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NHS Pensions still ‘unclear’ on locum pension changes after implementation

NHS Pensions has been unable to provide ‘hard information’ on the impact of annualisation on locum GPs despite changes implemented two weeks ago ago, the BMA has said.

The BMA’s GP Committee said it has been having ‘repeated correspondence’ with NHS Pensions around the ‘annualisation’ of pensions contributions, which see locum GPs in the 2015 scheme having to pay the highest level of pensions contributions regardless of their actual income. 

The rules came into place on 1 April, but Pulse understands the pensions body has not heeded warnings of potentially negative consequences for GPs despite the BMA and NHS Pensions being in regular contact. 

BMA sessional GPs sub-committee deputy chair Dr Krishan Aggarwal told Pulse the BMA is still ‘unclear’ on how annualisation will apply to locum GPs with different working patterns, especially for those working on the weekends.

Prior to the changes, locums were allowed to stop working for up to three months – against one month for salaried GPs who are part of the scheme – before being subject to annualisation.

But following a consultation on proposals to change NHS pension scheme regulations the Government decided to remove the three-month rule so that all members of the scheme have their tiered rate calculated using the same rules.

This means that a locum GP who takes a day off will have their salary calculated as if they had worked every day in the year.

The BMA previously warned against the removal of the three-month rule, as it will discriminate against GP locums, many of which are from groups who have legally protected characteristics (ethnic minorities, women, and those with disabilities).

Dr Aggrawal said: ‘The BMA has never agreed to the practice of annualisation and takes issue with the way in which the regulations are being interpreted and applied. Many GPs are concerned by the lack of hard information available on the impact of changes to their pension scheme, with what information they do receive lacking in detail and clarity.

‘Instead, GPs have to rely on finding out via social media or by contacting the BMA. With regards to locum GPs, we remain unclear how annualisation will apply to those who have different working patterns.’

According to existing guidance, freelance GP locums ‘can choose whether or not to “pension” their GMS, PMS, or APMS work performed over a weekend’.

An NHSBSA spokesperson said: ‘The NHSBSA/NHS Pensions can confirm that it has been in regular dialogue with the BMA regarding “annualising” and has been providing them with guidance.

‘The NHSBSA/NHS Pensions, as the “scheme manager”, is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Scheme. However, it is not responsible for making NHS pensions policy or rules. Therefore we cannot comment on Government policy or in respect of the BMA’s views regarding annualising.’

They added: ‘We can however confirm that NHS pensionable service in respect of a freelance GP locum is subject to them completing the relevant pension forms on time and paying NHS Pension Scheme contributions during a contract for services with a GP surgery.

‘Where for example, a GP locum is contracted by an APMS contractor to deputise for an absent APMS GP over a weekend the GP locum may choose to regard this as pensionable service subject to completing the relevant pension forms and paying NHS Pension Scheme contributions during their contract for services.’

National Association of Sessional GPs chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse said: ‘[The lack of clarity on the changes] is pretty bad – although it’s not actually NHS Pensions that sets the rule but the Government. There was a consultation last December and it sounds like pretty much everybody’s opinion were thrown out and they’re just going ahead and doing it anyway.

‘The Government just works slowly to necessarily be connected with the workers on the ground. I think it’s pretty shocking that nobody actually takes into account the human factor and the stress involved with something like this.’

How will I be affected by the changes?

  • Freelance GP locums

Freelance GP locums who are members of the 2015 Scheme and who are not in pensionable service on 1 April 2019 , or on 31 March 2020, or who have breaks of any length during the year, must annualise their pensionable income to set their tiered employee contribution rate. Therefore all breaks must be factored in by a 2015 Scheme freelance GP when annualising their pensionable income under the ‘add then annualise’ method when setting their tiered rate.

Freelance GP locums who are members of the 1995 Section or the 2008 Section are not subject to annualising. Their tiered rate in year 2019/20 is based on their aggregate GP pensionable income.

  • Salaried GPs

Salaried GPs are subject to the same annualising rules as freelance GP locums. That is, if they are 2015 Scheme members they are subject to annualising and if they are 1995 or 2008 Section members they are not.

This means, for example, if a 2015 Scheme salaried GP commences their first pensionable post on 10 April 2019 (i.e. has non-pensionable service of nine days) and remains in continuous pensionable employment until 31 March 2020, they would annualise as follows:

Actual 2019/20 salaried GP pensionable income ÷ 356 days pensionable service in 2019/20 x 365 day

  • Portfolio GPs

2015 Scheme portfolio GPs (i.e a GP who is both a salaried GP and a freelance GP locum in 2019/20) are subject to annualising. In accordance with the ‘add then annualise’ rule they must aggregate their total GP pensionable income in 2019/20 and divide this amount by actual days of pensionable service, and then multiply by 365 days. For example, if a 2015 Scheme salaried GP has a pensionable post from 10 April 2019 until 31 August 2019 (144 days) and then has several freelance locum GP posts from 1 November 2019 until 31 March 2020 totalling 90 days pensionable service, their total pensionable service in 2019/20 is 234 days. They would annualise as follows:

Actual 2019/20 portfolio GP pensionable income ÷ 234 days pensionable service in 2019/20 x 365 days

1995 or 2008 Section portfolio GPs are not subject to annualising.

Source: The National Association of Sessional GPs