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A cautionary tale about my NHS pension

So much has been written about our pensions in the last year, both in Hospital Dr and elsewhere, that it’s easy to become inured to the subject. For juniors retirement seems so far away, for the over fifties it’s reassuringly close and for those in-between…well, they’re often pretty busy.

For myself, I’ve been qualified twenty-five years and, thanks to the Added Years scheme, intended to escape with a full pension at sixty or so (I know, but this isn’t about the Coalition’s recent attack on our pensions).

Do you recall the Pension Choice exercise last year? It asked us to choose between staying on the 1995 scheme or transferring to the 2008 version. If we didn’t make an active choice then we would stay on the old one. Essentially, since there’s never been a new pension scheme that’s better value than the old one, only a doctor intending to work until at least sixty-five should have even considered transferring.

In the interests of laziness, I therefore declined HR’s offer to pick up my Pension Choice pack. Then they nagged a bit, and as I happened to be passing I collected it just before the deadline, flicked to the back and smugly compared the figures. Of course I was right – a clear difference in all the important numbers. Mind you, they didn’t seem quite as large as I’d hoped…

Consulting the details on page four I found out why. “Your benefits are based on a start date in the NHS Pension Scheme of 1st August 1993”. I actually started on 1st August 1987; six years were missing.

Engage detective mode. It was a rainy night in the city, it was the kinda place where money talked; it said goodbye. Of course, engaging financially aware mode twenty-five years previously would have been more sensible but hey ho. Tempting as it is to string this story out, here’s what happened:

Automatically entered into NHS scheme in 1987. Worked on the Isle of Man for a year starting August 1992. Entire pension pot transferred there and kept there when I returned to the mainland. Started afresh in NHS scheme August 1993. All these things happened without my knowledge or specific permission; I was both busy and naïve but really, nobody asked.

Once discovered it took over six months and many phone calls, letters and e-mails to sort things out. The IoM staff were particularly helpful (and when you call them it’s a person, not a menu). To add insult to injury, on close examination my Added Years contract was partly paying for those six years that I’d already bought! Plainly, saying “@Flattliner, you are a financial idiot” wouldn’t be far from the truth.

All’s well that ends well, and in this case I got my six years back, my Added Years rate reduced from 9% to 6% and a significant rebate. However, I would never have known that anything was awry but for a little serendipity.

How sure are you that your pension details are all present and correct? Have you ever worked abroad? You can ask your employer for a statement, or go directly to the pensions agency. It’s worth the effort.

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4 Responses to “A cautionary tale about my NHS pension”

  1. relieved_MHO says:

    I couldnt agree more Flatliner. As a fellow “financial idiot” who also had other things on my mind in the early and mid 90s, after qualifying in 1989, I only really paid attention to pensions when the Hutton report came out.

    My very helpful Trust payroll manager cheerfully told me that I didn’t have MHO status, despite working, in the UK, as a psychiatrist, since 1991 – which in my case would have put me the wrong side of the “within 10 years” rule, thus increasing my normal pension age by 12-13 years in one fell swoop.

    A bit of backtracking and email discussions with people who had been psychiatry SHOs with me in the same large London institution in the early 90s revealed that a whole cohort of us had not been given MHO status in the first place, but as I had left the rotation half way through I had missed the process by which this was rectified. Nobody told me, and I didnt ask …… the usual recipe for disaster.

    Fortunately NHS pensions sorted it out very rapidly and backdated the correct 21 years worth of MHO service, it took a total of three emails and one short letter and has made the difference between retiring at 55 and at 67. Once I paid attention and asked the right questions it really was simple to resolve, the record keeping going back decades does appear to be accurate and accessible, reassuringly.

    Whether you are an MHO or not, it is indeed worth the effort to check up on your position, a couple of emails can make a huge difference to your future.

  2. Fastest says:

    Another recommendation from an unwary MHO to check your pension status. As part of the current coalition’s changes to the pension scheme in 2015, I unfortunately missed the full protection afforded those within the 1995 scheme who are 10 years from retirement at 01/04/2012 by 1 month (grits teeth…) However, during my research to inquire how this would affect my pension, I contacted the NHS Pensions Agency who pointed out that I did not have MHO status on their records. It transpired that on moving to my current post 12 years ago, whilst my employer put me down as having Special Class status (where you can retire at 55), they didn’t add MHO status. This simple telephone call triggered an email from the Pensions Agency to my Trust and when they completed a quick form and returned it via email, my MHO status was reinstated and I received a letter from the Pensions Agency to this effect. It’s worth checking if you’ve had a change in your working circumstances to ensure you’re up to date on the records and you don’t get a nasty shock come retirement.

  3. Black rose says:

    I am having an absolute nightmare with my pension. In 1995 Section, reached 20 years service had MHO changed jobs it was not applied at the point of new post and now having awful time getting it reinstated. Going round in endless circles phone calls with HR, pensions and payroll. Any advice would be appreciated

  4. I must be a mug says:

    Having worked for 13 years with overtime my NHS pension pot is frankly a joke.
    Thankfully I now have a new job within Oxford University
    the University pension is four times larger than my NHS pension pot
    Also five years of employemnt are missing on the records
    and despite months of letters and phone calls with music playing
    no one has found the missing years and no one seems to care
    my advice is do not work for the NHS
    they will steal your contributions and unless you kept all of your past payslips yo will not be able to prove your status

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