8.1 Mental Health Officers
Mental Health Officer (MHO) status is only applicable to 1995 section members. It is not applicable to members of the 2008 section or 2015 Scheme.
MHO status applies to certain groups of staff who were members of the scheme prior to 1st April 1995 subject to conditions specified in regulations. The status affords them an earlier Normal Pension Age (NPA) of 55 rather than the age 60 NPA for other members.
MHO status is given in recognition of the nature of the work undertaken by the member. From 1st April 1995 MHO status was no longer available to new members; however, existing members have a right to retain it, providing they do not have a break in HSC pensionable employment of five years or more and continue to work in an employment which attracts MHO status.
Employers are responsible for initially identifying any MHO entitlement, taking account of scheme regulations, for their employees either on commencement or during their employment. If a member returns to a MHO post within 5 years of previously holding MHO status, then HSC Pension Service will automatically apply MHO status to the member’s record. Any changes in the duties of an MHO member must be notified to HSC Pension Service in the normal way and each case will be considered individually on its merits.
MHO status is defined in scheme regulations as:
- An officer employed whole time on the medical or nursing staff, (including nurse managers as above) of a hospital used wholly or partly for the treatment of people suffering from mental disorder, who devotes all, or almost all, of their time to the treatment or care of people suffering from mental disorder.
- Any other officer, employed in such a hospital who is within a class or description of officers designated by the Department of Health as MHO for this purpose.
- A specialist (definition agreed by employer) in part–time HSC employment who devotes all, or almost all, of their time to the treatment or care of people suffering from mental disorder and who satisfies the requirement of the scheme regulations.
From 8th April 1976, scheme members employed full-time who hold MHO status may also retain that status on the move to part-time employment provided that;
If there is a break in service it is less than 5 years
- They are not in receipt of scheme benefits; and
- There is no actual change in the duties performed.
Similarly, if a MHO transfers to part time pensionable employment, provided that member is engaged in work which, had it been whole time would have qualified, that member may retain their MHO status, provided there is no break in pensionable employment between the transfer from whole time to part time employment.
Employers should always inform members of any change in status. A member who is on secondment or in training in a post that does not attract MHO status can retain their MHO status where the secondment or training is for 12 months or less.
For an establishment to be classed as a “hospital for the treatment of persons suffering from mental disorder” it must be used wholly or partly for the care or treatment of patients suffering from mental disorder.
It can include any institution for the reception and treatment of any patients suffering from a mental disorder and, in some circumstances, clinics, outpatient departments and community units may be regarded as hospitals.
Over recent years government policy has been to return patients suffering from a mental disorder to their home environment wherever possible and therefore in principle HSC Pension Service can accept that MHO may be retained by those working outside the confines of a hospital, if worked in hospital initially.
Treatment and Care Time
“Whole or substantially the whole” of an MHOs time is not specifically defined in the scheme regulations, therefore the area of granting MHO status is one of discretion and judgment.
However it is expected that to qualify for MHO status officers must devote almost all of their time to the treatment or care of patients suffering from a mental disorder.
Also taken into consideration is the nature of the duties being performed, whether they are likely to cause stress and strain, and how many patients there are in relation to staff at any one time.
Behind each decision to grant an officer MHO status is the underlying principle that the whole spirit and intention of the scheme regulations is designed to give individual recognition to those who are subjected to the stress and strain of having patients with a mental disorder constantly in their care.
MHO status for senior nursing staff and managers
For those moving within the Mental Health field to posts up to and including Director of Nursing Services or equivalent in a wholly psychiatric unit should be allowed to retain MHO status provided that the post holder has a clear line management responsibility for ward nursing staff and consequently a responsibility for the treatment or care of patients with mental disorder. The member’s job description should specifically charge them with the responsibility for the setting and monitoring of the standards of psychiatric nursing provided and developing and training of nursing staff under their control. In other managerial posts where there is no clearly defined responsibility for the day to day treatment and care of patients e.g. quality control or HR posts these will not normally qualify for MHO status. In all cases of doubt please check with HSC Pension Service.
Care in the Community
Community Psychiatric Nurses working outside the confines of a hospital may retain or be granted MHO status provided they devote the whole or substantially the whole of their time to the treatment or care of patients who suffer from a mental disorder in the patient’s home environment as opposed to prolonged treatment in a hospital. Where eligibility is in doubt, the case should be referred to HSC Pension Service, supported by the individual’s job description.
