• NAO finds NHS Property Services owed £576m in back rent, going back four years
  • Report says 30 per cent of this is owed by GPs
  • BMA issues threat of legal action, saying practices face “astronomical” increases

NHS Property Services is owed £173m in back rent by GPs, but does not have powers to collect the debts, a new report has found.

The body, set up to administer the NHS estate after the abolition of primary care trusts, does not have the necessary powers to collect the debts, the National Audit Office reported.

The report said 30 per cent of the total debt, roughly £173m, was owed by GPs, despite them only occupying 18 per cent of the estate.

NHS Property Services is a company wholly owned by the Department of Health and Social Care. It manages around 3,000 properties, valued at roughly £3.8bn.

The NAO report said: “NHSPS has no effective way of getting tenants to sign formal rental agreements. Since 2013-14 the percentage of tenants without leases has increased from nearly two-thirds to 70 per cent. NHSPS has improved the quality of data it holds and introduced a new billing system in 2017, but many bills are still disputed, particularly by tenants without rental agreements.”

Were the money all to be collected it would go some way to addressing the maintenance backlog of NHS PropCo, which is estimated at £1bn by the NAO.

The report concluded: “The framework for charging for NHS property is not working effectively and the department urgently needs to address the fundamental causes of this unsatisfactory situation.”

In the last two financial years the company wrote off £52m in debt, including £31.6m in debt it could not collect from tenants. Of this £23m related to NHS tenants and £8.5m from private tenants including GPs. The rest of the £52m was corrections to bills from previous years.

The British Medical Association released a statement saying it believed the company was already acting outside its powers and would take legal action unless it changed the way it operated. It did not set out how it believed NHSPS was acting unlawfully.

The union said GP practices had faced “astronomical” increases in fees charged by the company.

BMA GP committee England chair Richard Vautrey was due to tell a conference today: “For years now some practices have faced astronomical rises in service charges, some seeing theirs more than double, often for services they have not asked for and do not receive. This is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.”

NHS Property Services said in a statement: “The report comments on some of the legacy issues NHSPS has inherited from operating in the widespread absence of formal rental and service agreements and the significant impact this has had on the company’s ability to: agree charges with customers for accommodation and services provided, reduce billing disputes and recover outstanding debts.

“We fully acknowledge that whilst improvements have been made, these have been at a slower pace than we wanted but support is also required from the broader health system to fully address this. We are committed to working across the stakeholder community to implement systemic fixes.

“NHSPS, as a responsible property owner and service provider, is committed to working constructively with the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and other NHS partners, to support the recommendations of the NAO investigation, including to develop a joint plan to ensure all tenants will agree tenancy details and charges by 31 March 2020 to create a properly regulated, transparent and optimised estate for the benefit of our customers and their patients, now and in the future.”