Flexible retirement

Flexible retirement helps employers to retain valuable experienced staff by enabling those staff to work flexibly and improve wellbeing.

10 May 2024

Flexible retirement allows organisations and staff to be flexible about:  

  • the age at which staff retire  
  • the length of time staff take to retire  
  • the nature and pattern of work in the lead up to final retirement.

How flexible retirement supports staff retention

Flexible retirement helps employers to retain skilled staff by enabling those staff to work flexibly, with improved wellbeing and financial security.

Retirement flexibilities allow staff to access their pension benefits while remaining in, or returning to, the NHS workforce, with the option to build up further pension if they wish. This is a valuable part of the reward offer to attract and retain experienced staff who want to adjust their working pattern and manage their finances in the approach to retirement.

Staff can retire gradually and work flexibly for longer, passing their skills and knowledge to colleagues, aiding succession planning and ensuring high quality care for patients.

Working flexibly improves work life balance for staff, while accessing pension benefits supports financial wellbeing. This in turn can bolster staff health and wellbeing, reduce sickness absence and the risk of burn out, while strengthening retention and staffing levels over time.

Flexible retirement benefits for organisations

  • Helps staff to continue working in the NHS for longer, by varying the nature or pattern of work in the lead-up to retirement.  
  • Increases the amount of staff available to cover high demand periods.  
  • Maintains continuity of high-quality care for patients and service users. 
  • Assists succession planning by retaining valuable skills and experience which can be passed on to other staff.  
  • Retaining valuable staff reduces the time and costs of recruitment and training. 
  • Supports staff financial wellbeing by allowing staff to claim some of their pension benefits and continue working in a more flexible way.
  • Helps recruit staff who are attracted to the retirement flexibilities and the value of the competitive NHS Pension Scheme.
  • Makes the NHS a great place to work by prioritising work life balance.
  • Reduces staff absence by improving staff wellbeing.

Read the NHS Staff Council's guidance on the process for considering flexible retirement requests.

Flexible retirement options with employee scenarios

Employers should discuss the following retirement flexibilities with staff to reach an agreement about how they will be applied on an individual basis.

Partial retirement (draw down)

  • Members over age 55 can take part, or all of, their pension benefits and continue in NHS employment.

    Members may continue to build up further benefits in the 2015 Scheme if they wish. 

    The member’s pensionable pay must be reduced by at least 10 per cent for 12 months starting from their chosen partial retirement date. They must also have a contractual change in their terms and conditions of employment to reflect their reduction in pensionable pay. If the 10 per cent reduction in pensionable pay is not maintained during the first 12 months after taking partial retirement, abatement will apply and the member's pension payments will be stopped.

    Members can draw down on up to two occasions before retiring completely. However, if the benefits are paid before normal pension age, the benefits would be reduced as they are being paid early. 

    Partial retirement can support staff to continue working whilst benefitting from being able to draw down their pension benefits and supplement their income ahead of retirement. 

    Partial retirement is available to staff in the 1995 Section, 2008 Section and 2015 Scheme of the NHS Pension Scheme.

    For more information on partial retirement see our guidance for employers and operational guidance from NHS Pensions.

  • Name: Mark Age: 61 role and band: community staff nurse, band 5

    Mark is a community staff nurse and does quite a lot of travelling in his job. As well as caring for his patients, Mark helps patients to care for themselves or works with family members, teaching them how to give care to their relatives.

    Why they have decided to retire flexibly 

    Mark wants to improve his lifestyle, reassess his work life balance and take up new hobbies and projects. He also enjoys a high level of job satisfaction at work and is keen to continue in his role.

    After considering his options, Mark decides to apply to draw down 50 per cent of his benefits and reduces his working hours. 

    By claiming some of his pension benefits and reducing his hours, Mark has the time and means he needs to invest in his hobbies. He enjoys his boosted wellbeing and financial security while remaining in his role. 

    Benefits for the employer 

    Supporting Mark to draw down has improved his health and wellbeing as he is better able to manage his finances and work life balance, enhancing productivity at work. 

    By supporting Mark to claim part of his pension while remaining in his role, the trust has retained Mark's skills and experience, which will bolster workforce capacity, service delivery and succession planning.

