• NHS trusts are recovering underpaid pension contributions from their junior doctors
  • Organisations have one of two options: take it in a lump sum or stagger recovery over several months
  • NHS Employers confirms a ‘handful’ of its members have been in touch to seek advice on the issue

Hundreds of junior doctors are being pursued by NHS trusts for unpaid pension contributions linked to their backdated pay award, HSJ has learned.

The changes to trainee doctors’ contracts agreed in June saw doctors receive a 2 per cent pay rise over four years. This tipped some doctors into higher contribution rates from around 9.4 per cent to 12.5 per cent.

Because the pay award was backdated to April this has meant increased pension contributions haven’t been paid, meaning trusts are now “duty-bound” to recover the money.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust said 240 of its employed staff have been affected, but not all of them work within the trust as it is a lead employer for junior doctors in the area.

Nottingham University Hospitals Trust has seen 252 of its doctors and dentists pushed into a higher pension contribution tier after it implemented the new national pay award.

NHS Employers told HSJ a “handful” of trusts had sought advice on the issue, while organisations have local policies and procedures in place to recover the funds.

They have one of two options: either retrieve it in a lump sum or stagger it over a longer period of time. NUH has chosen the former while STHT has opted for the latter.

Kirsten Major, chief executive at Sheffield, told HSJ: “We were not informed about the pay increase until July, but the pay award is effective from 1 April which means the individuals have not paid the increased pension contribution from April. This is the money we are obliged to collect.

“However, we appreciate that to do this in one deduction, of on average £500, could cause issues and so we took a decision to offer a staggered payment over five months.

“This has been received positively given the circumstances we were faced with which means we have no choice but to collect the outstanding contributions.”

Bel Asher, HR director at Nottingham, said: “The pay arrears from 1 April, and the resulting pension contribution increases, were transacted this month. This is in line with our normal practice and other trusts in the region.”

A spokesman for the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association said: “For too long, the government has adopted a cavalier attitude towards the annual pay award timetable and the NHS staff on the receiving end who are trying to juggle their finances.

“That means an award that should be implemented in spring is now regularly being paid in the autumn. This has got to stop.”

LTFT disparity ‘needs rethink’

One group of doctors particularly affected are those working less than full-time, who pay the same level as those working full-time. One affected doctor said she saw £250 less in her September salary, following the implementation of the pay rise.

She said: “It has meant that covering my bills this month is going to be tight. I have got three children so there are all sorts of costs associated with that, and it is £250 that we have not got.

“The LTFT doctors who are junior doctors, we [as a group] earn that much less. I am in a job where I do not do any out-of-hours. Effectively, I will see £25 a month less in my paycheque.

“I think the NHS needs to rethink tagging the pension contributions to the full-time equivalent salary. It should be tiered to what your actual salary is.”

When approached by HSJ for comment, the British Medical Association said it is in discussion with employers to help mitigate the impact. The union has encouraged trusts, “whenever possible”, to agree on a repayment plan with those affected to ensure this will not cause financial issues.

The BMA has previously said it is lobbying the government for changes which “fairly reflect” LTFT trainees’ earnings.

The Department of Health and Social Care said junior doctors play a vital role in the health service, adding: “We are committed to giving them the support they deserve through the new junior doctor contract, which included an 8.2 per cent pay rise.”

HSJ specifically asked whether it has plans to deal with the impact on LTFT doctors but the DHSC did not comment further.