Authorised absences and your pension

Authorised absence is where you take unpaid leave from work for an agreed period – find out how this effects your pension pot, how long you can take and under what circumstances.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Friday 29 October 2021
Piggybank illustration

There are a number of reasons why you may need to take longer bouts of absence from work.

If you need to take authorised absence, you should apply directly to your employer who will make the decision whether to accept your application.

If your employer has approved your period of authorised absence then it is up to you whether you pay pension contributions during the absence or not.

 

Contributing to your pension

If you decide to continue contributing to your pension during your absence, your service (in respect of 1995/2008 section accrual) will accrue at the same rate as applied immediately before the break. If you were whole-time this will be on a whole-time basis and if you were part-time this will be on a part-time basis.

In the 2015 pension scheme, you will be credited with the same level of pensionable pay as you earned before the break began.

The period will be treated as pensionable for the purposes of assessing your pensionable service and pensionable salary.​

What amount of absence can be treated as pensionable service?

Providing you have paid contributions continuously during the first six months of your absence, you can continue to pension a further period of up to 18 months.

This means that you can pension a period of authorised absence for a total of two years.

Does my employer pay contributions during my absence?

If you decide to treat the absence as pensionable then during the first six months of the absence you will continue to pay your share of the pension contributions.

Employee and employer pension contributions are based on your pensionable pay in the 365 days immediately prior to the period of authorised absence.

Your employer is obliged to pay the employer’s share of the contributions. Your employer cannot refuse to pay the contributions once they have agreed to the break being treated as authorised.

After six months you are responsible for meeting the full cost of the pension contributions payable both by the employee and the employer. You will therefore need to pay your own regular tiered contribution plus the employer’s contribution.

Can I repay the contributions once I return to work?

No. The pension contributions should be paid every month to your employer.

You will need to confirm arrangements for the collection of the contributions with your employer before your period of absence.

What if I die during the absence?

If you have elected for the period to be treated as pensionable and you die during your absence then death in service benefits will apply.

Not contributing to your pension

If you decide not to keep contributing to your pension during your absence, this period will be treated as a break in pensionable service.

It will be entirely ignored during any assessment of your pensionable service, pensionable salary and pension accrual.

Can I decide not to pay contributions then later opt in?

No. You cannot opt into the scheme during an absence from work. You would not be able to opt back into the pension scheme until you return to pensionable NHS employment.

Can I decide to pay contributions then later opt out?

Yes. You can opt out of the scheme at any time. You will not be able to opt back into the pension scheme until you return to pensionable NHS employment.

What if I die during the absence?

If the period is non-pensionable and you die during your absence you will be treated as a deferred member of the scheme. 

Added years, additional pension and mental health officers

I am buying added years

If you have elected for the period to be treated as pensionable you will need to continue to contribute to your added years unless you elect to terminate your contract. Your added years will continue to accrue at the same rate as applied immediately before the period of authorised absence.

If you elect to terminate your added years contract you will not be able to start a new contract at a later date.

If you have elected for the period to be treated as non-pensionable then you will not accrue added years during the period of the absence.

If you return to pensionable NHS employment within 365 days you will be able to continue with your added years contract. This will have been reduced to reflect that contributions have not been paid during your absence.

If you return to pensionable NHS employment 365 days or more after having last contributed to the added years contract, it will be deemed to have terminated the day before your authorised leave commenced. You will not be able to start another added years contract.

I am buying additional pension

If you have elected for the period to be treated as pensionable you will need to continue to contribute to your additional pension contract unless you elect to terminate your contract.

Your additional pension will continue to accrue at the same rate as applied immediately before the period of authorised absence.

If you elect to terminate your additional pension you may be able to start a new contract at a later date.

If you have elected for the period to be treated as non-pensionable then you will not accrue additional pension during the period of the absence.

If you return to pensionable NHS employment within 365 days, you will be able to continue with your additional pension contract. It will have been reduced to reflect the fact that contributions have not been paid during the absence.

If you return to pensionable NHS employment 365 days or more after having last contributed to your additional pension contract, it will be deemed to have terminated the day before your authorised leave commenced.

I have mental health officer status

If you are on a period of authorised leave and have elected to pay the contributions to cover that period, the service accrued will be recorded as MHO (mental health officer) type service. It will count towards your qualification for MHO benefits.

If you have more than 20 calendar years in an MHO type job and your service is subject to doubling, this doubling will continue during any period of authorised leave where you have agreed to pay pension contributions.

If the period is being treated as non-pensionable, or the career break lasts for more than two years, you will need to rejoin the scheme within five years of having left in order to continue to be entitled to MHO status.