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NHS Pension

NHS pension scheme


The NHS Pension Scheme is the occupational pension scheme for employees working for the NHS or for an organisation providing NHS services. 

Following some changes in April 2015 there are now two schemes: 

  • 1995/2008 Pension Scheme (the “old” scheme) – closed to new entrants 
  • 2015 Pension Scheme (the “new" scheme) –all members will be transitioned to this scheme from April 2022 following the McCloud judgement which ordered the government to remove age discrimination from all public sector pensions such as the NHS scheme. See our information on age discrimination in reformed public service pension schemes

The NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) website has information on the NHS pension scheme for members in Wales and England. If you are a member of the scheme applicable in Northern Ireland, see the HSC Pension Service website for more information. If you are a member of the scheme applicable in Scotland, see the Scottish Public Pensions Agency website for more information. 

The amount of pension paid in retirement depends on the number of years someone pays in and their salary. The 1995/2008 Scheme is a final salary scheme that calculates benefits according to the best of the last years’ salary before retirement (best of the last 3 years for 1995 section members, and a salary derived from the best 3 of the last 10 years for 2008 section members). The 2015 scheme is a Career Average scheme, meaning that benefits for each year accrue according to the salary in that year.  

Below you can view our NHS Pension Scheme Update webinar, recorded on 4 May 2022.


Please note that while this recording is not subtitled, if anyone has accessibility issues please contact chris.musgrave@rcn.org.uk and we will be happy to assist you.

Please see our advice guide for more information on age discrimination in the NHS pension scheme.

The member contribution framework for the NHS Pension schemes will change from October 2022 when all active scheme members will be moved to the 2015 scheme arrangements for their future pensionable service. The original proposal had been to implement from April 2022

A consultation for NHS Pensions Scheme members in England and Wales took place at the end of 2021, please see our briefing on contribution changes to the NHS Pension to see the RCN's response and how the changes will affect you.

The RCN Trade Union Committee has overseen the RCN’s engagement with the schemes on proposals for changing contributions and our position has been to resist changes that would negatively impact members. The changes will have different impacts on scheme members depending on how much they earn. 

The Pensions Act 2008 established new duties on employers to enrol some or all of their workers into a pension scheme that meets certain legal standards as a way of increasing pensions savings. Auto enrolment refers to the process where the employer automatically signs up eligible workers into a pension scheme or similar savings scheme. This is in addition to any state pension retirement benefit. 

Employees and employers make payments into the scheme and the Government also contributes in the form of tax relief. Employers can choose any scheme that meets the necessary criteria and employees can opt out of the auto-enrolled pension provision. Please see Gov.uk for more information.

Bank staff

For the purpose of auto enrolment in the NHS, workers are categorised into one of three categories: eligible jobholder, non-eligible jobholder or entitled worker. This is done by assessing age, worker status and qualifying earnings. For more information please see the NHS Employers information on auto-enrolment.

If the worker has two roles with separate NHS employing organisations (with separate PAYE references) both organisations are legally required to assess the worker under automatic enrolment legislation. If the employee has a whole time substantive job and also has a zero hours/bank arrangement with the same employer, the two arrangements can either be aggregated as a ‘single employment relationship’ with the pensionable hours capped at normal whole time hours, within NHSPS rules. 

What is it?

Special Class Status (SCS) is a pension provision for certain groups of scheme members who were in the NHS pension scheme on or prior to March 6 1995 and who meet other eligibility criteria laid out in the scheme regulations for the 1995 section of the 1995/2008 (“old”) pension scheme. It is not available to those who only joined the NHS pension scheme after March 6 1995 or who are in the 2008 section of the old scheme or the 2015 scheme. 

Please see more about special class status on NHSBSA.

What do I do if my SCS eligibility is in doubt? 

Employers are advised to confirm the SCS eligibility of posts with the pension administrator on appointment. So if you move to a new job, you should check the eligibility of that post and not assume that, because your last role was an eligible role that your new one will be automatically. If it is the employer that is questioning SCS eligibility it may be necessary to revisit relevant job information e.g. job descriptions and person specifications, to ensure that the nursing demands of the role are adequately described and the post coded appropriately. Employers can ask for support from the pension administrator to do this.

