A GP partner in the East of England submitted their retirement benefits claim form 10 months prior to their planned retirement date in August 2023. Despite submitting it in good time, a year-long delay in processing the form by Primary Care Support England (PCSE) led to financial distress for the partner and a complaint to PCSE, backed by the BMA.
A review of the partner’s NHS pension record and dynamised earnings for 2022 by AISMA accountancy firm Larking Gowen LLP showed there were missing pension records in the previous six years. During this time the doctor had moved around the health service in a variety of officer roles, salaried and partnered GP roles and working as a locum. This mix of work was the likely reason for the missing records.
“While the previous accountant had reviewed and advised on annual allowance tax charges, it seemed they had never requested the doctor’s NHS pension record and were therefore unaware of the omissions,” said Carl Boardman, senior manager at Larking Gowen.
Carl and his team also identified that the doctor had incorrectly paid locum pension contributions for sessions worked at the practice where they were a partner. “These should have been treated as GP partner earnings,” he added. “It meant the contributions needed to be re-funded and the pension certificates amended and re-submitted.”
Once the pension records were obtained, the Larking Gowen team was able to identify the years of service missing in the records. These related mainly to the doctor’s salaried GP earnings and also some locum work.
Despite completing pension certificates for the missing years, the doctor had not always kept copies. The Larking Gowen team therefore went back through the doctor’s payslips to complete and re-submit the certificates to PCSE. They also undertook the work required to amend and re-submit the certificates where locum contributions had been paid incorrectly.
What happened next?
After lengthy delays in response times from PCSE, the GP, fearing his retirement plans were in jeopardy, registered a complaint with PCSE. The BMA also raised a complaint on the doctor’s behalf.
As a result, a named case handler was assigned by PCSE who was given authority to liaise with Larking Gowen on the doctor’s behalf.
Through a series of online meetings between PCSE and Larking Gowen, constructive dialogue was achieved. “It was really helpful and much easier to get to the bottom of the issues than just constantly raising cases for each one,” said Carl Boardman.
In September 2023, having made some progress in resolving the problems, Larking Gowen asked PCSE to process the retirement benefits claim form submitted 10 months earlier. “The GP needed to draw his pension since he had reduced sessions at the practice and was in a precarious financial position,” explained Carl. “He had depleted his savings by paying a large annual allowance tax charge personally in expectation of the pension lump sum. He also needed to repay some borrowings to reduce his monthly outgoings.”
While the issues had not all been wrapped up at this point, Larking Gowen pushed for an interim payment, explaining that the remaining points could be dealt with subsequently and any adjustments to the pension could be back dated.
A month later PCSE paid the lump sum and pension arrears back dated to August 2023, based on estimated figures.
When the GP first asked Larking Gowen for assistance, he had no inkling of how complicated it would be to unravel all the problems. “Many doctors are unaware of the issues caused by incomplete pension records,” said Carl Boardman. “We had to look back at the history in detail as most years had two or three separate sources of income since the doctor had moved around so much in a variety of different roles.
“We are still dealing with some of the unresolved issues, notably the locum pension contributions which were paid incorrectly, including the question of who should refund them. However, the doctor is in a much more stable financial position now and is grateful for our assistance.”