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
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
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’
NHS England expected to publish review of all data