NHS trusts given flexibilities to mitigate impact of controversial pension changes

4 Sep 19

The government has handed NHS trusts guidance and greater flexibility to tackle the pension crisis in the sector.

NHS Employers has published guidance that encourages doctors to seek independent financial advice and allows trusts to make “additional pay offers” from unused pension contributions.

The government agency, the employers’ organisation for the NHS in England, said that there has been a “clear lack of knowledge and understanding” about the NHS pension scheme, which has seen nearly half of GPs cutting hours and retiring early to avoid excessive tax on their pensions.

“Pension tax can be a complex area and we strongly encourage employees to take independent financial advice to ensure their decisions are well informed,” the guidance said.

NHS employers compiled a list of 12 organisations that are able to give advice on how to “maximise their earnings and make informed decisions”, though it stressed it was not promoting or recommending the use of any specific organisation.

Elsewhere in the guidance it was suggested that trusts could use discretion to design and agree additional pay offers to reflect the fact that employees who left the scheme to avoid high taxes on their pensions “will not get the full value of benefits from their employers’ pension contribution in comparison to other colleagues”.

These would be paid from unused employer contributions, the guidance said.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “Our guidance is intended to help employers provide staff with the local flexibilities they need during this financial year. The optional measure outlined in our guidance may be implemented by employers to support staff and service delivery until scheme changes are introduced.”

Any temporary local arrangements would need to be arranged in April 2020 when changes to the scheme are expected following the outcome of a government consultation on the issue.

Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary, said: “We will be consulting on comprehensive changes which aim to resolve clinicians’ pensions concerns so they can better balance their pension while spending more time with their patients in hospitals or GP surgeries.

“But we also recognise immediate action is needed to help fix this and minimise the impact it is having on our NHS. Today we are giving trusts the tools they need to grant maximum flexibility to their staff right now, alongside tailored support so every top clinician can continue to care for their patients without worrying about the impact on their pension.”

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: “The new speed and focus from the government on solving this issue is really welcome, as is the commitment to review the annual taper. But the forthcoming consultation and review need to be completed quickly.”

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