social security automatically changed her benefit to the modestly higher spousal benefit shortly thereafter, but then they subtracted two-thirds of her initial UK pension amount (this was about a $164/month reduction!) from her spousal benefit. After seeing several of your website's answers RE this issue, and looking up the procedure manual excluding foreign pensions from the applicable GPO provisions, we filed a request for reconsideration for what appears to be an obvious error, and included a copy of my wife's initial UK pension letter and listed the number of the applicable procedure manual page. Before sending it in, I got someone in our local SS office on the phone, and confirmed that foreign pensions should be excluded from GPO provisions.

To our surprise, the reviewing person affirmed their original decision! (On top of that, the explanation appears to be missing some of the wording, ending in an incomplete sentence.) Our only choice now appears to be a request for an administrative law Judge (ALJ) hearing, which we are inclined to do, given the situation. Do you have any comments, suggestions, or any idea on why they would have stuck with what appears to be a clear mistake?

Also, would it be advisable to get a representative to handle the ALJ appeal, which will likely take a while to schedule (hopefully a video hearing!)

Thanks!

Carl

Hi Carl,

No, I can't explain why Social Security would have offset your wife's spousal benefits, other than it appears to be a clear mistake. It's even harder to understand how the reconsideration reviewer could have made the same error.
The only government pensions that count for purposes of the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision are pensions based on a person's work for a U.S. governmental agency (e.g. federal, state, local). The reference for that can be found in part B of the following section of Social Security's operations manual: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0202608100. Furthermore, part B of the following section of the manual specifically states that foreign pensions are not considered as pensions for GPO purposes: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0202608400.

Social Security could come to their senses and correct their error at same point even if you don't further pursue your appeal, but I wouldn't count on that. I can't advise you as to whether or not to hire an attorney to represent you if you file for a Hearing. It's certainly not required. You'd think that winning your case would be a slam dunk even without an attorney, but I would have said the same thing about your reconsideration. Hopefully, the administrative law judge (ALJ) assigned to your Hearing will be more familiar with the law than was the reconsideration reviewer from Social Security.

Best, Jerry