Changes to the NHS Pension Scheme to attract and retain staff

Read about the changes that introduced more flexibility on retirement and addressed pension tax issues caused by rapidly rising inflation.

16 May 2024

Following a period of consultation, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) implemented changes to the NHS Pension Scheme to help employers to attract and retain valuable experienced staff, maintaining the capacity required to deliver high quality patient care.

Overview of the changes

The consultation outcome confirmed the following changes:

  • From 1 April 2023, employees who have taken their pension from the 1995 section of the NHS Pension Scheme and return to work in the NHS are able to join the 2015 Scheme and build up further pension if they wish. This enables employers to provide a more valuable reward offer to attract and retain their most experienced staff.

    Prior to these changes being introduced, employees who had taken their pension from the 1995 Section were not eligible to re-join the NHS Pension Scheme on returning to work in the NHS.  Many employed pensioners may be members of an alternative pension arrangement, for example, the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST), or may not contribute to a pension scheme.

    Employers are not be required to enrol all newly eligible members into the 2015 Scheme on 1 April 2023. However, employers must notify all staff who have taken their benefits from the 1995 Section and returned to work before 1 April 2023 that they are eligible to join the 2015 Scheme from 1 April 2023 if they wish. Employers must set up membership for any employees who take up the option to join the 2015 Scheme and may need to end their membership to any alternative pension arrangement.

    Employees who retire and return on or after 1 April 2023 should be contractually enrolled into the 2015 Scheme on the first day of their employment, in the same way as any other new starter.

    Where an employee chooses to end their membership to an alternative pension arrangement and join the 2015 Scheme, they may ask if it is possible to transfer their benefits from the alternative pension arrangement in to the 2015 Scheme. Employers should signpost employees to guidance on transferring benefits on the NHS Pensions website. 

  • From 1 October 2023, members of the 1995 section can draw down all or part of their pension while continuing to work.

    Prior to these changes being introduced, members of the 1995 section had to leave NHS employment to take their pension from the scheme. Although many staff choose to take their benefits and return to NHS employment (referred to as, retire and return), this change provides a more flexible and seamless approach.

    The new flexibilities aim to support employees to achieve a healthy work-life balance by working more flexibly towards the end of their careers. It is hoped this will help employers to retain their most experienced staff for longer to help with service delivery.

    This change may enable staff to manage their pension tax position by choosing to claim their pension and remain in work, rather than opting out of the NHS Pension Scheme or leaving the NHS.

  • The 16-hour rule placed a limit on the amount of hours an employee can work per week in their first month after returning to work from retirement. The rule was previously suspended on a temporary basis and was permanently removed from 1 April 2023.

  • From the 2022/23 tax year, the date on which NHS Pension Scheme benefits are increased with inflation is 6 April. Previously, it was 1 April.

    This change aligns the rates of inflation used in annual allowance calculations with the revaluation of scheme benefits and ensures that the annual allowance calculations only measure pension growth that occurs above the rate of inflation.

    This will lessen the impact of the annual allowance for members of the NHS Pension Scheme and aims to support the retention of senior clinical staff, who may otherwise opt out of the NHS Pension Scheme, reduce their commitments, or leave NHS employment due to pension taxation. Learn about other measures which have mitigated the impact of the annual allowance on members, by reading our briefing on what the Spring 2023 Budget means for pension tax and retention.

    For members unaffected by the annual allowance, the proposed change will have no effect on the value of pension they are entitled to on retirement.

Other technical amendments ensure general practitioners pay the correct contribution rate over the full scheme year and simplify access to the scheme for primary care networks (PCNs).

Read the consultation outcome in full. 

Our response to the consultation

NHS Employers gathered the views of employers and responded to the consultation's proposals on their behalf. Read our response. 

Flexible retirement resources

We have published resources to help you promote, explain and implement flexible retirement options to support retention in your organisation.

Our guidance, using flexible retirement to support retention, details how to support staff to work flexibly towards the end of their career using the flexible retirement options available through the NHS Pension Scheme.

Want to know more about how to use these options? Watch our webinar on changes to flexible retirement options introduced in 2023.

Our flexible retirement web page provides an overview of the different retirement flexibilities, with 'real life' examples showing how the flexibilities benefit both the organisation and the individual. 

Use our retirement flexibilities poster to support your conversation with NHS staff about the flexible retirement options available in the NHS Pension Scheme.

The NHS Staff Council have published guidance for employers on the process for considering flexible retirement requests. 

NHS Pensions have operational guidance for employers on partial retirement processes for 1995 Section members.