GPs 'in the dark' over pension tax trap support for this year

GPs remain in the dark over how a stop-gap offer from NHS England to pay off pension tax bills for 2019/20 will apply to general practice - nearly three months after the solution was put forward.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images)
Chancellor Rishi Sunak (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images)

BMA leaders have condemned the delay in clarifying how GPs will benefit from the offer - put forward by NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens in November - as 'unacceptable', warning that it has left GPs without the clarity they need to take on more work in the current financial year.

The government is currently conducting a review of the pension tax trap, which has forced thousands of doctors to reduce their working hours or turn down extra shifts to avoid huge tax penalties that can mean they end up losing money by taking on more work.

Pension tax review

Officials have promised the pension review will be completed in time for its findings to be announced in the forthcoming budget. There had been speculation that last week's cabinet reshuffle, which saw former chancellor Sajid Javid step down, could delay the budget.

However, the new chancellor Rishi Sunak - a 39-year-old former investment banker whose father was a GP - confirmed on Tuesday that it would still take place as originally scheduled on 11 March. On Twitter he said: 'Cracking on with preparations for my first Budget on March 11. It will deliver on the promises we made to the British people – levelling up and unleashing the country's potential.'

Under the temporary deal offered by NHS England doctors will be able to pay off tax bills for 2019/20 through the 'scheme pays' mechanism and receive compensation when they retire.

The BMA backed the offer after seeking legal guarantees, but demanded further clarification on how it would apply to GPs - most of whom are not employed directly by the NHS.

The stop-gap scheme was intended to support doctors to return to work and ease pressure on the NHS through winter - but with just over a month to go until the financial year ends, GPs remain in the dark about how it will work for them.

GP workforce

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'The lack of clarity about how these arrangements will apply to them is a cause of deep concern for many GPs. It’s unacceptable that more than two months after this short-term solution was promised to all doctors in the NHS, GPs are being left in the dark.

'The situation needs urgently addressing as it greatly impacts GPs being able to manage not just their pension but their wider finances. It’s therefore understandable that, without this clarity, GPs will be hesitant to commit to extra work this year that could risk triggering significant annual allowance charges.

'We are therefore continuing to push NHS England and Improvement to take the necessary urgent action to resolve this important issue.'

BMA leaders warned last week that the surprise departure of Mr Javid - who stepped down after reportedly refusing to dismiss his entire team of advisers - must not hold up a solution to the pension tax crisis.

The BMA has said it is determined to have a solution in place for the pension tax problem by April when the 2020/21 financial year begins.

But at least one potential solution put forward publicly to date - a potential increase to £150,000 in the income threshold at which tax on pensions kicks in - has been dismissed by the BMA. Previous government proposals for more flexible pensions have also been rejected.

The BMA has called on the new chancellor to 'scrap the annual allowance in defined benefit schemes such as the NHS pension scheme', a position backed by the Office of Tax Simplification.

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