PCN Pension Access Update

In April 2023 the NHS Business Services Authority (“NHSBSA”) amended the application process Primary Care Networks (“PCNs”) needed to use to secure pensions for their team members. They replaced the ‘time limited direction status’ (“TLD”) many PCNs had been using, with three options, depending on the situation and development plans for the PCN. All three options now also require the PCNs to submit a suitable, qualifying NHS contract with their applications.

Does the PCN need to apply to be an Employing Authority?

Where the PCN workforce is employed by a company incorporated by the PCN (“a PCN Company”) these entities will need to obtain or update their Employing Authority status.

Other sub-contractors such as GP federations may also require access the NHS pension and will require a qualifying contract to support their application.

Discussions with the PCN’s providers will help them understand when this is relevant and suitable.

What are the options available to PCNs?

There are three routes to secure Employing Authority status:

  1. Closed Direction / Determination (“Closed”) access
  2. Open PCN Determination (“Open”) access
  3. Independent Provider Employing Authority (“IPEA”) access

Closed Access

This option is available in the specific circumstances where the PCN is transferring staff from one provider e.g. a practice to another e.g. a PCN Company, in accordance with the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment Regulations 2006 (“TUPE”).

This access option creates a protective bubble around the pension rights of the staff and it moves with them into the new company.

This route does not take effect until after the transfer has completed and only transferred staff have access to the pension using this route. New staff will need to have access through a different option.

Open Access

This is the latest access route which commenced in April 2023. It is designed for ‘ARRS employees and employees working wholly or mainly on the PCN DES sub-contract’.

For a large proportion of PCNs this will be the preferred access route. If the PCN has an existing EA Code from the TLD this is the method through which it will be secured beyond April 2023.

Some PCNs may find the restriction of only being open to PCN employees limiting for their plans, especially if they would like to employ staff to provide services beyond the remit of the ‘PCN DES subcontract’. In these circumstances they may wish to consider the IPEA access route or an alternative non-NHS scheme to ensure compliance with auto-enrolment regulations.

IPEA Access

This is the traditional scheme for the non-traditional NHS providers. By demonstrating that they have a qualifying contract from the NHS they can secure access to the pension scheme.

The scheme is open to any eligible employees. It has greater scope to offer the pension to a wider workforce who may be working on NHS services other than PCN work. There are specific restrictions including a pensionable pay ceiling so advice should be sought when considering this option.

What is a ‘Qualifying Contract’?

There is a defined list of qualifying contracts which include the NHS Standard Contract, NHS Standard Sub-Contract and certain public health contracts. For the purpose of PCNs the relevant qualifying contract is the NHS Sub-contract for the provision of services related to the Network Contract DES 2023/24.

All PCNs will need this sub-contract to confirm that they are contracted by the Core Network Practices to provide PCN services. The main terms and conditions have been set by NHS England but the parties can amend the schedules to reflect the relationship between them.

It is strongly recommended that advice is obtained to ensure that the schedules are suitable to meet the needs of the PCN and the practices.

Do the ICBs need to be notified?

ICBs must be informed of an intention to sub-contract any elements of the PCN services and NHSBSA will contact the ICB to authorise any application for pension access.

This is a relatively easy process with the commissioner being notified of the terms of the contract and having 28 days to object to them. If they do not object, the sub-contract can commence.

All application forms can be found on the NHSBSA website at Access to the NHS Pension Scheme | NHSBSA.

First published in BHP’s Autumn newsletter.