Returning to work after retirement

Guidance on returning to work after retirement including rules on retirement, taking a break in service and limits to working hours and NHS earnings.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Last reviewed: 15 November 2021
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If you are thinking of retiring and claiming your pension benefits but would like to keep working in the NHS, you can do so but will usually need to take a break from your pensionable employment.

Without a break in employment your pension will be suspended until you take the required break and not paid back in arrears.

You will usually need to resign from all your NHS posts in order to retire and claim your pension.

 

COVID-19

During the COVID pandemic, certain NHS pension scheme rules relating to the return to work requirements have been suspended. This includes the requirement to work no more than 16 hours during the first calendar month after the 24 hour break, if claiming 1995 section benefits. Find more details from NHS Pensions.

Although the 16 hours rule for 1995 section members has been suspended, those with concurrent roles who wish to retain one are still required to work for no more than 16 hours a week during the first calendar month after the 24 hour break in the ongoing role.

 

How to take the required break to access your NHS pension

I'm in the 1995 section

You must terminate your NHS employment in accordance with your employment contract or partnership agreement and you must not work in the NHS during the first 24 hours of your retirement.

  • If you return to work after a break of 24 hours then you must not work for more than 16 hours per week during the first calendar month.
  • After one calendar month there is no further restriction on the number of hours that you can work.
  • Alternatively, if you take a month’s break off and return to NHS employment, there are no further restrictions.
I’m in the 2008 or 2015 scheme
  • You must terminate your NHS employment in accordance with your employment contract or partnership agreement and you must not work in the NHS during the first 24 hours of your retirement.
  • You can return to work after a break of 24 hours and there is no restriction on the number of hours you can work.
What if I don't take a 24 hour break?

Your annual pension benefits will not be paid until you take the required break.

What if I work more than 16 hours per week in the first month after a break?

If you work more than 16 hours per week in an NHS role in the first calendar month after the 24 hour break, and are in the 1995 section, your pension will be suspended until you work 16 hours per week for a full calendar month.

The pension which is forfeited during the period of suspension is not paid as arrears once the pension is reinstated.

Annual leave

I have untaken annual leave to be paid in lieu - how does that affect my retirement?
  • Pensionable employment is extended by the period of untaken leave for which payment in lieu is made.
  • The date your NHS employment contract is terminated may be different from the last day of your pensionable employment.
  • You must retire from pensionable employment and have your contract terminated before becoming entitled to a pension.
Can I use annual leave as my break in service?

No - the regulations require that your contract has terminated.

Can I use annual leave to ensure that I work no more than 16 hours per week during the first month?

(1995 section members only)

No, unless you are only contracted to work for 16 hours per week or less in your re-employment contract. It is your responsibility to provide evidence to demonstrate that you have not been contracted to work for more than 16 hours per week.

How the 16 hours per week restriction applies to 1995 section retirements

  • You must work for no more than 16 hours in each week during the first calendar month. This is a weekly limit and not an average over the month.
  • You are not allowed, for example, to work for 32 hours one week and then take the next week off.
  • The start of the week will differ depending on which day of the week you retire on - for example, if your last day of service is a Monday, your 24 hours break will be on Tuesday and ’your week‘ will be between Wednesday and Tuesday.
  • You cannot use annual leave to work no more than 16 hours per week, unless you are only contracted to work for 16 hours per week.

 

Exceptions from the usual retire and return to work rules

I'm a secondary care doctor in the 1995 section

If you are a secondary care doctor contributing to the 1995 section and have multiple NHS posts, it is possible to terminate some of your posts and remain working provided that the contract(s) retained total less than 16 hours a week.

In this situation you do not need to take a break from the remaining posts of 16 hours a week or less and you can simply stop paying pension contributions for these employments and draw your retirement benefits.

I'm a GP in the 1995 section

If you are a GP contributing to the 1995 section and also have an 'officer' NHS post, it is possible to terminate your GP posts and remain working in the 'officer' post if it is contracted for no more than 16 hours a week.

In this situation you will need only to resign from all of your GP posts and can simply stop paying pension contributions for the officer employment(s). You cannot give up your officer post and reduce your GP commitments to 16 hours a week or less.

