NHS pension survivor benefits

Broadly speaking, there are three types of survivor benefits (or death benefits) that may be payable when a member of the NHS Pension Scheme passes away. These are:

  • A cash lump sum on death
  • Adult dependants’ pension (survivor pension)
  • Child dependants’ pension

Whether your family can claim all or any of these benefits will depend on your circumstances at the time of death – for instance whether you’re already drawing your pension, or whether you die while still an active member. In many cases, you’ll need at least two years of NHS pension membership to qualify for adult dependants’ pensions.

As with most things in the NHS Pension Scheme, your entitlement also depends on which section of the scheme you’ve built your benefits in. You can find out more about the three parts to the scheme in our NHS Pension Scheme guide.

Cash lump sum on death

If you die before retiring or within five years of your retirement, a lump-sum death benefit may be due. This one-time lump sum will be paid directly into the bank account of your legal spouse or civil partner, unless you’ve nominated someone else to receive it via the Death Benefit Nomination Form.

The amount payable will depend on a range of factors, but will take into account the amount of retirement benefits that have already been received up to the date of death. If you had already retired and chose to exchange some of your pension for a larger lump sum when you finished work, it may be that no further lump sum is available.

If a death benefit lump sum is due, it must be paid by the scheme administrator within two years, or it will attract a tax charge of up to 45%.

Adult dependants’ pension

An adult dependant’s pension is paid every month to your surviving spouse, registered civil partner or a nominated qualifying partner from the date of your death. You can’t nominate anyone else to receive it.

The value of the pension depends on the length of your membership and which part of the scheme you belonged to.

If you were still a member of the NHS Pension Scheme after the 1st April 2008, an adult dependant’s pension is payable for life - regardless of whether your spouse or partner remarries. However, if your membership ended before this date, the adult dependant’s pension will usually end if the recipient remarries, forms a civil partnership or lives with someone else as a partner. 

Child dependants’ pension

If you leave behind child dependants, a child’s pension may also be payable. As well as your own biological children, this could be applicable to stepchildren, your partner’s children or to other dependants including nephews, nieces and grandchildren.

Again, eligibility criteria depends on whether your membership extended beyond 1st April 2008. If it did, a child dependant may be eligible up to the age of 23. Even if they are over 23, they can receive the pension if they are incapable of earning a living due to permanent disability.

If your scheme membership ended before 1st April 2008, a child’s pension may be paid only if the dependant child is under the age of 17 or is aged between 17 and 22 and in full-time education. 

Again though, children who don’t fit this criteria can still receive the pension if they are incapable of earning a living due to permanent disability.

How NHS survivor benefits are calculated

The value of the survivor pension package you leave behind depends largely on three factors:

  • the value of the pension benefits you built up as a member
  • the section of the scheme you built them in
  • your status when you die.

Below you can see the basic calculations that are used for a range of scenarios in each part of the scheme, starting with the 1995 section.

Understanding the calculations

Where we mention a ‘notional’ pension, that’s the amount that would have been payable at the time of your death. A ‘tier 2 ill health pension’ is an enhanced pension paid out to members who are no longer able to work due to illness, injury, or in this case death.

A ‘deferred’ member is a member who left the scheme after two or more years’ membership and chose to leave their benefits in the scheme.

Remember, if you don’t have at least two qualifying years of membership, some of these benefits won’t apply and others will be adjusted. Speak to a Specialist Financial Adviser from Wesleyan Financial Services if you want to find out more.

Survivor benefits in the 1995 NHS pension section

Cash lump sum:
Scenario
Lump-sum entitlement
If you die as an active member
2 x annual pensionable pay (or average ‘uprated earnings’ for practitioners).
If you die while drawing your pension
The lower of 5 x pension (minus any pension already taken) or 2 x pensionable pay (minus any retirement lump sum you took).
If you have a deferred NHS pension
3 x the pension payable if you had retired on the date of your death.
Adult dependants’ pension
Scenario
Pension entitlement
If you die as an active member
If you die before 60, the adult dependant pension will be 50% of the notional tier 2 ill health pension. If you die after 60, it will be 50% of the notional age pension. An additional short-term pension is also paid for the first 6 months.
If you die while drawing your pension
50% of the member’s pension in payment - plus an additional short-term pension for the first 3 months (or 6 months if there are eligible dependent children).
If you have a deferred NHS pension
50% of the notional tier 2 ill health pension if you die within 12 months of leaving the scheme - otherwise 50% of the notional age pension.
Child dependants’ pension
Scenario
Pension entitlement
If you die as an active member
25% of the notional tier 2 ill health pension for one child (or 50% shared equally for two or more children). A short-term pension equal to the rate of pensionable pay may also be payable for up to 6 months.
If you die while drawing your pension
25% of your pension for one child (or 50% shared equally for two or more children). A short-term pension equal to the rate of pensionable pay may also be payable.
If you have a deferred NHS pension
If you die within 12 months of leaving the scheme, 25% of the notional tier 2 ill health pension (or 50% shared equally for 2 or more children). If you die more than 12 months after leaving, 25% of the Age pension (or 50% shared equally for 2 or more children).

Survivor benefits in the 2008 NHS pension section 

Benefits in the 2008 section of the NHS Pension Scheme are often calculated on the basis of ‘reckonable pay’. Reckonable pay is the average of the best three consecutive years’ pensionable pay received over the last 10 years before retirement. Find out more in our guide to the NHS Pension Scheme.

