Welcome to the final part of our series of posts on the NHS Pension! We thought that for the finale we’d touch on some of the other circumstances that many of you will face as you journey from fledgling employee through to battle-hardened NHS veteran.
Maternity (and paternity) leave
44% of NHS employees are female and a number of them might take maternity leave at one point or another. Similarly, a proportion of the gents employed by the NHS will become new fathers and take paternity leave. Pay during maternity leave can be a bit complex as it depends whether you qualify for statutory maternity pay, NHS occupational maternity pay or both.
The NHS pension refers to both maternity and paternity leave as ‘special leave’, and the rules are the same for both. In short, your pension contributions will be as described in Part I (i.e. a percentage of your salary) for the times you are on full pay, half pay or statutory maternity pay.
When you’re on unpaid special leave you can still opt to make pension contributions (i.e. pay for scheme membership). If you do so, you contribute as if you were continuing to be paid the same salary as immediately before your unpaid leave. We contacted the NHSBSA to find out how that works in practice, i.e. how you can make contributions when you’re not actually being paid. Their answer is that:
“the employer would need to make an arrangement with [you]. Contributions can be paid up when you return to work as long as there is an agreement in place beforehand and the contributions are re-paid within a short time of returning to work.”
Furthermore, even though you are contributing during this unpaid period “the pension accrual will suffer because there is no actual pay.” So the positive if you contribute is that you’ll keep your pension benefits e.g. death in service, the negative is you’ll be paying contributions without any additional pension come retirement. It will be up to you to decide whether it’s is worth it!
Time out of NHS work
An increasing number of clinicians are taking time away from the NHS; the Foundation Programme’s destination survey reveals fewer and fewer F2’s are staying in the UK to work. The number of more advanced trainees taking time out is more difficult to quantify, though some will cease NHS work temporarily through either ‘time out of training’ or ‘out-of-programme experiences’. Leaving NHS employment, even if only temporarily, can impact on your NHS Pension.
If you are on an authorised career break, there is published guidance on your pension contributions. You have the choice of continuing or discontinuing contributions. For the former, you can choose to remain pensionable for 6 months. After this, you can still remain pensionable for a further 18 months but will have to pay both employee and employer pension contributions (see Part I).
If your time out doesn’t fall into one of the above categories (special leave or authorised breaks) then we’ll point you in the direction of the guide on leaving the scheme early. This might be if you take ‘F3/4’ years after F2, or similar breaks during your training. As long as your break is less than five years, your pension will continue to be revalued (see Part II) and will ‘link up’ with your new pension once you re-start NHS work. N.B. you won’t get any ‘death in service’ benefits during these five years (see below). The guide also provides information about the various options that exist if your break will be a more permanent one, or if you wish to transfer your pension to another provider.
When you’re gone
There’ll come a time for us all when we die and it’s natural to want to know how this will leave your nearest and dearest financially. As with many facets of the NHS Pension, there are a number of permutations that exist and the outcome will vary hugely between individuals. The brusquely named Survivors Guide is the home to these different combinations, along with other resources that contain the information you need. Your relatives or nominated beneficiary will likely receive something from your NHS Pension when you die, though if you’ve been claiming your pension for >5years that may not be the case.
That’s all folks
We hope that having followed this series you have a much firmer understanding of your NHS Pension and what’ll happen when you retire. Whether you intend to retire early or not, arming yourself with information now so you can make decisions about your financial future is, in our opinion, one of the best investments you can make. As ever the path you choose will be intensely personal, so please read our disclaimer and seek professional financial advice about your NHS Pension. If you have comments or feedback on the series then please get in touch.