The BMA has successfully assisted five GP practices in significantly reducing years of unsubstantiated service charge claims demanded by NHS Property Services Ltd (NHSPS)1 – with one practice seeing NHSPS’ claim against them reduced by more than £400,000, a reduction of more than 80%.
The landmark cases, brought in 2020, were started after practices began to struggle to afford soaring service charges2 set by NHSPS, despite there being no prior agreement or explanation for the price hike.
BMA lawyers challenged the NHS landlord on two issues: the legal basis on which the charges were being imposed, and the magnitude of the fees.
During the first phase of the case, the BMA and the practices sought a legal declaration that NHSPS could not rely on its Consolidated Charging Policy3 as a basis for issuing the new charges, and that the imposition of the higher charges was therefore, unlawful.
Despite the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the extraordinary pressure this placed GPs under, NHSPS launched a countersuit against each of the practices demanding recovery of the historical service charges, transforming the dispute into a major commercial lawsuit.
In June 2020, NHSPS admitted that its charging policy had not been incorporated into or retrospectively varied the practices’ legal terms of occupation and existing service charge obligations. The BMA then assisted the five practices in settling with NHSPS the fees and service charges sums outside of court, for the period between 2013/14 and 2019/20, securing reductions on the amounts claimed by NHSPS for the five practices ranging from £25,000 to more than £400,00 – a total reduction of more than £750,000.
The BMA has created guidance for practices in similar positions, to help advise them on what to do if they are also facing disproportionate service charges.4
Dr Gaurav Gupta, BMA England GP Committee premises lead, said:
“I am delighted that, with support from the BMA, these five practices have been able to achieve long-awaited reductions to their NHSPS service charge claims.
“This is a ground-breaking lawsuit, and these settlements vindicate the practices' assertion that, for years, NHSPS has been claiming unduly high levels of service charges without sufficient reason or justification.
“We’ve heard of practices facing serious financial burdens due to NHSPS charges and even worrying that they might not be able to keep their doors open, so this outcome should give hope of a fair resolution to the other NHSPS tenants struggling with rising service charges and resulting disputes.
“At a time of unprecedented pressure on the health service, the NHS simply cannot afford to lose any more GPs to what is clearly an avoidable situation. The BMA will continue to work with GPs, NHSPS, and other stakeholders to find a fair resolution for NHSPS tenants.”
A spokesperson for one of the practices said: “It’s been such a relief to know that years of stress and frustration are now finally over. If we had paid what we were being asked to by NHSPS, then our practice would not have survived, which would have impacted thousands of patients. We couldn’t have done this without the BMA’s support and the lawyers who assisted us on their behalf.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.
- NHS Property Services (NHSPS) is responsible for NHS premises and is owned by the Department of Health and Social Care, with Secretary of State for Health and Social care as its sole shareholder.
- Many GP surgeries lease out buildings owned by the NHS. These lease arrangements are managed by NHS Property Services Ltd. The service charges are the fees that NHSPS request in exchange for letting GPs run their practices out of their buildings.
- The Consolidated Charging Policy was created by NHSPS in 2016. Its aim is to levy charges against surgeries for rent, maintenance and service charges on the basis of recovering all costs.
- The BMA’s guidance can be found here.