The Oxleas pension scandal


How Oxleas frames its scandalous offer

The offer made by the Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust is a scandal. There is no other word for it. Staff are being misinformed about pensions and being offered “sexy-cash” to help Oxleas balance its books.

  • Our nurses are worth more than that

  • The NHS is worth more than that

  • The NHS Pension Scheme is worth more than that

The NHS and the NHS Pension Scheme are the real deal

In an interview on Radio 4’s Money Box (minute 8 on), Paul Maloney, who exposed the Oxleas malpractice, claimed that the alternative solution for the Trust was to give nurses accelerated pay and the NHS pension. I don’t quite agree (though if I was a nurse ,I  would jump at that offer!).

My alternative solution would be to spend five minutes with each prospective nurse and point out to them that if they want to work for the NHS on an agency contract, they will get more take home, but at the expense of getting a tiny pension. Then I would show them why being in the NHS pension scheme is worth it. If the nurse didn’t get it, then I would interview another, and another and another.

I am against long-term agency work, especially offshore agency work. The reason is that agencies make their money by not paying people the insurances they need. They get little or no life insurance, little income protection and little insurance against them running out of money when they retire.

Agencies use every trick in the book – many have set up in Sark and other offshore havens, paying teachers and nurses in a VAT-free zone. Offshore agencies have even been able to defer auto-enrolling staff three or four years by claiming exemptions under auto-enrolment designed for merchant seamen and offshore oil workers.

I have written about this several times on this blog – but that is a digression. The point is that agencies will always find a way to cheat and it’s up to the NHS to make it clear that they are the real deal – especially on pensions.

Playing the agencies at their own game simply ensures a race to the bottom!

Oxleas is sending all the wrong messages

The scandal of Oxleas is more than it drives a coach and horses through the spirit of auto-enrolment (“we’re all in”), it’s that it promotes financial irresponsibility. People can choose to be financially irresponsible and can work for agencies if they want, but for the NHS – an exemplum of what is good in staffing – to dismiss the value of its own wonderful pension scheme as it is doing, is an obscenity.

Steve Webb also appeared on Money Box. I was a little disappointed in what he said. When he was asked his opinion of the deal – which allows those who opt-out of the NHS scheme to opt-in to NEST, Webb focussed on the issue of having to opt-in. This is to miss the point entirely. The issues is that the NHS Pension Scheme is the real deal.

The NHS Pension Scheme is designed for people like nurses who typically make a career of it and aims to give them security in retirement. The real deal is that if staff make a commitment to the NHS, they get a really good retirement income guaranteed by the state. For those on lower incomes (and nurses don’t get a big fat salary), the long term value of the NHS Pension Scheme will – should they stay in the NHS- most likely become their biggest financial asset.

The value of even a few years in the NHS Pension Scheme is still huge. By comparison, the value of an opt-in to NEST is negligible. What Steve Webb needed to say was nothing to do with opt-ins and opt-outs but that being part of the NHS Pension Scheme is a privilege that – if offered – should be seized with both hands.

The NEST opt-in is a smoke screen Steve

Yes there are wider implications to do with auto-enrolment, but let’s not get carried away with people being in and out. Let’s focus here on what people could be in, which is the truly wonderful NHS pension scheme, the way we reward our nursing staff for their dedication to patients and the National Health Service.

Oxleas has totally lost perspective on the value of the NHS Pension Scheme and when their spokespeople argue – as they did on Money Box-  that staff get the chance to be in NEST “another Government Scheme”, they are mis-selling the relative values of membership of the two arrangements.

Not all pension schemes are the same and the difference between a minimum contribution under auto-enrolment into a DC pension and full membership of the NHS Pension Scheme is about as big as big can be.

Time to be frank about value

I’m afraid that neither Paul Moloney or Steve Webb felt that they could say on national radio that the NHS Pension Scheme is better than NEST. All Steve  could say -without being held up for offering financial advice, is that it is better to be enrolled into NEST than to be given an opt- in to NEST.All Paul could say was that it was better to be given an NHS pension and agency pay scales than just agency pay scales.

It really is time people were able to speak freely about the quality of pensions and say without fear of retribution that the NHS 2015 Career Average Pension Scheme is good news and that if you have any plans to make a career with the NHS, those plans should include being in the NHS Pension Scheme.

