Only one in four GP pension records for 2017/18 are up to date, which could leave GPs with unexpected tax bills, experts have warned.
NHS Services Business Authority (NHS BSA) revealed that just 26% of pension records for GPs in England – which are the responsibility of Primary Care Services England, run by Capita – had been updated as of 31 March 2018.
The revelation was made following a freedom of information (FOI) request made to NHS BSA by financial services company Quilter.
The BMA denounced the bureaucratic delays, saying the lack of information was putting GPs at higher risk of unexpected tax charges on pensions at a time when some are already cutting their hours.
When asked how many GP records were incomplete for 2017/18, NHSBSA said it currently holds 42,451 ‘active practitioner records’ in England, of which a quarter (11,232) ‘are updated to 31 March 2018’.
The deadline for electing for ‘scheme pays’ for 2017/18 – which allows GPs to pay their tax bills out of their final pensions instead of paying up-front – has not yet passed, but pensions tax experts warn that many GPs will face unexpected bills, which will cause confusion.
A spokesperson for Quilter said: ‘NHS is very behind on record keeping of their pension schemes so many GPs will not have received an annual allowance statement for 2017/18 which should’ve been issued in October 2018.
‘What’s particularly worrying is that 2017/18 was a particularly bad year for GPs according to our advisers that are experts in the scheme so there could be a significant amount of GPs that don’t know they have an annual allowance charge for 17/18.
‘When annual allowance statements go out late like this, they cause confusion on how the member can settle their tax charge.
‘For example, this happened for 2016/17. Doctors were told they could get the scheme to pay their annual allowance as long as they get an application before 31 July 2018, but the letters were sent out after this date.
‘Some members will therefore assume that they can’t use scheme pays and take out mortgages etc to settle the debt. However, if the member wrote to the annual allowance team, they could still elect for scheme.’
Pulse has long reported how GPs have been affected by delays in updating their pensions pot records ever since PCSE took over the responsibility on behalf of NHS England.
It comes at the same time as the Government is carrying out a review of pensions and annual tax-free allowance rules, which are currently causing high-earning doctors to reduce their shifts in a bit to avoid charges for breaching the allowance.
Reports have suggested the Treasury will raise the threshold income at which high earners see their tax-free allowance tapered.
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said Capita’s failure to update pensions records means GPs might be left out of pocket because they may be unaware that they have breached their annual tax-free allowance on contributions.
He said: ‘It is a disgrace that bureaucratic delays are preventing so many GPs from accessing vital pension statements.
‘Quite simply, the body tasked with issuing these statements, the NHSBSA, is woefully under-resourced and unable to cope, while the involvement of Capita’s PCSE, which has a history of failure, just makes matters worse.’
He added: ‘The current pensions tax system is already far too complicated and opaque, however, without access to these statements family doctors will be completely blind to potentially huge tax charges.
‘Ultimately these failures only serve to exacerbate the wider pensions tax fiasco which has resulted in some doctors effectively having to pay to go to work.’
A Capita spokesperson said: ‘PCSE is working closely with NHS BSA and other partners to improve the clarity around pensions for GPs. Currently pensions forms can sometimes be filled in incorrectly or with data missing. PCSE will always work with GPs to correct these issues and help ensure their records are complete.
‘This year PCSE will launch a new service enabling GPs to submit their pensions certificates online. This will make the process more efficient, give GPs additional time to gather missing information and greater assurance that they have submitted all the required details by the deadline.’