Retire and return

  • Staff who have reached the minimum pension age may leave NHS employment, claim all of their pension benefits and return to NHS employment. Staff have the option to join the 2015 Scheme on returning to work in the NHS, and carry on building up more pension if they wish.

    For more information on retire and return see our guidance for employers.

  • Name: Susan Age: 57 role and band: project manager, band 7  

    Susan is responsible for the planning, delivery and implementation of a new policies or services in the trust. She manages each step of this including planning, budgets, and risk assessment. 

    Why they have decided to retire flexibly 

    Susan wants to spend more quality time with family members and finish some projects around the house. She decides to retire from her role and enjoys a restorative break from work. After 6 months of retirement, Susan realises that she misses the social element of working. She also wants to improve her financial situation by earning a salary and building up further pension to bridge the gap before receiving her state pension benefits. She feels ready to return to her previous role but on a part-time basis and agrees this with her employer. She returns to working two days a week, whilst receiving her pension benefits and saving further pension for her final retirement. Susan’s health and wellbeing is greatly improved as she has better financial security from accessing her pension alongside a salary. 

    Benefits for the employer

    By supporting Susan to retire and return, the trust has regained the skills of an experienced member of staff who will pass knowledge on to others and improve workforce capacity.

Step down

  • Staff may step down to a different role, for example, to reduce the level of responsibility while remaining in NHS employment.  

    This helps them change the intensity of work on the approach to retirement and supports the organisation to retain the individual’s skills and experience.

    Some members opting to step down may be eligible to have their higher level of pensionable pay protected, which might mean that their final salary benefits are not affected.

  • Name: Yusuf Age: 57 role and band: mental health team lead, band 7

    Yusuf is a registered mental health nurse and leads a team providing mental health support for patients at home and in clinics.  He has line management responsibility for the members of his team including acting as a mentor, preceptor and supervisor to students and junior staff.  In addition to managing the care of his own patients, he is responsible for the quality of care provided by his team and provides guidance advice and assistance on their assessments and referrals. He is often asked to attend and chair meetings and deputise for his senior colleagues.

    Why they have decided to retire flexibly

    In the lead up to his full retirement, Yusuf wants to enhance his job satisfaction and refocus on his vocation. He would like to spend more of his working time providing hands-on care to patients and less time on line management and paperwork. Yusuf decides to move to a less pressured and demanding role and achieve a better work life balance. He is keen to ensure the drop in responsibility does not affect his final salary pension and the scheme has the flexibility to protect his final salary at the point of stepping down.   

    Benefits for the employer 

    Facilitating Yusuf’s step down has improved staff health and wellbeing and created promotion opportunities for others . The trust has retained an experienced staff member and strengthened workforce capacity. Yusuf will pass on his skills to others, supporting continuity of care to patients. Enabling Yusuf to refocus on work he is passionate about will improve his job satisfaction, productivity and helps make the NHS a great place to work. 

Wind down

  • Staff can wind down to retirement by remaining in their current post but reducing the number of hours or days they work.

    Reducing working commitments will reduce pensionable pay and a lower pension in the 2015 scheme will build up in the future compared to working full-time. However, any final salary benefits earned in the 1995 or 2008 sections will continue to be based on whole-time equivalent pensionable pay and protected from changes in working patterns.

    This option may be used where the organisation wishes to retain the particular experience and skills within the team, but the individual wishes to reduce their hours as they approach retirement. This may support the member of staff to remain in work for a longer period of time before retirement. 

  • Name: Zaria Age: 56 role and band: midwife, band 6

    Zaria is a midwife and provides supervision, care and advice to women from conception, through pregnancy, labour, birth and the post-partum period, both in the hospital and at the patient’s home.  

    Why they have decided to retire flexibly  

    Zaria is considering her retirement options and is looking at winding down and reducing her hours in the lead up to full retirement. Zaria would like to reduce her working hours as her partner has recently retired, and she would like to spend more time with them and travel the UK in their new motorhome. 

    Benefits for the employer 

    By assisting Zaria to wind down, the trust has supported succession planning by retaining valuable skills and experience which can be passed on to other staff. Retaining Zaria has also reduced the time and costs of recruitment and training. 