If you have several GP commitments then they must all be resigned from in order to claim the pension.

I retired on health grounds

If you retire on health grounds and return to work having taken the 24 hour break in employment then you are not limited to working for 16 hours a week or less during the first month after retirement. However there are other factors which might affect your ill health pension.

 

I am drawing down benefits from the 2008 section or 2015 scheme

If you are drawing down between 20% and 80% of your benefits via draw down you are not required to resign from your NHS posts to access these partial retirement benefits. Draw down can be undertaken twice. On final retirement, all NHS posts will need to be resigned from.

Redundancy

If you have more than one NHS employment and are made redundant over the age of 55, you can choose to access the pension solely from the role making you redundant, whilst continuing in pensionable service in your other roles.

You are not required to resign from the other roles in order to access your pension from the redundant role.

Members who have transitioned to the 2015 scheme

If you have moved to the 2015 scheme and have a continuous break in pensionable service of five years or more you lose the ‘final salary’ link.

You are not required to resign from NHS employment in order to receive the payment of 1995/2008 section benefits once you have had a break of five years or more.

Your pension benefits are payable from the day after completing five years continuous break in service.

1995/2008 section members who have been opted out for five years or more

If you have been opted out for five years or more and have reached your minimum pension age you are able to access benefits without resigning from your NHS post.

Rejoining the pension scheme

I'm in the 1995 section

If you are a retired former member of the 1995 section of the NHS pension scheme, you can only rejoin the scheme if:

  • you have retired on the grounds of permanent ill health and you are returning to pensionable employment before you reach age 50
  • you have retired between 1 April 2008 and 30 September 2009; after a break of two calendar years you can join the 2008 section of the NHS pension scheme.
I'm in the 2008 section

If you are a retired former member of the 2008 section then you can rejoin the scheme provided that you have not already achieved 45 calendar years’ of service or reached age 75.

I'm in the 2015 scheme

If you are a retired former member of the 2015 scheme, you can rejoin up to age 75 with no limits on years of membership.

I have transitioned to the 2015 scheme

Once you have accessed 1995 section benefits, payable with a final salary link, you cannot continue with further 2015 scheme membership.

The 2015 scheme benefits can be deferred for payment at your state pension age or accessed from the minimum pension age with an actuarial reduction.

If you have lost the final salary link, as a result of a continuous break in service of five years or more, and access your 1995 section benefits you are able to continue with 2015 scheme accrual.

If you have not joined the 2015 scheme first, for example if you remain opted out for more than 5 years, you will need to join the scheme before accessing your 1995 section benefits in order to be able to continue with 2015 scheme membership.

Once you have accessed 2008 section benefits, payable with a final salary link, you are able to continue with 2015 scheme membership.

Find further guidance for members with benefits in more than one section or scheme.

Are there any restrictions on my NHS earnings after retirement?

If you are a doctor with MHO (mental health officer) status who is contributing to the 1995 section, your pension might be affected by your future NHS earnings if you retire between 55 and 60 under the MHO status rules.

If you are contributing to the 1995/2008 section/2015 scheme then your pension might be affected by your future NHS earnings if you retire on the grounds of permanent ill health or on the grounds of redundancy ‘in the interests of the efficiency of the service’.

The process by which your pension could be affected by your future NHS earnings is known as abatement.

Any CEA or distinction awards which are included in the calculations of your pension benefits will cease to be payable if you retire and return to work.

This is the case even where you have not been required to resign from your NHS post (see exceptions above) and where retirement has been partial (under the 2008 section and 2015 scheme rules).

Can I receive the employer contribution if I cease to be able to contribute to the scheme?

We have produced the pension contribution alternative reward policy which is a guide for members to use for the payment of contributions which employers would otherwise make towards their pension.

Whilst the BMA is pressing for policies such as this to be mandatory, this is down to each employer and you may wish to pursue this with the assistance of an employment adviser.

GP partners are able to contractually stipulate what happens to the employer contribution on their return to non-pensionable re-employment after retirement.