A ex-midwife is urging other former NHS workers to check they are not being underpaid in retirement after securing a five-fold increase in her pension, plus a £19,000 lump sum payment.
Luci Rozanski received the extra cash after a long battle with the NHS pension scheme, which is one of Britain’s biggest, with 1.7 million active members.
She and her husband, Nick, say the scheme had apparently “lost” 10 years of her pension records. They claim it is possible there could be many health service workers who have been “cheated” out of money they are due.
The former pensions minister Steve Webb, now a partner at actuaries LCP, told Guardian Money he strongly suspects Rozanski is “far from being alone” in losing out to the apparent error.
The NHS pension scheme is a “defined benefit” arrangement open to all NHS employees and those of other approved organisations. On top of the 1.7 million active members, there are more than 700,000 deferred members (those who have left the NHS) and about 1 million scheme pensioners receiving payments.
Rozanski, 61, was originally paid an annual pension of £1,513 but this has now been upped to £7,883. If the mistake had not been corrected, it could have cost her almost £200,000 over a 30-year retirement, based on current figures.
She also received the lump sum, plus more than £8,000 in underpaid monthly pension payments.
Rozanski worked for the NHS as a full-time nurse and midwife from 1978 to 1993, and was based at several hospitals in London that over the years have moved between different health authorities.
She started to receive her NHS pension when she turned 60, early last year, but says the sum she was receiving “seemed very small” given how long she had worked in the healthcare system. Her annual pension worked out at £126 a month, and her retirement lump sum was a little under £5,000.
The couple investigated and say it became clear that only the first period of her employment – from October 1978 to March 1984, when she worked as a student nurse and a staff nurse – had been recognised for the purposes of her pension entitlement. The nine-year period she spent working as a midwife at two other London hospitals had apparently been overlooked.
The couple queried this with NHS Pensions, the organisation that administers the scheme. It replied that its staff had carried out “a thorough search” of its records but there was no record of contributions being paid to the NHS scheme during the period in question.
Undaunted, Rozanski wrote back, enclosing more documents to back up her case and asking the organisation to “pay me the pension I am due”. It sent back a letter that was almost identical to the first.
She then complained to the Pensions Ombudsman, saying that NHS Pensions’ “error” would cost her thousands of pounds a year, and that the whole affair had caused her “a considerable amount of stress and anxiety”. But the ombudsman said it could not help until she formally complained to NHS Pensions, which she did earlier this year.
Two months later, to her “utter surprise”, Rozanski received a letter from NHS Pensions saying it had “revised” her retirement benefit entitlement “because of a change to your pensionable pay or membership”. No explanation was offered, nor an apology. Shortly afterwards she received the additional amounts.
Rozanski, who lives in north London, says the volte-face followed “18 months of increasingly bizarre and frustrating correspondence”.
She says: “I believe this may be happening to many other nurses and midwives who have changed jobs during their career. They probably don’t even realise they are being underpaid the pension they are legally entitled to, and if they do, may not be as dogged as we were in following it up. It could make a huge difference to a lot of former nurses, midwives and maybe other NHS workers who I think have been cheated out of money they are due.”
Webb says he is “not stunned” to hear about Rozanski’s experience.
With people moving around within the NHS and changes to the running of hospitals leading to staff records being sent to new places, “you can see how it happens”, he says.
His advice to individuals when it comes to pension entitlements and paperwork is: “If it doesn’t look right, don’t just assume they must have got it right.”
His other tip is to keep all paperwork, such as payslips, even long after you think you might need it, just in case there is a problem later.
“Just stick them in a drawer – payslips, pension letters and so on. Don’t throw them away. You never know when they might come in useful.”
Guardian Money asked NHS Pensions about Rozanski’s case and the claim that others may have been “cheated” out of what they were owed. It said: “While we’re unable to comment on individual cases, our NHS Pensions contact centre colleagues are on hand to assist with any queries members may have, and we’d encourage them to get in touch should they have any questions about their pension.”