NHS Pensions: Taxation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:21 pm on 8th July 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire 4:21 pm, 8th July 2019

The unforeseen consequences of recent pensions legislation, initially supported in all parts of the House, are now resulting in very worrying consequences for the NHS as hospital doctors who have regularly worked weekend overtime in order to get waiting lists down, are understandably refusing to continue to do so because they are being made worse off as a result. Can we imagine a conversation between couples along the lines of, “So you are leaving me and the children again this weekend to go voluntarily to work to make our family worse off?” It is not going to happen, is it? The same applies for GPs, many of whom are now doing fewer sessions each week than they want to and their patients desperately need in order not to be made worse off by breaching their annual pension allowance.

We do not have conscription for healthcare staff; we cannot force them to do weekend overtime or more sessions than they want to, and it is not surprising that they choose not to if they are being made worse off as a result. For example, in The Guardian this morning we learned of one senior anaesthetist who worked 27 Saturdays last year in order to reduce waiting lists and has now said he cannot afford to work any extra Saturday shifts this year because it would give him a large tax bill he cannot afford to pay.

Very few doctors have earnings that exceed the adjusted income threshold of £150,000 but due to the inclusion of hypothetical pension growth as income, doctors are being affected by tapering. This is different from what the Chancellor said in Treasury questions on 21 May when he said that someone has to be earning over £150,000 a year before the tapered annual allowance affects them. Taxable income and adjusted income are very different as regards pensions taxation.

The Government should also be aware that members of the imposed 2015 pension scheme had no option but to become a member of multiple schemes including the GP CARE—career average revalued earnings—scheme and as a result incur significantly higher annual allowance tax bills than those members who are protected members in only the final salary scheme. This means that all full-time consultants who are a member of more than one NHS pension scheme will be affected by the tapered annual allowance and will need to reconsider how much work they do for the NHS to mitigate these tax charges. Furthermore this punitive pensions tax penalty means that doctors are not just working less but are retiring earlier than they would like to in order to avoid significant additional tax charges. In a survey of more than 2,400 consultants, more than half cited pensions taxation as a reason for their decision to retire early.

I therefore have five questions for the Chief Secretary. As the 50-50 pensions accrual option proposed does not remove the unintended consequences that are forcing doctors to reduce the work they do, can this be included in the consultation so that this issue is raised? Once the scope of the consultation has been extended to cover this essential aspect can it then be launched as quickly as possible? Can the consultation be brief as the issues are well-known and well-rehearsed, and can the Government then respond quickly to it and if necessary legislate given that there is likely to be cross-party support for these important measures to protect the NHS? Can timely pensions statements be provided to all NHS staff who are affected by these measures? Finally, can the Government confirm that they understand the urgency and importance of this issue and that they will act without delay to prevent a deteriorating situation from getting even more acute?