8.1.4 Benefits of MHO Status
Members who satisfy the criteria to be classed as MHO are afforded extra membership benefits as long as certain conditions are satisfied:
- Each year or part year after completion of 20 years membership as an MHO is counted at twice its len This is referred to as doubling.
- A member can retire on age grounds at any time after reaching age 55, providing he/she has 20 years or more MHO calendar service and is in pensionable employment as an MHO immediately before retiring.
If a member is not eligible to retire at age 55 as an MHO due to having less than 20 years calendar service, they might still be entitled to retire if they retain special class status.
|It should be noted that any increased MHO entitlements eg: doubled service years, retire at age 55 will not incur additional contribution costs to either the employee or the employer.|
8.1.5 Changes to Non-MHO Status
Members changing to non-MHO status prior to age 55 will retain their accrued MHO service, including doubled service, but will lose the entitlement to retire before age 60 unless they qualify for retirement as a member of the special classes.
If a member changes to a non-MHO post and incorrectly retains MHO status, the case should be referred to HSC Pension Service.
It is important to note that “MHO” status is a condition of the pension scheme rules and not part of the employee’s terms and conditions. Therefore if a member moves to a new post where the person does not carry out MHO duties then the member does not retain MHO status.
Under the scheme regulations, if a member who is on secondment or in training in a post that does not attract MHO status, MHO status can be retained during that period, only if the member returns to MHO duties within 12 months. If the member does not return to MHO duties after the 12 months then MHO status is lost for the whole period of the secondment or training. MHO status may, however, be reinstated going forward if the member returns to a MHO post within 5 years of the start of the secondment or training.
8.1.6 Scheme Contributions & Pensionable Service
Contributions must cease for MHOs at age 65, but will cease earlier in the following circumstances:
- On completion of 45 years pensionable service if this occurs between the ages of 60 and 65.
- MHOs who continue to work after completing 45 years pensionable service, for example, at age 58, should continue paying contributions up to age 60.
For benefit purposes the total pensionable service for MHOs, including any doubling, will be restricted to 40 years before reaching age 55, and maximum scheme limit of 45 years before age 65.
Although there is the above restriction on membership (including doubled service), the regulations do allow an alternative calculation of benefits for MHO’s who cease to be pensionable as a result of reaching this limit, but have remained in HSC employment.
The regulations allow a calculation of straight membership excluding doubling of service to date of termination of employment provided that this does not exceed the maximum scheme limit of 45 years. This would be taken in conjunction with the relevant pensionable pay at that point. If this proves to be more beneficial HSC Pension Service will offer this option to the member but the member will be required to pay the outstanding contributions to date of termination from the payment of their lump sum retiring allowance.
Leaving the scheme before NPA
If a MHO leaves the scheme before age 55 and leaves their benefits preserved within the scheme, the right to take payment of the benefits at age 55 is lost and benefits will not become payable until the NPA of 60.
8.2 Special Class Members
Special class status is only applicable to 1995 section members. It is not applicable to members of the 2008 section or 2015 Scheme.
Special class status is awarded to certain scheme members in recognition of their type of employment. The status affords them an earlier normal pension (NPA) age of 55 rather than age 60. The status was abolished for members joining the scheme for the first time on or after 1st April 1995 and also for those members returning to pensionable employment on or after that date with a break in membership of any one period of 5 years or more.
The types of employment which attract special class status are:
- Health Visitors
- Nursing Assistants/Health Care Assistants.
With the exception of Nursing Assistants/Health Care Assistants, it can only be granted to those who hold the relevant qualification as recognised by their appropriate professional body and are employed in a post which requires such qualifications as part of the job specification.
Nursery Nurses do not qualify for special class status.
Male scheme members were only eligible for special class status from 17th May 1990.
Members who move into management posts may be able to retain their special class status provided that the post to which they are assigned requires a qualification as noted above and the member’s professional registration is maintained.
8.2.3 Benefits for Special Classes
Female members can retire at age 55, and receive benefits for all membership providing their last five years pensionable employment immediately before retirement was in an employment attracting special class status.
Male members can only receive the membership accrued since 17th May 1990 at age 55. Any benefits for membership before that date will be paid at age 60 unless the member elects to receive them with an actuarial reduction applied.
Leaving the scheme before NPA
If a special class member leaves the scheme before age 55 and leaves their benefits preserved within the scheme, the right to take payment of the benefits at age 55 is lost and benefits will not become payable until the NPA of 60.
The only exception is in cases where the member is made redundant before age 50, has not returned to HSC employment and the member spent the last 5 years in pensionable employment as a special class member.