Unfairly affected by NHS pension annualisation? Help the BMA legally challenge the rules.

Earlier this year, there was an outcry amongst GPs as the implications of annualisation rules introduced in the 2015 NHS pension scheme became clear. Find out about what the BMA are doing and how you can help yourself and your colleagues.

Annualisation is a way of extrapolating part-time earnings to a notional whole time equivalent if you are deemed not to have worked a full pension year. So, rather than using your actual earned income to determine your employee pension contribution tier rate, your ‘annualised’ pensionable income is calculated to determine your contribution tier. This often results in GPs paying the top tier of employee contribution, a potentially costly increase, without any extra pension benefits.

It affects any GP who has what’s known as ‘interrupted service’ during a pension year. The pension year runs from 1 April to 31 March and, broadly speaking, a break in service is seen as break of more than three months between locum posts, or breaks of more than one month between salaried or partner posts. Additionally, gaps in service at the beginning or end of the scheme year will result in annualising.

Not only is the current application of annualisation bizarre, but there are concerns that the break in service rules also unfairly affect those on breaks because of ill-health, GP locums on maternity leave, and the BMA propose that they even discriminate on the basis of race, as there is higher representation of Black and Minority Ethnicity (BME) GPs amongst locums, and locums seem most at risk of being penalised by the current structure and rules of annualisation. The BMA reports that the findings of its annualisation survey support the conclusion that GPs who are women, disabled or BME are more likely to take breaks from work which trigger annualisation.

Indeed, many of you got in touch with the BMA and NASGP with stories of having to unexpectedly pay thousands more because of inadvertently falling foul of annualisation when you changed role mid-way through a pension year. And many had simply taken parental leave as locums.

The BMA was so concerned that it withdrew its guidance on annualisation and, led by Dr Krishan Aggarwal, deputy chair of the sessional GP subcommittee, has been busy raising a legal challenge.

Now the BMA need those affected to come forward so evidence can be presented to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS Business Authority (NHSBSA) of the unfair nature of annualisation, as part of the push for change, the aim being to refund any pension overpayments arising from annualisation and to remove annualisation altogether from the pension scheme.

So important stuff. What’s it going to take? At the moment this is at the ‘can we resolve this amicably?’ stage between the BMA and DHSC and NHSBSA. The stronger the test cases that can be presented, showing the unfair and discriminatory nature of annualisation, the more likely it is that this can be dealt with, without the need for court cases.

 How to respond

If you’ve been affected by annualisation, please look through the BMA case against annualisation from below (or open in a separate window) and consider adding the essential information, which will then be forwarded to the BMA pension and legal team. We’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible to add the relevant details. You’ll also be able to link through to a letter from the BMA with more detailed information.

The BMA pension and legal team will review the submissions and select a few to be test cases. The team will contact those GPs to firm up the details of your circumstances.

This is worth doing whether or not you’re a BMA member. If you and the BMA did want to push forward with you as a test case, you would need to join the BMA in order that they could represent you.

If you need any more information about putting yourself forward as a test case, email pensions@bma.org.uk

Sara was a salaried GP for 4 years, and has worked as a locum GP since 2001 in over sixty different GP practices. As well as NASGP’s appraisal and revalidation lead, and mother to twins, she is also the brains behind NASGP’s Practeus platform.

Sara’s an avid reader, especially fiction, history and trains (yes, trains); loves walking, pilates and beans on toast with cheese.

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