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30 November 2020
We've been contacted by scores of current and former NHS workers who are trying to reclaim income tax and national insurance (NI) they paid while training at some point since 1999.
MoneySavingExpert.com believes 10,000s of NHS staff may have overpaid tax or NI while taking part in the 'Widening Access Training' scheme. According to the latest figures, almost 31,000 people have already been refunded, and others may still be owed £1,000s – £18,700 is now the biggest refund we've heard of. Here's how to check if you may be eligible and how to reclaim.
A word of warning – in some circumstances doing this could affect your state pension or tax credit entitlements. See full info below.
Nurses, midwives, health visitors, doctors and paramedics are among those who took part in Widening Access Training (WAT), a specific scheme designed to broaden the professional knowledge of NHS workers. WAT has been running since 1999 – if you've been on it at any point since it started it's worth reading on.
The scheme sees NHS workers undertake full-time training at colleges and universities. But the problem is that payments they got while training were taxed as if this was paid work. As they were on a special training scheme which offered some tax and NI exemption, some should never have paid it.
Whether or not you can reclaim – and how much you may be able to get back – depends on your situation at the time you were training:
While there's a lot of confusion around this complex topic, some of those who've persevered have reported serious success. Since launching this guide we've had dozens come in, including one paramedic who reported reclaiming a huge sum:
I trained as a paramedic with the North East Ambulance Service way back in 2007 on a two-year course. Following your NHS tax reclaim help, I have recently received in total £18,700 including tax and NI contributions. Well worth the wait.
We also heard from Julie, who initially struggled to reclaim but was ultimately successful after being spurred on by this guide:
For the past six months I've been trying to claim tax and NI owed to me as a Widening Access Training participant. Firstly the NHS dragged this matter out for three months by not giving HMRC the information it required, and then once HMRC received the info it didn't get in touch to update me.
After reading your email last week I sent a further letter to HMRC asking for them to sort this out. Fantastic news – within four days they wrote back saying they would send me a cheque for £2,680 for national insurance I'm owed. They said they are looking into tax due to me and will inform me separately of this.
I am sure that highlighting this issue in the weekly email has spurred HMRC on to deal with this matter – so thank you everyone at MSE.
One psychologist, who asked not to be named, told us he reclaimed an astonishing £13,500 in tax and NI for clinical training between 2012 and 2015 – and could still be in line to receive even more (though the future of psychologists' payments is now in doubt):
I'm waiting for the final six months' worth of rebate for my training. It takes a long time and much hassle to get money back. The HMRC Widening Access team is small and is pretty swamped, and NHS trusts now either don't exist or don't know the process for helping individuals to get a rebate.
If you were an NHS employee when you took part in the Widening Access Training scheme, whether you're eligible to reclaim tax and NI depends on a number of factors:
|1 Sep 2007 – Present||£15,480||£15,480|
|1 Sep 2005 – 31 Aug 2007||£15,000||£15,000|
|1999 – 31 Aug 2005||£7,000||No exemption|
We asked HMRC for a full explanation of whether those who earn over the threshold can still claim tax or NI refunds.
If you fulfilled all the criteria above, and you paid tax and NI on your training income, you may be entitled to claim it back.
If you stopped being an employee when you did your Widening Access Training, and were instead put on an NHS 'contract of training', then in most cases you DON'T need to pay any tax or NI on your income from that contract, according to this guidance from HMRC. So if you did pay any, you can try to reclaim it.
The rules are looser for you than they are for employees, as there's no specific threshold over which tax and NI suddenly becomes payable. HMRC does state though that "each case needs to be considered on its own merits", and it will scrutinise the terms of your contract when making a decision, so a refund or exemption isn't guaranteed.
While we've set out the general rules above, it's worth noting that much depends on how they are implemented by NHS trusts – and there now seems to be significant variation in what different trusts are doing.
In November 2017 we reported that a number of trusts have put tax refund claims on hold, while one trust is actually trying to take back £20,000 it's already paid out – see our Training tax refunds halted MSE News story for full info.
We'll continue to follow this story as it develops – if you're having trouble with a claim or have been told you may have to be repay a refund you've already been given, let us know at email@example.com.
If you think you're able to reclaim, here's what to try – but do make sure you've read our warning about the possible pitfalls beforehand.
Start with the payroll department of the NHS trust which paid you when you were on the Widening Access Training scheme. Some trusts have allocated members of support staff specifically to help with WAT claims.
First of all, double-check if you were an employee at the time or on a 'contract of training'. Then you need to tell 'em you want to reclaim – here's a template of the type of thing you can say.
If the NHS trust can't help, HMRC told us that anyone with a query about a tax refund can call its tax helpline on 0300 200 3300, while queries about NI can be made on a different specialist helpline, 0300 200 3500. If you're trying to reclaim both, it says its advisers will work to resolve all queries in one call.
While the first port of call is always your NHS trust, the way your refund is handled will depend on when you studied – as HMRC's guidance explains.
If your course started before 6 April 2013, your NHS trust will need to submit the claim to HMRC on your behalf. If you're found to have overpaid tax or NI, you'll be refunded by HMRC – usually via a cheque in the post.
If your course started on or after 6 April 2013, your trust will be responsible for processing the claim and any refund you're due will be made through your trust's payroll system.
HMRC is keen to stress that there's definitely NO need to use a claims company to put your refund request in, as many of these firms charge fees. You can make your request for free via the methods outlined above.
While reclaiming is free and could lead to you getting £100s or even £1,000s back, it's not without risk. In particular:
Neither the NHS nor HMRC has ever given us a figure for how many NHS workers are likely to be owed a tax or NI refund, but based on the number of refunds already processed we believe it could run into the 10,000s.
Confusingly, NHS workers with similar circumstances who underwent similar training appear to be getting very different decisions from HMRC.
We've heard of several people who apparently earned well in excess of the threshold and still managed to reclaim NI, despite the very strict threshold, while others on similar salaries have had their claims rejected. HMRC says each decision depends on the facts of the specific case.
There also seems to be variation in how NHS trusts are handling claims, with some now having paused refunds and one even trying to recoup money already paid out.
We'll be continuing to investigate this and try to get firm answers. Let us know how you get on by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or in the NHS tax reclaim forum thread, and make sure you're signed up to the weekly email for updates as we learn more.
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