Opting out of the NHS pension scheme

Given increases to contributions and reduced annual and lifetime allowance limits, doctors are asking if they are better leaving the NHS pension scheme. The BMA can support you with your decision.
Location: England Wales
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Tuesday 31 March 2020
Piggybank illustration

If you are thinking about opting out

  • It is possible to submit a written election to opt-out of the NHS pension scheme for future service.
  • If you have two or more years qualifying scheme membership this will result in you being treated as a deferred member of the scheme, in the same way as if you had left pensionable service with your employer.
  • A deferred pension is usually paid from your normal pension age.
  • Should you choose to opt out, your deferred benefits will increase annually in line with inflation.
  • Annual increases are applied in April and are determined by the CPI (consumer prices index) rate applicable at the end of the preceding September.
  • If you opt-out of the scheme with deferred benefits and have reached minimum pension age then you can choose to claim your deferred benefits early, provided you are no longer in NHS employment.
  • If you are still working in the NHS then you can draw your pension but you would need to take a break in service before returning to work.
  • If you do choose to take your benefits early they will be actuarially reduced.
  • You cannot take your deferred benefits on voluntary early retirement grounds, if you left the scheme before 31 March 2000.

 

Tax implications

  • The annual allowance restricts the level of pension savings that can be made in any one tax year with the benefit of full tax relief.
  • Whilst the government will allow the carry forward of any unused relief from up to three previous years, a number of members have been left with an unexpected tax bill. This has led some to opt-out of the NHS pension scheme in order to avoid this charge.
  • The standard lifetime allowance is the total amount of tax privileged pension savings that you are allowed to accumulate within registered pension schemes.
  • Once benefits are taken that exceed the SLA then a tax charge is levied. This reduction has again led to members opting out of the NHS pension scheme in order to negate or avoid this charge.

 

What benefits will be lost if you leave a pension scheme

When considering opting out of the NHS pension scheme it is extremely important to think about the impact this will have on the valuable associated benefits provided, for example the loss of the death in service gratuity (two times actual annual pay).

Furthermore, these benefits change once you have been a deferred member for longer than 12 months.

The key differences can be summarised as follows:

Death within 12 months of leaving the scheme Death after 12 months of leaving the scheme
Lump sum of three times annual pension. Lump sum of three times deferred pension.
No six month short term pension payable. No six month short term pension payable.
Widow's pension of 50% of tier two Ill Health Retirement Pension. Widow's pension of 50% members pension as at date of death.
Widower's or partner's pension of 50% Ill Health Retirement Pension (post 6 April 1988 membership only). Widower's or partner's pension of 50% members pension as at date of death (post 6 April 1988 membership only).
Dependant's pension of 25% of tier two Ill Health Retirement Pension (up to maximum of 50% for two or more dependants). Dependant's pension of 25% of deferred pension (up to maximum of 50% for two or more dependants).

It should also be understood that no enhancement is provided for a deferred member in any ill-health retirement.

The rules on the payment of a serious ill-health lump sum are no different for deferred members.

 

Think carefully - seek independent advice

Consequently, any decision to opt-out of future service should not be taken lightly. It is unlikely to be in the best interests of the vast majority of scheme members to make the decision to opt-out. 

Doctors must therefore balance the possible tax implications against the loss of pension and life assurance benefits.

BMA members should contact Chase de Vere for independent financial advice.