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GPs concerned over potential huge charges due to pensions underpayments

The BMA has met Capita over concerns that GP practices that have underpaid pension contributions could have large amounts of money deducted from their core payments as soon as May, Pulse understands.

Recent guidance from Primary Care Support England (PCSE), run by Capita, says that any under or overpayment in pension contributions will be automatically charged or repaid when PCSE adjusts pensions information around the end of this month.

However, GPs are concerned that this could lead to large sums of money being automatically clawed back from some GP practices at short notice because Capita has begun to rectify errors in pension records – and that this could threaten their financial stability.

The BMA met with Capita on Friday over these concerns, and told Pulse it is calling for PCSE to offer an ‘appropriate repayment plan so as not to destabilise a practice’s financial position’ if practices need to pay significant amounts – adding that any practice that is due a refund should be ‘paid without undue delay’.

It is not known whether historical underpayments will be taken into account or whether it will just be those from the most recent financial year.

The NHS Business Services Authority, which collections contributions and calculates pensions, said ‘recovering arrears of GP contributions from GP surgeries has been standard practice since the inception of the 2004 GP contract’.

It said the date when payments are taken from GP practices depends on when they submitted their annual end-of-year forms, and that GPs who submitted the forms by the 4 March deadline can expect payment to be paid or deducted around May.

Chair of GP Survival campaign group Dr Nicholas Grundy said: ‘You might be a small practice who suddenly has to pay three lots of arrears for doctors who don’t even work there anymore. That destabilises a practice financially. And similarly, for individuals. I’ve come across cases where people owe £16,000 going back 10 years.

‘The pensions position that you need to pay it all immediately is, I’m afraid, unrealistic.’

Dr Grundy said he believed the reason why payments were unexpectedly being taken at this point in time was because Capita had begun to rectify errors in pension records.

He said: ‘This is Capita beginning to address the last five years of failure on their part, and NHSBSA choosing to penalise individual members financially for Capita’s historic failings.’

Capita confirmed to Pulse it is following the NHS Pensions guidance that ‘any over or under payment due needs to be taken on the next available practice payment’.

Dr Krishna Kasaraneni, BMA GP committee executive team lead for workforce, said: ‘Significant delays in processing changes in payments and in administering the pensions scheme means that some practices are having to pay large adjustments.

‘No practice should lose out due to such failures in the administration of the pension scheme but, if a substantial sum of money is owed by a practice, we would expect Primary Care Support England to offer an appropriate repayment plan so as not to destabilise a practice’s financial position.’

He said the process for managing over and underpayments by GP practices needs to be clear and transparent.

Dr Kasaraneni added: ‘The BMA believes that, to be effective, the regulations must include adequate mechanisms for dealing with these so that any financial impact on practice finances is minimised. Refunds of contributions facilitated through contract payments made to the practice should, wherever possible, be paid without undue delay.’

A spokesperson for NHSBSA said: ‘At year end every GP must, in accordance with the NHS Pension Scheme (NHSPS) regulations, complete a certificate or form declaring the totality of their GP pensionable income.

‘If, upon review, they underpaid contributions because they underestimated their pensionable income or applied the incorrect tiered rate from the outset, they must pay any arrears of contributions immediately.

The spokesperson added: ‘The NHSBSA is aware that some GP members of the NHSPS have not been complying with this statutory requirement going back several years which has resulted in them owing arrears of NHSPS employee contributions.

‘Where, as a result of not complying with statutory pension legislation, a GP’s pensionable income was understated it also means that the surgery has underpaid NHSPS employer contributions. Arrears of contributions may also arise where a GP surgery has failed to submit a declaration estimating the pensionable income of their GPs prior to the start of the year.

‘Recovering arrears of GP contributions from GP surgeries has been standard practice since the inception of the 2004 GP Contract and is legislated for under the statutory NHSPS Regulations and the GMS Statement of Financial Entitlement Order.’

Since private provider Capita became responsible for administering pension contributions in 2015, there have been recurring issues with pensions data and mistrust in the system from GPs.

In September last year, NHS England launched a review after identifying significant issues with Capita failing to keep accurate records of data held for pensionable earnings and those for pension contributions, dating back a decade. 

A leaked NHS England memo, seen by Pulse in October, showed the review could affect a large number of GPs.

Last week, Capita were forced to extend the deadline for GPs to submit their pension forms after GPs reported struggles with the website.