The NHS missed its three-month deadline for issuing pension statements to more than 4,000 staff this year as the service struggles to cope with requests from doctors worried about tax bills.
Between January and September, the NHS pension scheme received 15,200 requests from hospital consultants for an annual allowance statement, which is needed to assess their tax position.
But one in four of those requests — or 3,824 — were not completed within the target timeframe, according to a freedom of information request response from the NHS Business Services Authority. Last year the scheme received 5,473 requests for statements from consultants, with all but 74 completed within the time limit.
A 2016 pensions shake-up reduced the annual allowance or the limit before tax charges apply, which tapers from £40,000 to £10,000 for those earning £110,000 or more. But the change has left senior doctors at greater risk of breaching the limit and some are being forced to pay marginal tax rates of more than 100 per cent.
Healthcare providers have warned that patients could be at risk as thousands of senior NHS doctors are refusing to take on extra shifts due to concerns the extra income will trigger pension tax bills.
“It is a disgrace that so many doctors are being left in the dark on pensions and the shocking number of breaches show the NHSBSA to be totally unable to provide what is vitally important information for so many doctors,” said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair of the British Medical Association, the doctors’ union.
GPs have also been affected by the issue. So far this year, the NHS has failed to issue 676 pension statements requests from family doctors within the three-month limit.
Since January the pension service has received more than 1,000 complaints from doctors over delayed statements.
“The BMA wrote to the Department of Health in the summer to highlight our concerns,” said Dr Nagpaul. “It is disappointing that we have so far seen no measurable improvements. It is clear the NHSBSA is woefully under resourced and unable to cope under the current arrangements.”
“We are seeing an increase in requests from members who need to make an assessment due to the ‘tapered’ annual allowance legislation or who are asking for statements for earlier tax years,” said the NHSBSA.
“We have been unable to issue some on-demand statements within three months. We aim to recover as quickly as possible and have significantly increased our staffing levels and are continuing to do so.”
The Department for Health declined to comment on the issue but said that NHS Trusts had recently been issued with guidance allowing them to provide more pension flexibility this tax year, including offering extra support and reimbursing staff who opt-out of their pension scheme.
“HM Treasury are also reviewing how the tapered annual allowance supports the delivery of public services such as the NHS,” added the Department.
The Pensions Regulator said: “We do not comment on individual pension schemes unless appropriate to do so.”
The NHSBSA said it did not expect the problems with the statements to be sorted until later this month “due to a continuing increase in requests”.
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