GP hires debt collector as locum agency struggles to pay doctors

Scores of locum GPs are owed thousands of pounds by an agency that has fallen behind on payments, with some forced to hire debt collectors or consider legal action to reclaim the money.

Locum Dr Matt Mayer, who is on the GPC sessional GP committee, said on Twitter that the agency Primary Care People owed him almost £4,000 for locum work, and that he had decided to hire debt collectors to recoup his payments.

Primary Care People told GPonline that it had struggled to keep up with payments after it made changes to take all GPs it employs onto its payroll following changes to IR35 tax rules.

Around 70 of the 350 GP locums on its weekly payroll are affected by the late payments, the company said, with payments up to a maximum of three to four weeks late.

Dr Mayer said he was aware of colleagues owed five-figure sums. At least one other has also contacted debt collectors, while another is considering legal action, he said.

IR35 tax reform

The IR35 changes shifted the onus of deducting tax away from locums themselves onto the practices they were providing services for. The BMA previously warned this would ‘significantly penalise locums’ and lead to them paying more tax and taking home less pay.

The agency said it had taken the ‘proactive’ decision to take on responsibility for IR35 by choosing to invoice all practices on behalf of its GP locums to eliminate the risks to them of breaching the new IR35 rules, effectively taking all locums working through it onto its payroll and taking on responsibility for the tax payments.

It had previously only done this for around half of its clients, while for others it had invoiced only its own cut from practices, with the locums separately invoicing the practices directly to receive their pay.

The change meant it had taken 170 additional GPs onto its payroll, and the sudden increase in expenditure had left it struggling to secure sufficient funds to pay all of its GPs, the company said.

Primary Care People CEO Tawhid Juneja said: ‘We understand IR35 very well, so our solution was to take on that liability and pay all of our GPs. But this had a sudden increase on what we needed on our refer limit – the maximum amount we can borrow from the bank.’

GP payments

He said the agency had informed GPs there may be some difficulties, which it said would last ‘a couple of weeks’ while it transferred its whole ledger to a new funder. This would be sorted by the end of June, and all GP payments will be up-to-date by this point, he added.

Mr Juneja said: ‘We didn’t mean for it to delay payments, to have a detrimental impact on GPs – but if we didn’t do anything, it would have been bad. It’s disappointing that people are so unhappy, but it’s one thing we have to accept. The majority of our GPs have been very supportive.

‘After the move to our new funder this will not happen again. As soon as that is complete our refer limit is more than sufficient to pay every GP as we have done previously, we will be in a strong position.’

Primary Care People said it had tried to contact Dr Mayer and was looking to sort the outstanding payment by Wednesday.

‘What has happened is his funds are outstanding from the weekend two weeks ago,' said Mr Juneja. 'It became restrictive because we reached our limit on funding. Our expected amount didn’t reduce by the amount expected, so we couldn’t make the payment.’

Dr Mayer said he had been promised payment previously. ‘Enough is enough, I can't afford to not be paid thousands of pounds,’ he told GPonline.

‘Due to the unpredictability of locum work, late payment can be extremely damaging and can leave locums being literally unable to pay the bills. This is the only agency I've heard of or encountered which has had such a severe issue with late payment.

‘Speed of payment varies from provider to provider. However, the key here is cash flow planning and trust. If a provider or agency says they'll pay in a certain amount of time, then you expect them to stick to their word.

‘I would like to say that I'm pretty sad at having to take this action, as until this happened I felt I had a good working relationship with my recruitment agent at Primary Care People who's always done a good job getting me work.’

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