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Independents' Day

How GPs have been left dealing with the pensions pot fiasco

GP pension information is being reviewed after months of confusion over inaccurate records. Hiba Mahamadi looks at the impact on GPs

Months of distress, talk of legal action and ongoing confusion about the lack of information about GPs’ pension pots came to a head late last year.

In September, NHS England finally admitted what many GPs knew – that there were ‘discrepancies’ in the records held about GPs’ pension pots.

This could have a significant impact on a ‘large proportion of the GP community’, according to an NHS England letter leaked to Pulse.

Many GPs are left in limbo, not knowing whether it is worth their while contributing to a pensions scheme, whether they are being subject to massive tax hits – and unable to get answers.

The scale of the problem has led to NHS England appointing consulting giant PwC to lead a review.

Despite previous murmurings, the problems became public in May when the BMA wrote to GPs about the ‘significant issues’ the NHS had found with pension records in England going back to 2004.

I recently checked my total reward certificate and there is no information about my contributions

Dr Ihsan Illahi

Some GPs say these problems can be traced back much further – to August 2015, when private firm Capita took over the contract for Primary Care Support England (PCSE), the NHS arm for providing administrative services in primary care.

In the past four months GPs have been battling to find out if their pensions details are correct, and almost 400 have submitted subject access requests to NHS England. Meanwhile, the BMA has offered to help GPs take legal action against Capita if necessary.

Campaign group GP Survival has galvanised GPs and has been helping to correct inaccurate records. Dr Nicholas Grundy, joint campaign lead for the group, says Capita’s takeover of pension administration led to two problems.

First, he says, it failed to assimilate historical records into one database, which means that when GPs access their records they find information is missing or wrong, such as jobs they may have done in the past or what they were paid for them. Second, Capita failed to correctly update current records with new contributions made since it took over, he claims.

‘It was clear in September 2017 that this was a huge issue and that NHS England knew about it because it had to find the data,’ says Dr Grundy.

GPs are being landed with tax charges after dates for filing tax returns have passed

Paul Gordon

The review is supposed to provide answers. PwC will begin with GPs closest to retirement age (56 or over), recent retirees and those who died in service.

The work is under way but as yet there is no firm date for when the review is expected to be published. An NHS spokesperson says six inquiries into individual GP records are ongoing.

This has done nothing to allay GPs’ fears. In a recent survey by Pulse in November, 80% of more than 200 GPs nearing retirement age said they were either ‘very concerned’ or ‘quite concerned’ about receiving less pension money than they are entitled to.

Among those 157 GPs who detailed the problems they had encountered, the two most common responses were that records were inaccurate (25%) and that getting information or help from Capita was near impossible (25%).

‘I recently checked my total reward certificate and there is no information about my contributions,’ says Dr Ihsan Illahi, a locum GP in Bolton and Bury. ‘I contacted Capita a few times and they have been “looking” into it for 12 months.’

Another GP, who asked not to be named, said: ‘Their records are wrong. It’s almost impossible to speak to anyone. Forms are uploaded via their website but disappear into the ether.’

‘My total rewards statement was completely blank’

dr mark coley525x350px

dr mark coley525x350px

In September last year I logged on to my online pension account and saw that my total rewards statement was completely blank.

The account said the statement had been withdrawn because Capita had not forwarded totals for the financial year 2015-2016 to NHS Pensions.

I was confused and a bit concerned – because I definitely submitted the paperwork to Capita – so I contacted the NHS to ask them what was going on. I was told to contact Capita who then redirected me back to the NHS.

Tired of being passed around, I submitted a subject access request to Capita asking for copies of all my pension records.

When I didn’t hear back within the 40-day limit, I contacted the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The ICO got back to me in late November to say it could not respond because of the volume of similar requests it has been inundated with. NHS England got back to me earlier this month to say the same thing.

Capita has yet to send me my full records, but NHS Pensions did forward my yearly totals which is of little help because it does not show what the breakdown is.

In one place, two digits have been typed incorrectly. In another, my salary from a job as a junior doctor is wrong. I don’t know how many other typing errors there are.

Dr Mark Coley is a GP in Cheshire

At England’s LMC conference in November, BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey summed up the frustration: ‘Capita’s running of PCSE has proven to be an unmitigated disaster’.

It is not just the amount of time spent resubmitting paperwork to Capita that is frustrating GPs; those who have already retired may have received the wrong sum.

This could mean some retired GPs are due a reimbursement. But other GPs have unwittingly contributed too much, and could be hit with a penalty for having breached the tax-free limit.

The annual limit for pension pot growth is £40,000, and the lifetime allowance is slightly over £1m. Anything above this sum will incur a tax charge. Without accurate data, GPs do not know what their total pension is, which means they will be unclear about whether they should continue adding to it or not.

Paul Gordon, an independent financial adviser at medical finance firm MacArthur Gordon, says: ‘GPs are being landed with tax charges after dates for filing tax returns have passed, and they are completely unaware of the charges in some cases. It’s down to information not being processed despite being forwarded.’

Capita has treated GPs with pretty much total contempt by losing their data

Dr Nicholas Grundy

Capita says it is working through the issues with NHS England.

A spokesperson says: ‘Historically, not all GPs have been aware of the requirement to send annual pension documentation to NHS England, and the systems and processes that were used were inconsistent. We are working with NHS England to address these issues.’

Yet there’s a chance that damage has already been done.

Dr Peter Holden, a former negotiator with the BMA’s GP Committee for 15 years, noticed an error on his pension records three years ago, which didn’t include information about a past job. Had the error not been corrected he would have been worse off by £10,000 a year on his own pension, another £5,000 a year for his widow, and would have lost out on a £30,000 lump sum.

