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: Friday 8 September 2023
Piggybank illustration

Organisations which are not NHS employing authorities can apply to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to request that its employees, or some of its employees, have access to the 2015 career average revalued earnings (CARE) 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 is generally used to cover staff working in university medical schools, the charitable sector and other voluntary bodies.

A section 7(2) direction 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.

How do I qualify?

You need to apply to remain in the NHS pension scheme within three months of the commencement of your employment. Plus, you must have been eligible to have contributed to the NHS pension scheme at some time within the 12 months leading up to the commencement of your direction employment (even if you actually elected to opt out of doing so).

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

What institutions can apply?

The secretary of state for health will usually only consider applications where an employer fulfils certain criteria. For example, 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 new recruits.

A ‘closed’ direction applies to an organisation which is able to offer the NHS pension scheme 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. Individuals whose employment is transferred from an NHS to non NHS employer under TUPE (transfer of undertakings (protection of employment)) will be covered by fair deal which operates under a 'golden thread’ arrangement so if your employment is transferred multiple times you are able to remain in the NHS pension scheme throughout.  

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 (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 via the NHS Pensions' guide to applying to become a direction/determination/New Fair Deal employing authority (EA).

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 may be able to  apply to join retrospectively. You will need to provide evidence of this - the BMA may be able to assist you in making a claim.

Changes to your circumstances

I am moving between UK nations and taking up non-NHS employment

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

For example, if you are currently contributing to the NHS pension scheme in England and Wales but take up employment in a medical school in Northern Ireland, your application for direction status would be made to the HSC. You will then be able to transfer your accrued pension rights from the NHS pension scheme to the HSC pension scheme.

I am moving overseas for a year

You might be able to continue your pension scheme membership, but your application will be subject to the usual criteria for granting Section 7(2) direction status.

Some voluntary organisations already hold direction status. If you are working for voluntary services overseas, 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.

What if I retire and return to work?

If you have retired due to:

  • ill health or
  • the interests of the efficiency of the service or
  • you are a doctor with mental health officer status

then your post retirement earnings from an employment with a direction employer would be treated as relevant post retirement NHS earnings, and your NHS pension may be abated. View our guidance on returning to work.

I am a GP who has started working for a direction employer

You can join the NHS pension scheme, though your pension will accrue on an ‘officer’ basis. This will be relevant for any 1995/2008 section benefits you have with final salary linking. GP benefits accrued in the legacy scheme will only continue to be revalued by the consumer prices index plus 1.5% if you continue in a practitioner pensionable role in the 2015 CARE (career average revalued earnings scheme).  

A flexibilities value earnings credit may apply to ensure that the 1995/2008 GP flexibilities that were provided under the legacy scheme continues to be protected.

It is not possible to accrue ‘practitioner’ benefits while working for a direction employer.

You will be able to contribute to the NHS pension scheme up to whole time in relation to any NHS pensionable officer role held (including the direction employer role) and additionally contribute to the NHS via any eligible practitioner role.

Contributions to the 2015 CARE scheme are calculated separately for each officer employment held. In addition, the contributions are separately calculated for any NHS pensionable practitioner posts held.