If you think you have lost your SCS or are at risk at losing it, please contact us.

I moved to a management job and I’ve been told I no longer have SCS

SCS is not carried with the individual nurse. It is the duties that the nurse does in their pensionable employment that establishes whether or not the role meets the SCS criteria. It is often this aspect of SCS that causes nurses difficulty as they advance in their careers, especially those who move to more managerial or strategic roles.

For many nursing roles the definition will be clear; a nursing post on a ward or in a clinic in daily contact with patients would usually meet the SCS criteria without issue. As a minimum the post would need to have an essential requirement to hold a nursing qualification, but in reality the job description and the person specification should also reflect the fact that it is a nursing role. 

The issue is less clear cut with more senior nursing roles that are partly clinical and partly managerial, and where there may be less direct contact with patients or the needs of patients. When this is the case the essential SCS test has to be met – the role must meet the requirement that it is ‘pensionable employment as a nurse’ and a nursing qualification must be an essential requirement.
It is the employer who makes the first consideration of whether a role meets SCS criteria or not. It is important to note that employers do not have the authority to guarantee or confirm SCS to any nurse. Only the pension administrator can do this. At the time of retirement, the pension administrator will check SCS eligibility and they can also investigate an individual member on their employer’s behalf to determine whether a job attracts the status or not.

Please see our advice guide for more information on ill health retirement.

Staff who are transferred out of direct NHS employment to another employer under a TUPE transfer are now generally able to stay in the NHS pension scheme. Previously TUPE regulations only required that a broadly comparable pension be provided by the new employer. New Fair Deal Guidance, published in October 2013 by HM Treasury is available at Gov.uk. This confirms how staff whose employment is transferred under TUPE can retain membership of their current public sector scheme New Fair Deal will apply in the majority of cases; if your employer is suggesting that it does not apply, please contact us.

Widening access 

The national social partnership forum has developed the terms of access to the NHS pension scheme for non-NHS organisations providing NHS clinical services (IPs), in situations where staff are employed by the IP, but have not transferred from the NHS (and so are not covered by New Fair Deal). This is called ‘Access’. 

These terms allow access to the NHS pension scheme where IPs deliver services under an Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) contract, an NHS Standard contract, or a Local Government contract in relation to public health services - including services procured under 'Any Qualified Provider' - and covers both clinical and non-clinical staff delivering a ‘clinical service’. These arrangements came into force 1 April 2014.

Under the arrangements can decide if they wish to offer the NHS scheme to their staff delivering clinical services. If they do wish to IPs can choose from two levels of access. 

  • Level one: access for existing members. IPs are required to auto-enrol into the NHSPS: from the date of commencement as an NHSPS employing authority, all existing eligible staff who were entitled to participate in the NHSPS at any time in the previous 12 months, and from the date of recruitment, all new eligible staff who were entitled to participate in the NHSPS at any time in the 12 months before joining the IP. Staff should be 'wholly or mainly' engaged in delivering NHS ‘clinical services’ to retain access. 
  • Level two: access for all eligible staff. IPs are required to offer access to all staff who are eligible to join the NHSPS and are 'wholly or mainly' engaged in NHS work. Further information is available on the NHS Employers website.

In the first instance, any problems relating to your pension should be directed to your pension provider or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) if your query relates to the state pension.  

Many secondary sources of advice and/or support are only able to once you have exhausted your own pension provider’s dispute resolution process.

Member who are in dispute with their pension administrator over the number of years’ worth of contributions they have made should know that records of all contributions and refunds are kept by administrators until a member’s retirement. It is worth asking for a statement from theses archived or microfiche files. 

If you need a pension forecast or have any questions about your pension, please contact your pension provider in the first instance. 

If there is a dispute with your employer or pension provider, please contact us.

Independent financial advice 

Pensions and planning for retirement are both areas that require specialist advice. If you are considering alternative pension arrangements or additional pensions, then you may benefit from talking to a professional financial adviser. As a member of the RCN you are entitled to a complimentary, no obligation financial review from Lighthouse Financial Advice.

Lighthouse can provide advice to overseas RCN members provided they are paying UK income tax. Please have your UK National Insurance and RCN membership number ready. 

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Page last updated - 07/06/2022