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​NHS apologises as payments delayed due to rising retiree numbers

Exclusive Retiring GPs may have to wait nearly two months to access their pension pots due to a huge backlog at the NHS pensions agency.

The NHS Business Services Authority has apologised to as members wait around six weeks for their pensions to be processed.

Delays have been met with concern among retiring GPs, who worry that they will not be able to access funds when they need them.

The backlog comes whilst NHS England looks into reasons why GPs are retiring earlier, including looking at whether this is linked to a reduction in the lifetime allowance, to £1m, from 1 April 2016.

NHSBSA said that since the introduction of the new scheme the NHS Pensions team has been ’dealing with a large volume of change’.

A spokesperson said: ’Along with the new scheme and the introduction of a new operating system the various tax changes to Annual Allowance and Life Time Allowance have also caused large increases in volume.’

But they claimed that ’the volumes of awards that miss deadlines are low compared to the volume that is being processed’, adding that ’there is often a reason behind the delay – for example missing information’.

The spokesperson added: ’We apologise to any of our members that have experienced a delay and would like to assure them that we are doing everything we can to speed up and improve this part of our process.’

An NHSBSA letter to a retirng GP, seen by Pulse, said: ‘We are currently working in strict date order for practitioners based on the retirement date, we are currently behind but are working hard to try catch up with the workload.

’We will process your award as soon as possible however, we are roughly six weeks behind with processing practitioner awards.’

One retiring GP, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: ‘[Given] that I applied as early as they allow, this makes a mockery of the dates they give on their info, and leaves a sour taste after working full time for 35 years.

‘Retiring has been an incredibly difficult process with all the hoops you have to go through. One jobsworth along the way even said she was giving me permission to stop practising – how they were going to force me to work I can’t fathom.’

Dr David Bailey, the deputy chair of the GPC pensions subcommittee said that the backlog has been caused partly by a new computer system coming in at the beginning of 2016, but partly down to the ‘sheer number’ of practitioners now looking to take their pension early.  

Dr Bailey said: ‘The number of GPs wanting to retire has spiralled significantly. A lot of this is directly attributable to the changes in tax breaks brought in by the Government.

‘While I think that the pensions agency is accurate and there’s no danger of any loss of money, members are perfectly within his rights to be upset to not be able to access funds, and sometimes quite considerable funds, which they have paid in over many years.’

Why are GPs retiring early?

A report into why so many GPs are retiring before the age of 50, commissioned by NHS England, recently found burnout and overwork to be two key components.

NHS England is also looking into the impact of the annual allowance threshold changing.

The annual allowance – the increase in value of a GP’s pension each year before more income tax is charged – was lowered for the highest earners from April.

Previously, the threshold was £40,000 for everyone but the highest earners will soon be paying tax on any pension increases of more than £10,000.

At the same time, the lifetime allowance – the total you can build up in your pension pot without paying tax – reduced from £1.25m to £1m, having previously been £1.8m in 2010.

The NHS pension scheme has 1.5 million members, out of which 60,000 are self-employed GPs or dentists.