Direction status - NHS pensions for non-NHS organisation employees

Direction status allows individuals who are not working in the NHS to remain members of the NHS pension scheme. This guidance covers the types of status and how you and your organisation can apply.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Monday 7 September 2020
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Organisations which are not NHS employing authorities can apply to the Secretary of State for Health to request that its employees, or some of its employees, have access to the NHS pension scheme. This is referred to as a ‘direction’.

You can ask your payroll department or the relevant pensions agency if your organisation has direction status. Your contract of employment should confirm your pension position.


Working for a section 7(1) direction employer

This facility is generally used to cover medical staff working in Government departments.

You will be automatically admitted to the NHS pension scheme, providing you satisfy the other conditions required to enable membership of the scheme.

Under Section 7(1), access to the NHS pension scheme is available even if you do not have any previous NHS pension scheme membership. 


Working under section 7(2) direction

This facility can be used to cover all employees or just nominated employees of an institution.

If the institution is covered by a direction you will still need to complete an application form to remain in the NHS pension scheme. This is usually done through your employer.

Conditions you need to meet to qualify for section 7(2):

  • you need to apply to remain in the NHS pension scheme within three months of the commencement of your employment
  • you must have contributed to the NHS pension scheme at some time within the 12 months leading up to the commencement of your direction employment.

In addition, under Section 7(2) access to the NHS pension scheme is only possible if you satisfy the usual eligibility requirements.


Types of institutions that can apply for section 7(2) direction status

The Secretary of State for Health will usually only consider applications where an employer fulfils certain criteria, i.e. that the employer provides NHS related services and is from the voluntary or not for profit sectors.

These generally include:

  • social enterprises
  • hospices
  • care in the community services
  • university medical schools
  • institutes involved in research.


Open and closed directions

An ‘open’ direction applies to an organisation which is able to offer the NHS pension to all eligible employees.

A ‘closed’ direction applies to an organisation which is able to offer the NHS pension scheme only to individuals who are involved in a transfer from the NHS to a non-NHS organisation. The NHS pension scheme will not be available to individuals who are recruited at a later date.

The term ‘closed’ direction may also cover circumstances where access to the NHS pension scheme is available for certain individuals or for individuals performing certain duties, ie, not all employees of the organisation.


Applying for direction status

If you are working in England and Wales your employer can apply – your application should be made on the 'initial application details' document.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland you should write directly to the Scottish Public Pensions Agency or the Health and Social Care respectively.

The pensions agencies will consider individual applications if you wish to apply individually. Applications should be made directly to the relevant pensions agency.

If your employer does have direction status, but did not tell you at the start of your employment, you can apply retrospectively. You will need to provide evidence of this - the BMA may be able to assist you in making a claim.


What you are not covered for

If you are under direction, you will generally not be covered for redundancy or the NHS injury benefit scheme.

If you are a GP working for a direction employer, you can join the NHS pension scheme. However your pension will accrue on an ‘officer’ basis using the final salary method. It is not possible to accrue practitioner benefits while working for a direction employer.


Moving between UK nations

The application should be made directly to the relevant pensions agency in the nation that you will be working.

You will then be able to transfer your accrued pension rights between the native pension schemes.


Working in Scotland

Although direction arrangements are available to doctors working in medical schools in Scotland, the terms are different.

A direction is available in Scotland if you are:

  • purchasing added years or the unreduced lump sum (1995 section) and you take up a position in a medical school within three months of leaving the NHS
  • taking up a position as a lecturer or in clinical research and your contract begins within 12 months of leaving NHS employment.


Working or volunteering overseas for a year

It might be possible for you to apply for direction status to continue your pension scheme membership while you are away, but your application will be subject to the usual criteria for granting section 7(2) direction status.

If you take up an overseas assignment via the government-funded Health Partnership Scheme (which is managed by Tropical Health & Education Trust) you may be entitled to continue membership of the NHS pension scheme. This will be with the employee and employer pension contributions paid by the HPS. 

Additionally, some voluntary organisations already hold direction status. If you are working for Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) they will apply to the pension agency for continued access to the scheme and they will pay both employee and employer contributions.

If you are volunteering for the British Red Cross they will provide you with a form to complete to opt you into the NHS pension scheme and they will deduct the employee contributions from your salary.

It is possible that you may be required to meet the cost of both the employee and the employer contributions during the period of your direction status.