Nurses who were incorrectly taxed while doing extra training to boost their skills have voiced their frustration at ongoing difficulty in getting refunds, often amounting to thousands of pounds.
More than 8,000 NHS workers who completed Widening Access to Training (WAT) programmes have successfully obtained refunds of tax and national insurance after it was wrongly deducted from pay they received while doing the training.
“It is incredibly frustrating and incredibly unjust, and you feel that you are just fobbed off”
However, many more, including nurses, midwives and health visitors say they are still struggling to get back the money they are owed.
The WAT scheme, which has been on offer since 1999, sees NHS workers undertake full-time training courses at colleges and universities to widen their skills.
Participants who met certain criteria should have been exempt from paying tax and national insurance, but many who completed courses had tax deducted before the blunder was spotted.
It is not known exactly how many NHS employees could be eligible for tax rebates but consumer website Moneysavingexpert.com estimates it could be tens of thousands.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has set up a refund process, but nurses have described it as confusing and unclear, with many fighting for over a year to have their claims resolved.
“They kept asking for something else and then something else – even ridiculous things”
Former health visitor Wendy Reynolds told Nursing Times she had sent literally hundreds of letters and emails in a bid to reclaim tax she paid while doing a specialist community public health nursing course in 2001-02 – despite the fact coursemates had successfully obtained refunds.
Last month, she set up a petition calling on the government to address “inequity and inconsistency” in the claims process, which has since been signed by more than 3,100 fellow nurses and other NHS workers.
“Virtually all staff had tax and National Insurance deducted but reclaiming these payments for many is inequitable, inconsistent and often refused,” states the petition to parliament.
It describes the refund process as a “long, laborious, inconsistent process”, with a lack of clarity and information.
Ms Reynolds said one of the most frustrating aspects was the “hit and miss” way claims were being handled, with some people getting refunds, some just getting tax and not national insurance and others being turned down.
She said one nurse colleague had obtained a refund of £10,500, having done disability nursing training and a health visiting course under WAT. But she knew other nurses who had been waiting for two years.
“We consider each case on its own facts, and make refunds as soon as we can”
Many, like herself, had gone round in circles, having been told different things by different people at HMRC and being asked to send in the same paperwork several times over, she added.
A Facebook group set up for community specialist practitioners who are having trouble getting refunds now has more than 4,800 members (see below, right).
“It is incredibly frustrating and incredibly unjust, and you feel that when you phone up HMRC you are just fobbed off,” said Ms Reynolds, who worked as a nurse for 36 years but has now retired from the profession.
“You feel like you are hitting your head against a brick wall,” she said. “Students I mentored have got their money back and my colleagues all got their money back.
“It is the sheer inequity, because some people are getting money back and some people aren’t,” she told Nursing Times.
Exclusive: Nurses left in limbo by training tax refund process
While those who did WAT training more recently were finding it easier to get refunds, she said nurses who did courses several years ago were more likely to encounter difficulties – especially if the trust they were working for at the time had since disbanded or merged.
Guidance from the HMRC says it will deal with refund applications from people who did WAT courses before 6 April 2013 – but these need to be submitted through the claimant’s trust.
Meanwhile, trusts themselves should deal with claims from those who attended courses on or after 6 April 2013.
Where a trust no longer existed, as in Ms Reynolds’ case, the guidance advises claimants to write direct to HMRC with various information to back up the claim.
However, Ms Reynolds said this process was far from straightforward, with applicants “sent around the houses”.
“Initially, we were told to go through our trust, but my trust [at the time of the training] had dissolved as have many others,” she noted.
She was subsequently advised by the trust which had last employed her before retirement that it might not be able to find my records relating to the past training and to go directly to HMRC.
“They said all I needed to do was send in my certificate and proof that my trust could not do it on my behalf,” she told Nursing Times.
“But they [the HMRC] kept asking for something else and then something else – even ridiculous things like my P60, which comes from them,” she said.
“I do think someone should be fighting the corner for all those who are owed money”
Ms Reynolds first submitted her claim in October last year, but has only just found out that it has now been accepted – after her most recent trust finally agreed to help – and she can expect a total refund of around £5,000.
However, she said hundreds of other nurses were still grappling with the claims process and called on nursing leaders to step in.
“HMRC are still giving out conflicting information and inequitable refunds as many, many more are still having problems and, unlike me, do not have the time to pester anyone,” said Ms Reynolds.
“I do think someone should be fighting the corner for all those who are owed money as nurses as a whole are afraid of making their voice heard and worried about the registration numbers,” she said.
HMRC told Nursing Times its guidance on the WAT refunds was regularly reviewed and updated and it had recently committed more staff to processing claims.
“We are working with NHS trusts to ensure that all those who overpaid receive their refunds as soon as possible,” said a spokesman.
“We consider each case on its own facts, and make refunds as soon as we can,” he added.