Pension regulations for Special Class members and Mental Health Officers

IMPORTANT NOTE: To qualify for either Special Class membership or as a Mental Health Officer you MUST have joined the NHS Superannuation Scheme BEFORE 1 April 1995. If you first joined after that date, you cannot qualify for either Special Class or Mental Health Officer status.

For some members who joined the NHS pension scheme before 1 April 1995, the nature of the work they did entitled them to an earlier normal pension age and, in some cases, other enhanced terms. To work out your entitlement to either Special Class or Mental Health Officer status (and to see how to maintain that status until your retirement), take a look at the sections below.

Special Class membership

If you were employed as a nurse, physiotherapist, midwife or health visitor and joined the NHS superannuation scheme before 1 April 1995, your employer may have determined that you qualified for Special Class membership.

Special Class membership allows you to apply for your full 1995 section pension entitlement from the age of 55 rather than the normal pension age for the 1995 section which is 60.

In some circumstances, Special Class status can be lost meaning that your normal retirement age will default to the section’s normal retirement age of 60. You will lose your Special Class status if:

  • you move to a post that doesn’t qualify for Special Class membership and do not return to a Special Class post within five years, or;
  • you have a break in service or scheme membership of more than five years, or;
  • you don’t work in a Special Class post for the last five years of your NHS employment.

Redundancy

If you have Special Class membership and you’re made redundant without becoming entitled to an immediate pension, you may, in certain circumstances, retain your right to retire at age 55. If you’re made redundant, contact us for further information.

Maximum service

If you hold Special Class membership you can have a maximum service of 45 years at age 65 after which you must stop making superannuation contributions.

Tapered protection status and the NHS 2015 scheme

If you have ‘tapered protection’ and also have Special Class membership, your 1995 section benefits will be preserved from the date you join the 2015 scheme and you’ll no longer accrue service in the 1995 section. You will, however, retain the option to apply for your preserved benefits from age 55. If you choose to take your 1995 section pension before your State Pension age, you won’t be able to continue contributing to the NHS 2015 scheme. Any NHS 2015 scheme benefits would then be preserved for you under that scheme and you’d be able to claim them either at State Pension Age, or earlier through voluntary early retirement.

Important note for male Special Class members: The pension benefits you’re entitled to apply for from age 55 will be based on service you’ve accrued after 17 May 1990. Any pension benefits accrued prior to this date can be claimed at 60, or earlier as a voluntary early retirement award.

Mental Health Officer status

If you were employed on the medical or nursing staff of a hospital* used for the treatment of patients suffering from mental disorders, and you joined the NHS superannuation scheme before 1 April 1995, your employer may have determined that you qualified for Mental Health Officer status.

*Any institution for the reception and treatment of any patients suffering from a mental disorder and, in some circumstances, clinics, outpatient departments and community units may be regarded as a hospital.

As a Mental Health Officer, you can apply for your 1995 section pension benefits from the age of 55 without actuarial reduction rather than the normal pension age of 60 that usually applies in the 1995 section.

To qualify for this you must be an actively contributing scheme member with 20 years’ (or more) Mental Health Officer qualifying service. You must also be in NHS employment as a Mental Health Officer immediately before you claim your pension benefits.

If you’re not eligible to retire at age 55 as a Mental Health Officer due to having less than 20 years calendar service, you may still be entitled to retire at 55 under Special Class membership regulations – so it’s worth checking the Special Class regulations above.

In some circumstances, Mental Health Officer status can be lost meaning that your normal retirement age will default to the section’s normal retirement age of 60. You will lose your Mental Health Officer status if: you move to a post which does not devote whole, or almost whole time, in the direct treatment or care of patients suffering from mental disorder* you have a disqualifying break of more than five years

*This does not apply to members moving within the Mental Health field. Posts up to and including Director of Nursing Services or equivalent in a wholly psychiatric unit may be allowed to retain MHO status provided that the post holder has a clear line management responsibility for ward nursing staff and consequently a responsibility for the treatment or care of patients with mental disorder. Employers will determine if a member’s post still qualifies for MHO status and report this to SPPA

If you hold Mental Health Officer status and you’re made redundant without becoming entitled to an immediate pension, you may, in certain circumstances, retain your right to retire at age 55. If you’re made redundant, contact us for further information.

Doubled years

The day after you complete 20 calendar years of Mental Health Officer service is referred to as your ‘doubling date’. This applies to both full-time and part-time members. Following the ‘doubling date’, every complete calendar year of Mental Health Officer service is counted as two complete years for pension purposes. So, for example, a full time Mental Health Officer with 21 years’ service would have 21 regular years plus one doubled year to give 22 years in total.

If, however, you work part-time your reckonable service is ‘doubled’ for each whole calendar year you complete as a Mental Health Officer from your ‘doubling date’. So, for example, if you work 80% part-time as a Mental Health Officer, the 292 days of service you accrue in a full calendar year will be doubled to 584 days.

Service restrictions

If your service, including doubled years, exceed 40 years (or part-time equivalent) by your 55th birthday, your service will be restricted for benefit calculation purposes.

If you’re a Mental Health Officer under the age of 55 your total amount of service (including any ‘doubled years’) is restricted to 40 years and 1 day (or part-time equivalent).

If you’re a Mental Health Officer over the age of 55 whose service has previously been restricted, your ‘doubling date’ changes to your 55th birthday. The reckonable service you accrue in each whole calendar year after your 55th birthday will be ‘doubled’ and added to your total years of service.

Maximum service

As a Mental Health Officer, you must stop making contributions on your 60th birthday if you’ve already accrued 45 years’ qualifying service. If you haven’t accrued 45 years’ service, you can continue to remain in the scheme until your 65th birthday or until you’ve accrued 45 years’ service, whichever is earlier. After that, you must cease making contributions.

Tapered protection status and the NHS 2015 scheme

If you have ‘tapered protection’ you'll move into the 2015 scheme on your your tapered protection date and your 1995 section benefits will be preserved and you’ll no longer accrue service in this scheme. You will, however, retain the option to apply for these benefits from age 55, providing you are an ‘active’ member in a Mental Health Officer post.

If you choose to take your 1995 section pension before your State Pension age, you won’t be able to continue contributing to the NHS 2015 scheme. Any NHS 2015 scheme benefits would then be preserved for you under that scheme and you’d be able to claim them either at State Pension Age, or earlier through voluntary early retirement.

If you have more than 20 calendar years Mental Health Officer service, you’ll retain the option to apply for these benefits from age 55. If, however, you have less than 20 years Mental Health Officer service you may still be entitled to claim your 1995 section benefits at age 55 under Special Class status regulations – see Special Class details above.

See our Special Class and Mental Health Officer FAQs

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