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Widening Access Training

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  • Publish date: 13 October 2017
  • Archived on: 09 October 2018

The start of the academic year has seen a new flurry of practice managers contacting us to discuss how to deal with employees requesting tax and NI refunds under the Widening Access Training (WAT) scheme.

WAT is a specific scheme aimed at broadening the professional knowledge of NHS workers and has been running since 1999. It is open to nurses, midwives, doctors, paramedics and health visitors.

Whether the staff member will be eligible for relief will depend on a number of factors.

The course

The employees need to be enrolled on a full time course at a recognised college or university for at least one academic year (ie, from 1 September to 31 August). They must also attend for at least 20 weeks in the academic year.

If you are not sure whether the employee qualifies, it is best to ask the practice to speak to the course tutor as they will know whether the course is classified as full or part time.


The exemption only applies to income paid by the practice to the employee to support them through their training. This is essentially what HMRC consider to be a scholarship.

So, say the employee is paid £30,000 for the year and spends three days a week at college on a qualifying “full-time” course and the remaining two days working in the practice, the earnings relating to the two days working at the practice would not be exempt.


If the employee earns over £15,480 they can’t reclaim, however, we have seen cases where HMRC have allowed refunds for those earning over this amount. HMRC need to be satisfied that the payments are for a training/scholarship allowance and where this is the case, the full amount of the payment can be exempted from tax. However, the rules for NI are much stricter and the £15,480 limit will be applied.

For those on a WAT prior to September 2007, looking for tax and NI refunds, the limits were as follows:

  Tax NI
1 September 2005 to 31 August 2007 £15,000 £15,000
1 September 1999 to 31 August 2005 £7,000 No exemption 


The person undertaking the training must also be in employment at the time of undertaking the course. As a general rule, if the employee is paying into an NHS pension whilst training they are an NHS employee per the NHS guidance, so will qualify for the exemption.

However, if the employment contract is stopped while the employee is training, they can be transferred onto an “NHS contract of training” so won’t pay tax, NI or pension on the income from that contract. If any tax or NI is paid, a request for repayment can be made, but it is likely that HMRC will want to review the terms of the contract before making a refund.

Claiming the exemption

If all the criteria are met, the practice can make the payments to the employee without deduction for tax and NI.

Payments made for earlier periods

If it comes to light that the employee met the criteria for an earlier period, how this is dealt with will depend on when the course started.

Before 6 April 2013

The practice will need to submit a claim to HMRC on behalf of the employee. HMRC will assess the claim and arrange repayment to the employee.

After 6 April 2013

The practice will need to recalculate the wages, by performing a prior period roll-back and submitting the adjustments to HMRC ie, as though they are processing the wages in the month in the correct way. The overpaid tax and NI can therefore be quantified immediately and a repayment made to the employee.

Other considerations

Claiming the exemption can lead to the employee needing to repay tax credits and them loosing state pension qualifying years. If a claim is submitted to HMRC, the employee will be warned and given the opportunity to make voluntary NI contributions to protect their state pension. Therefore, if the practice is correcting the pay, they will need to be told to advise the employee of the issues and advise them to contact HMRC if they are worried about their state pension entitlement.

In situations where the employee was working for a practice/Trust which no longer exists, they will need to send a claim directly to HMRC with the following information:

  • The name of the NHS Trust/Board/Practice
  • Confirmation that they no longer exist
  • The reason they believe they are eligible for a refund
  • The date the WAT course started and ended
  • Evidence of the amount paid whilst the WAT course was attended
  • Evidence that the course was completed
  • NI number

Limited guidance is available from HMRC, but we have found the helpline to be quite good at answering any questions which arise.

Claire Hebdige
Tax - Manager, Dodd & Co Chartered Accountants