COUNCIL chiefs have stepped in to help women hit by changes to the state pension age with free bus travel.

Durham County Council's cabinet agreed to offer bus passes to WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) women currently missing out on retirement benefits they had expected to receive.

As many as 35,000 women in the county are believed to have been affected by the reforms, which are due to raise the female state pension age to 67 by 2028, years sooner than many had expected.

“County Durham is the first local authority to recognise the impact of travel costs for WASPI women,” said Councillor Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for economic regeneration.

“We recognise this doesn’t cover all WASPI women, but we’re doing what we can. The county council passed a motion in 2016 to support the WASPI campaign and will continue to do so and we will also work with neighbouring authorities to make this a North East regional travel scheme.”

Cllr Marshall was speaking at Wednesday's cabinet meeting, which agreed to implement the scheme giving free travel or reduced fares, depending on the time of day.

Up to 1,000 women in County Durham born between December 6, 1953, and November 5, 1954, are expected to benefit from the council’s offer.

This is expected to cost the county council more than £56,000, including the cost of producing and issuing passes, by November 5, the point at which women affected will have reached the new state pension age.