Prospective staff should be talked through page 6 of this document and have the value of the NHS Pension Scheme properly explained to them.

The trouble is, that neither Steve nor Paul said that, and I suspect that they were advised they could not say that. Which leaves Oxleas free to tell staff that even if they  opt-out of the NHS scheme, they can opt-in to “another pension scheme” – a matter of fact. Not only that, but because they are simply giving information, they are behaving compliantly.

Common sense or compliance?

This Oxleas scandal is partly a scandal of regulation. The Pensions Regulator has given Oxleas a green light, because Oxleas got their lawyers to cross “t”s and dot “i”s.

Oxleas will see their recruitment costs fall as more staff contract directly with them. Healthcare will, in the short-term be cheaper and more plentiful.

But the NHS scheme will wither on the vine without new entrants. The nurses of today will retire and the nurses who joined Oxleas on no pension scheme will move on – without pension rights and without any reason to stay.

The nurses who move on will get to retirement without more than the scraps from a few auto-enrolled DC schemes. There is no common sense in this at all.

All this is happening because nobody is able to explain

  • that the NHS Pension Scheme is wonderful and that 1% of band earnings  into NEST isn’t
  • that funding the NHS Pension Scheme is the nation’s way of saying thanks to dedicated nurses
  • that people like me gladly pay our taxes so that nurses like those interviewing at Oxleas don’t have to worry about their retirement
  • that Oxleas are tricking nurses with sexy-cash when they should be properly promoting standard conditions and membership of the NHS Pension Scheme.

Issues for the DWP….

The first issue for the DWP is that the NHS Pension Scheme is not being properly promoted and  that vulnerable nurses are being mis-sold a little extra take home in return for a lot less deferred pay (at retirement).

The second issues is that they are able to hide behind regulations in doing this.

The third issue is that Oxleas is a Government body and is setting a terrible example

The fourth and final issue is that this case is now notorious and cannot be swept under the carpet.

Let’s hope that the DWP , the Treasury and the Department of Health act as one on this. Good pensions are too rare and Oxleas’ scandalous behaviour needs to be stamped on immediately.



About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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4 Responses to The Oxleas pension scandal

  1. Gerry Flynn says:

    I am not given to conspiracy theory’s, but did Oxleas run this past someone senior at the Dept of Health/TPR/DWP, who then referred it to the Treasury, they then gave it the green light because Gideon thought it was a wizard idea and would save money?

    I only ask.

  2. Mike Lacey says:

    I heard the article on Radio 4 and felt that the implication was that it was OK to persuade / bribe people into not joining the NHS PS because they could join an AE scheme – with the clear implication that it was as good…

    This deception by omission is really poor. The AE scheme won’t be funded at the same rate as the NHS PS, and even if it was, the real value of the benefit is way above the funding rate. FRS 17 refers.

  3. Paul Moloney says:

    Henry, I certainly wasn’t advised by anyone not to say how good the NHS Pension Scheme is so just for the record I and my organisation think it is an excellent part of the employment package for those wanting a career in the NHS. My comments were simply in relation to the Trust saying they were responding to acute recruitment problems. If that is true I was simply pointing out they had well tried and well used options available to them that do not include encouraging people to opt out of the NHS Scheme.

    This story isn’t just about Pensions but about low pay rates in the NHS, which have been frozen for 5 of the last 6 years so my comments need to be seen in that context as that is why Oxleas cannot recruit nurses.

    Nevertheless I agree with your main point that people need to understand the value of the NHS Scheme. Its not just the nurses tempted by this offer that do not, but also their employer who as you rightly point out have done nothing to promote the overall value of their employment package to those they seek to recruit.

    Thanks for publicising the story though. We need as much pressure as possible to make Oxleas think again.

    Paul Moloney

  4. henry tapper says:

    Thanks Paul and Mike and Gerry
    You are not to call George Gideon, he will get very woosy indeed and we need all the Government incentives he can afford us,

    Paul, I think we are on the same page, like Mike I hope that none of the listeners think that all Government schemes are the same!

    Viva the NHS Pension scheme and up the nurses!

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