NHS and Dept of Health have made no provision to protect surviving partners – even though age increases risk
Thousands of retired NHS staff have answered the government’s call to return to work in order to fill huge shortfalls in front-line staffing for the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
But the Tories and their NHS leaders are failing the heroes who choose to leave a quiet retirement to return to the firing line in spite of the fact that their age makes them most at risk from the worst complications of the virus.
The government has only just amended pension and tax rules so that returning NHS pensioners won’t lose their pension if they return to work during the crisis – but there is still a gaping hole in the provisions.
One that means that if a returning NHS worker dies of the virus – and remember, older workers are more at risk of the worst consequences of infection – their family will not receive the ‘death in service benefit’ paid to other staff’s families.
And a surviving spouse or dependants will lose as much as 81.25% of their loved one’s NHS pension and receive only a survivor’s portion.
The NHS has issued guidance for returners, informing them of the changes to pension and tax rules – but the final ‘Q&A’ dismissively answers the question of what will happen if a returner dies:
Will staff who retire and return qualify for death in service cover?
The NHS Pension Scheme provides death in service cover to active members who are yet to retire to support a member’s partner and dependents should they die before claiming their benefits. Membership of the NHSPS is voluntary and is available to all staff in the NHS who are yet to retire. Around 90% of staff are active scheme members.
Staff who have recently retired from the NHS Pension Scheme will have already received a tax-free lump sum, but the Department of Health and Social Care is considering proposals to offer further support for those returning to the frontline.
As thousands return to put themselves in the firing line of infection, the government is still only ‘considering proposals’ to support them and keep their families from hardship if they die in the fight against the coronavirus.
And the NHS notes on payments to the bereaved families of NHS workers makes clear just how great the hardship might be.
The NHS has several different pension schemes in operation at the moment – the 1995, 2008 and 2015 schemes, with each one having different provisions.
Each of those schemes offers a pensioner death benefit of:
The lesser of: 5 x pension less pension already paid or
2 x reckonable pay less any retirement lump sum taken
However, the deductions mentioned in those rules mean that a surviving partner or dependants could easily receive no lump sum if their loved one had been retired for more than five years, or had taken a ‘lump sum’ when they retired.
And the rules show that at best – in the ‘1995’ scheme – a surviving partner would lose half of the pension income previously paid to the couple, after the first 3-6 months following their bereavement:
Partners of female NHS employees potentially receive even less because of the 1988 cut-off on the contributions that count toward the pension amount.
But in the 2008 and 2015 schemes, the loss is even worse – the survivor of a member of the 2008 section will lose 62.5% and for the 2015 scheme 66.25%:
The situation for dependent children where there is no surviving spouse is worse still – a loss of up to 83.125%:
These losses would equally apply to the children and partners of other NHS staff who have not yet retired, but at least those families would receive a none-too-generous ‘death in service’ sum as well.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said a few days ago that he did not think it was time to discuss a pay rise for nurses. Appallingly, that is not his worst insult to the front-line NHS heroes.
Those who return – knowing their age makes them more likely to die in the fight to save people from the virus – risk depriving their loved ones of the income they could provide for them by just staying at home.
And weeks into that fight, Hancock is still only ‘considering’ whether any extra support or guarantees will be given to them. That must change.
The Department of Health and Social Care was contacted for comment but did not respond by the time of publication.
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