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Life can be unpredictable, and sometimes the future looks different to how we expected. When illness or injury stops you from teaching, your life and finances are likely to be impacted. That’s why it’s useful to know what happens to your pension should this happen.
If you’re off sick for a long time, you’ll remain in pensionable service as long as you’re paid at least 50% of the salary you were earning before your sick leave started (within the period of your full or half pay allowance).
If you’re unable to return to work due to your medical condition, you can apply for ill-health retirement under the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS). This means you’ll be able to access your pension benefits before your Normal Pension Age (NPA), and without the usual reduction.
To be eligible for ill-health retirement, certain criteria will need to be satisfied – as we’ll see below.
There are many reasons why you may need to take ill-health retirement – from physical health issues to mental illness.
As mentioned earlier, if your condition means you need to take a period of sick leave, you’ll stay in pensionable service as long as you’re earning at least half the salary you were beforehand.
If your condition means you need to apply for ill-health retirement benefits, you must have either two years qualifying service after 5 April 1988, or five years at any time.
Your application will be assessed against two-tier criteria that is based on the severity of your illness. It will also take into account whether your application is made 'in-service' or 'out-of-service' – in other words, if you are currently teaching or not.
There are two tiers of ill-health retirement benefits – partial incapacity and total incapacity.
For both tiers you will need to be an active member of the TPS, and be unable to teach due to illness or injury. You will also need evidence from a medical practitioner or specialist that outlines the nature of your condition.
Most people that apply for ill-health retirement will qualify for partial incapacity benefits. This means that while your medical condition prevents you from continuing in your current teaching role, you may be capable of gaining employment in a different capacity in the future.
To qualify for total incapacity (which includes an enhancement to the pension paid), your medical condition would need to be of a nature or severity that means it is unlikely that you can be gainfully employed in the future – for example, if you are diagnosed with a critical illness.
Critical illnesses are typically long-term and very serious, such as cancer, heart attacks and strokes.
The way that your ill-health retirement benefits are calculated will depend on which scheme you are part of.
If you are part of the career average reduced earnings (CARE) scheme, your benefits will be based on 1/57th of your pensionable earnings in each year you are part of the scheme. This amount is then added to your 'pot' annually, and the total is revalued.
There's no automatic lump sum under the career average scheme, but you do have the option of converting your pension into a lump sum if you wish.
If you are part of the final salary scheme, the first factor considered when calculating ill-health retirement benefits is your length of pensionable service. This is the period of time that you have contributed to the TPS.
The second factor is your final average salary. Your final average salary is based on your best three consecutive years of pensionable earnings within the last ten years.
As well as your annual pension, you may also receive a lump sum payout, which is typically three times your annual pension.
Regardless of which section of the scheme you’re in, there will be certain eligibility criteria you will need to meet. As mentioned earlier, you will be assessed against two tiers. The benefits you receive will depend on the tier you qualify for (either partial incapacity or total incapacity).
Ill-health retirement criteria and benefits can be complex and may change over time. It’s also important to remember that eligibility criteria may differ for individual cases, and can be influenced by the severity of your illness or disability.
To find out more about your specific benefits, you should contact the Teachers’ Pension Scheme or refer to official TPS documentation.
The process of applying for ill-health retirement benefits under the TPS usually involves the following steps:
You’ll need to take part in an Occupational Health Service assessment, or to be assessed by your GP or other GMC registered medical professional. You can then include the findings from this assessment in your ill-health retirement application form.
You can find out more about the ill-health retirement application form and supplying medical evidence below.
You should let your employer know about your intention to apply for ill-health benefits. They are likely to have their own procedures in place and forms that will need to be filled out.
You can download this form from the TPS website. Alternatively, you can contact your TPS administrator.
Be sure to provide all of the information that is needed, including your personal details, employment history and medical evidence, as well as any supporting documents required by the form.
Your application will be assessed by a Medical Adviser who will review your evidence and decide whether you meet the eligibility criteria for ill-health retirement. The assessment may include a medical examination.
Once your application has been assessed, you will receive a decision from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. This decision will include details about the type of benefits you may receive.
As well as your ill-health retirement application form, you will also need to complete a medical information form. Any medical reports that you’ve received throughout your illness should be included in this form, and should demonstrate that:
Once you’ve supplied this evidence, your application will be assessed by the scheme’s Medical Advisers. If there isn’t enough evidence for them to make a fully considered decision, your application may be rejected.
If this happens, you’ll receive a copy of the decision with advice on other medical information that should be supplied or further treatments that may need to be explored.
You have the right to make two appeals. Either or both of which can be against the rejection of your ill-health retirement application, or the level of benefit being awarded.
There’s no time limit for making your first appeal. All you need to supply is a short letter that makes it clear you want to appeal, as well as any supporting information or evidence that you would like the TPS or Medical Advisers to consider.
Your second appeal will have a time limit of six months. This means you must appeal within six months from the date of the letter rejecting your first appeal. It’s worth bearing in mind that:
If you’re unhappy with the outcome of your appeal process, you have the right to take your case to the Pensions Ombudsman.
If you decide to return to teaching, your employer will need to be satisfied that you’re medically fit to resume your role.
You must also inform the TPS if you start teaching again in any form (including lecturing and tutoring). At this point, your pension will stop immediately. If you don’t inform the TPS, you may have to pay back any pension that has been paid to you since returning to work.
Before making a decision to return to work, it’s a good idea to seek advice from your occupational health advisor. They’ll help you explore ways to make the transition back into teaching a little easier – for example, part-time working or other workplace adjustments.
If your health problems become unmanageable and these adjustments don’t help, you will still be able to apply for ill-health retirement.