Choosing when to retire

Each member has a normal pension age (NPA), at which they can retire and claim pension benefits without reduction. This age is defined by the scheme or section they are a member of.

The NHS Pension Scheme enables members to be flexible about the age at which they retire to suit their plans, allowing them to retire earlier or later with a corresponding reduction or increase to their pension benefits, where applicable. Members can choose to:

  • take early retirement before their NPA, if they have reached the minimum pension age set by the scheme or section they are part of. This may result in a reduction to pension benefits as they will be paid for longer.
  • retire later than their NPA and their pension benefits may increase by the application of late retirement factors. Late retirement enhancement is available to staff in the 2008 section and 2015 scheme of the NHS Pension Scheme.
  • Name: Kamal Age: 65 Role and Band: estates manager, band 8a  

    Kamal leads on the estates engineering and maintenance functions whilst leading and developing the whole estates team.  

    Why they have decided to retire flexibly 

    Kamal wants to continue his career and mentor junior staff. He works in a busy hospital and has many friends and colleagues with whom he shares both a professional relationship and a great social life. Kamal knows he can retire but chooses to continue in his role and build further benefits in the NHS Pension Scheme. Kamal plans to retire in a few years. His pension will be increased because he is retiring later than the normal retirement age. Kamal can continue to enjoy his role, working his usual hours and building a larger pension. 

    Benefits for the employer 

    Supporting Kamal with late retirement has enabled the trust to retain a highly valued, skilled member of staff who will pass their knowledge on to other members of staff, supporting succession planning.

Early retirement reduction buy out (ERRBO)

Members can pay additional contributions to buy out, or reduce, the actuarial reduction that would be applied to their pension were they to retire before their normal pension age. After joining the 2015 scheme, there will be a three-month window to take out an agreement with a buy-out period beginning with the member’s first day of pensionable service.

Alternatively, a member will have three months after the beginning of each subsequent scheme year to take out an agreement, with the buy-out period and contributions backdated to the beginning of that scheme year. Please note that ERRBO is different to the existing provision for early retirement in ‘the interests of efficiency for the service’.

Availability of retirement flexibilities

The following flexible retirement options are available to your staff depending on which part of the NHS Pension Scheme they have benefits in:

All retirement flexibilities are subject to discussion and agreement between the employee and the employer.

Members can find out which section or scheme they are in through their Total Reward Statement or Annual Benefit Statement. 

Flexible retirement resources

To support retirement planning discussions, we have created resources for organisations to use to promote the flexibilities to staff. 

You can use our retirement flexibilities poster (PDF) to support your conversations with staff about the flexible options available in the NHS Pension Scheme.

Our personas poster provides an example of each flexible retirement option and the benefits for the individual:

 (Editable Word version)



Our guidance, using flexible retirement to support retention, details the changes to flexible retirement options introduced in 2023 and helps employers to support staff to work flexibly.

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

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

For an example of how to promote flexible retirement options, read our case study. In it, Dorset Healthcare discuss how they raised awareness of retirement flexibilities using educative virtual sessions.

Next steps for employers  

Consider how flexible retirement plays a role in your organisation’s policies, strategy and communications to staff.


  • How will you promote flexible retirement options to staff? 
  • How can you educate line managers about the benefits of flexible retirement?
  • How do you support staff who manage individuals or teams to have retirement planning discussions with their staff?  
  • How do you incorporate flexible retirement and retirement planning into ongoing  conversations about flexible working, development and health and wellbeing?  


  • How can flexible retirement be used strategically to retain valuable experienced staff and meet workforce priorities? 
  • How can you build a workplace culture that embraces flexible retirement and embed it as normal practice alongside flexible working?
  • How will you evaluate the impact flexible retirement has on your workforce? 


  • Do your existing policies include retirement flexibilities?  
  • How do you evaluate and manage requests for flexible retirement fairly and consistently? Have you worked with trade unions to agree a standard appeals process for all staff to use if their flexible retirement request is not agreed? See the NHS Staff Council's guidance on the process for considering flexible retirement requests for support with this.

If you use flexible retirement in your organisation and want to share your experiences, please get in touch.

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