He says: ‘We’re talking about serious amounts of money. GPs have paid 30% of their incomes for pensions. If fixing the problem costs the Treasury, it costs the Treasury. It’s their incompetence.’

But ultimately, GPs are being left to clear up this mess.

Dr Grundy says: ‘Our view at GP Survival is that Capita has treated GPs with pretty much total contempt by losing their data. We’ve uncovered the scale of the problem to them and their only solution is for everyone to do all of their paperwork again.’

‘If you had to submit the same paperwork to Capita four times and they’d lost it each time, you’d be pretty angry.’


 How the pensions problems emerged

• August 2015

Capita signs the Primary Care Support England (PCSE) contract representing a £330m, seven-year deal to look after administrative and back-office functions for around 39,000 primary care providers

• September 2017

Campaign group GP Survival starts working to highlight the mishandling of pension data, including submitting subject access requests on behalf of GPs

• May 2018

The BMA writes to GPs telling them NHS England has found ‘significant errors’ in pension records

• May 2018

The National Audit Office publishes a scathing report criticising Capita’s delivery of the PCSE contract

• September 2018

NHS England says it has appointed PwC to review all pension records

• October 2018

In a letter leaked to Pulse, NHS England warned primary care leads that a review of NHS pensions could have a significant impact on a ‘large proportion of the GP community’

• October 2018

GP Survival writes an open letter to NHS England about the pensions fiasco, which is signed by over 500 GPs

• November 2018

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey describes Capita’s running of PCSE as an ‘unmitigated disaster’

• 2019

NHS England expected to publish review of all data

Readers' comments (17)

  • Capita always cashed my cheques but did not record any be payment at all and several other payments were not recorded correctly. When I queried the lack of e mail confirmations, they wrongly stated that all payments had been processed. A follow-up e mail took them weeks to reply to, but the spreadsheet they sent showed the missing and inaccurate entries.
    Quite separately, I sent them a PD2 form to complete, which I need to apply for a Cash Equivalent Transfer Value (CETV) for divorce purposes. After 6 weeks it had not arrived. Other than acknowledging my complaint, I heard nothing more. I tried to ring and they could not put me through to the complaints desk. In desperation, I turned to NHS ENGLAND and the Parliament and Health Services ombudsman (both hopeless) and NHS Pensions, who are now trying to sort this out. It has held my divorce up by at least 3 months, in addition to the 3 months I must wait for a CETV. Capita are beyond disgraceful and it’s appalling that no one has stepped in to remove them. They have already admitted that they regret taking up the job.

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  • The whole thing is a disgrace. I have paid in to my pension for 24 years and counting- I have now been trying to find ANY figures (for any of this period) for my pension for over 18 months. Every time I ring they are "looking into it" or "recalculating" or "cannot process it currently". The last tax year I can find figures for Capita made a profit of 500 million. There is absolutely not way they should be allowed to spin profits whilst their unlucky "customers" get fined (through extra tax) due to Capita's incompetence. The thing that makes it even worse is NHSEs refusal to accept any kind of responsibility- if you try to complain to Capita they say "speak to NHSE- they commission the service", if you speak to NHSE they said "speak to Capita, they provide the service"...... I personally don't care if Capita regret taking on the contract- they did and they need to provide the service. They can't claim poverty (IE the amount they're charging being too low to do a proper job) when they're turning a 500 million profit annually with a nice little dividend for shareholders.

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  • Just Your Average Joe

    Capita should be fined 500 million and this given to all GPs, as they have inconvenienced everyone's tax returns and caused stress to everyone.

    They should be forced to hired adequate and qualified staff to process all the data, complaints and requests for information within the next 3 months and get themselves back on track - at a cost to Capita.

    Once done they should be relieved of the contract.

    Capita should then be on a banned list and never awarded another government contract again.

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  • Pension is pay. If our take home pay was thousands of pounds out each year we would be up in arms
    Many of us put up with half time on call payments as junior doctors only because we had a good pension to look forward to and a large part of why we accepted the nGMS contract all those years ago
    There is a real feeling our expected pensions could fold in the future
    Sorting this is vital and should be treated in contract negotiations as such with hard negotiating on a date where by we can expect this to be sorted
    I can’t believe how much crap we are putting up with as a profession with every area of our work and future a shambles
    We can’t magic up new GPs in time for the 2019 contract but we could insist on a functioning pensions system

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  • Vinci Ho

    Confucius wrote in Analects, in face of adversity ,’ if this matter can still be tolerated , nothing worse will not be tolerated by people’ (是可忍,孰不可忍)
    If this is not war time , I do not know when it is .

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  • the reason there is no impetus from those in the BMA or RCGP is because most of them are on the older scheme and have nothing to lose - there is no will amongst our leaders (who dont represent coal-face young GPs at the beginning of their careers) who are also too london-centric.
    Now we work til we are 68 (probably 70) and get taxed double on what we pay in, and get a fraction of it back. i am only 34 and thinking of pulling out already.

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  • Took Early Retirement

    QB- don't worry, the BMA has NEVER represented coal-face GPs and never will. It is a spineless quisling organisation led by donkeys.

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  • Thank you Pulse for researching and printing this excellent article.

    This resonates with me - as do the comments of my colleagues - as I am also trying fruitlessly to get my total rewards statement and being bounced in between the NHSPA (pensions) and PCSE (cRapita).

    This is a total & utter disgrace and no other profession would put up with this.

    The BMA must act strongly and quickly to avert further demoralisation and haemorrhage of precious but increasingly urinated offed GPs.

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  • how convenient for the government to employ such an allegedly incompetent company such as ths. Never heard of such incompetence in any walk of life, another set up no doubt!

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  • Too be fair to Crapita, the pension regulations are ridiculously complex, the rules have been repeatedly changed, and Crapita have been deluged with work as GPs try to cope. HMG shares the blame.

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