Cash lump sum:
Scenario
Lump-sum entitlement
If you die as an active member
2 x reckonable pay (or average uprated earnings for practitioners).
If you die while drawing your pension
The lower of 5 x pension (minus any pension already taken) or 2 x reckonable pay (minus any retirement lump sum you took).
If you have a deferred NHS pension
2.25 x the annual pension you would have received had you retired on the date of your death.
Adult dependants’ pension:
Scenario
Pension entitlement
If you die as an active member
If you die before 65, the adult dependant pension will be 37.5% of the notional tier 2 ill health pension. If you die after 60, it will be 37.5% of the notional age pension. An additional short-term pension is also paid for the first 6 months.
If you die while drawing your pension
37.5% of the member’s pension in payment - plus an additional short-term pension for the first 3 months (or 6 months if there are eligible dependent children).
If you have a deferred NHS pension
37.5% of the notional tier 2 ill health pension if you die within 12 months of leaving the scheme - otherwise 37.5% of the notional age pension.
Child dependants’ pension
Scenario
Pension entitlement
If you die as an active member
18.75% of the notional tier 2 ill health pension for one child (or 37.5% shared equally for two or more children). A short-term pension equal to the rate of pensionable pay may also be payable for up to 6 months.
If you die while drawing your pension
18.75% of your pension for one child (or 37.5% shared equally for two or more children. A short-term pension equal to the rate of pensionable pay may also be payable for up to 6 months.
If you have a deferred NHS pension
If you die within 12 months of leaving the scheme, 18.75% of the notional tier 2 ill health pension (or 37.5% shared equally for 2 or more children). If you die more than 12 months after leaving, 18.75% of the Age pension (or 37.5% shared equally for 2 or more children).

Survivor benefits in the 2015 NHS pension scheme 

The 2015 NHS Pension Scheme is a career average scheme, based on 1/54th of your pensionable earnings each year. The pension you get is increased each year by a method known as revaluation – which is why you’ll see 'revalued earnings’ featured in the table below:

Cash lump sum:
Scenario
Lump-sum entitlement
If you die as an active member
The higher of:

2 x the relevant earnings in the last 12 months of pensionable service, or

2 x the highest revalued (increased by inflation) pensionable earning in the last 10 scheme years.

If you die while drawing your pension
The lower of:

5 x your annual pension amount (minus any pension you’ve already taken) or

2 x the lump sum payable had you been an active member on the date of death (minus any lump sum already taken).

If you have a deferred NHS pension
2.025 x the annual pension you would have received if you had retired on the date of death.
Adult dependants’ pension:
Scenario
Pension entitlement
If you die as an active member
If you die before your Normal Pension Age, adult dependants receive 33.75% of the notional tier 2 ill health pension. Otherwise, it’s 33.75% of the notional age pension. A short-term pension equal to the rate of pensionable earnings may also be payable for 6 months
If you die while drawing your pension
33.75% of your pension in payment, plus an additional short-term pension for the first 3 months (6 months if there are child dependants).
If you have a deferred NHS pension
If you die within 12 months of leaving the scheme, adult dependants receive 33.75% of the notional tier 2 ill health pension. Otherwise, they receive 33.75% of the notional Age pension.
Child dependants’ pension
Scenario
Pension entitlement
If you die as an active member
16.875% of the notional tier 2 ill health pension, or 33.75% shared equally for two or more children. An additional short-term pension may also be payable for up to 6 months.
If you die while drawing your pension
16.875% of the pension in payment, or 33.75% shared equally for two or more children. An additional short-term may also be payable for the first 3 or 6 months..
If you have a deferred NHS pension
If you die within 12 months of leaving the scheme, children receive 16.875% of the notional tier 2 ill health pension (or 33.75% shared equally for two or more children). If you die more than 12 months after leaving, children receive 16.875% of the Age pension.

For more details on all of the above calculations, visit the NHS Pension Scheme members hub. Or, for help planning your financial future and making the most of your NHS pension benefits, you can book an appointment with one of our Specialist Financial Advisers.

How to claim survivor benefits

It’s not the easiest of conversations to have with your family, but as you get older, it is important that everyone knows how to claim their entitlement as and when the time comes.

Dependant pensions must be claimed and applied for, using the appropriate forms. If the member was still working for the NHS when they die, these forms will usually be sent by the employer to the next of kin.

If the member was already retired and drawing their pension, the surviving spouse or partner will need to notify the scheme of the member’s death, quoting the member’s membership (SD) number and National Insurance number. The scheme will then issue the forms and write to the member’s spouse or partner to request any documentation required.

Notifying the scheme as quickly as possible helps to ensure no overpayments are made to the member. Any overpayments would need to be paid back and can cause unnecessary extra admin at an already difficult time.

A quick word on tax…

Always keep in mind that pension benefits are treated as taxable income, so it’s important to be aware of your tax position if you start receiving survivor benefits. For instance, there could be significant tax to pay if the lump sums or pension benefits you receive push you over the lifetime allowance threshold (the amount of pension benefit you’re allowed to draw from pension schemes during your lifetime, currently £1,073,100).

There may be inheritance tax to consider too. Where the lump sum on death benefit is paid to a spouse or civil partner, it’s not included in an inheritance tax assessment – but it is included if the money goes to a nominee or nominated qualifying partner.

To make sure you understand all the tax implications, it might be worth seeking professional advice.

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