NHS Tax Rebates For Widening Access Training Scheme

Were you part of the Widening Access Training (WAT) Scheme at any time from 1999?

You could be one of the thousands of NHS workers who are entitled to make a tax and NI rebate claim for overpayments made while you were training under this scheme.

What is the WAT scheme?

The ‘Widening Access Training’ scheme was offered by the NHS to its employees in order to widen their expert knowledge. WAT has been on the go since 1999 and claims can be made for any period since it began. It is not the only tax relief available to NHS employees with our handy tax guides letting you know what else is available.

Who can apply for a WAT tax refund?

Many NHS roles were involved in the WAT scheme, including: doctors, psychologists, nurses, health visitors and midwives. Anyone involved in the scheme, who meets the criteria, can apply.

Why can tax and National Insurance payments be reclaimed?

MoneySavingExpert.com’s investigation into this issue has discovered that thousands of NHS staff may be entitled to make a claim. Basically, the conditions of the WAT scheme provided some National Insurance and Tax exemptions. This means that the trainees should never have paid and, therefore, can claim back what is essentially an overpayment.

Who is eligible to reclaim?

The answer to this question is not as straightforward as you might expect; it depends on your situation at the time you were on the WAT scheme.

There are two main options: you were an NHS employee while you were training or you were moved to a ‘contract of training’ for the duration of your course. A simple way to define the difference is whether or not you were paying into your NHS pension at the time. If you were, then you were probably an employee; if you weren’t, then you were most likely on a ‘contract of training’.

NHS Employee eligibility criteria:

  • The course was full time and lasted at least one academic year (1st September-31st August)
  • A recognised university or college administered your course
  • Your attendance was at least 20 weeks during one academic year
  • Any extra earnings from part-time work are not included in the exemption. HMRC defines your income during training as a ‘scholarship’ and that is the only amount that is eligible for NI and tax rebates
  • Your total income has a bearing on whether or not you can make a claim
Date WAT course started National Insurance Tax
1999-31st August 2005 No exemption £7,000
1st September 2005 – 31 August 2007 £15,000 £15,000
1st September 2007 – present day £15,480 £15,480


This rule seems to be flexible in terms of tax because HMRC can make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Their main concern is that they “need to be satisfied that payments can all be reasonably described as a training or scholarship allowance. If so, the full amount of the payment is exempted from charge.” There have been some cases where individuals earning above the stated threshold have reclaimed tax payments.

The regulations around National Insurance repayments are more definite. HMRC states that if you earn over the stated threshold “no refund…will be due”.

If you were an NHS employee and you can tick off all these factors, then you may be able to claim for the total amount of tax and National Insurance you paid during your WAT scheme training.

‘Contracts of Training’ eligibility criteria

Some NHS staff were suspended from their employment contract for the duration of their involvement with WAT scheme and given a ‘contract of training’ instead. The majority of these contracts included clauses that meant you did not have to pay NI or tax in this income. If you did, then you should be able to claim back the full amount.

Whilst there are no official thresholds to block claims, there are also no guarantees. Your contract will be carefully examined to determine the validity of your claim and decisions are made on an individual basis.

Pitfalls of making a claim

There is the possibility that submitting a claim could have an adverse effect on your state pension and/or on received tax credit payments.

State Pension

As you have to have worked the correct ‘qualifying years’ to get your full state pension, this is worth taking into consideration before making a claim. It is unlikely that one year of training will have a negative impact and HMRC allow you to ‘offset’ this amount using a portion of your refund.

Working Tax Credits

If you were paid working tax credits while on the WAT scheme, you could be asked to repay them because you were not considered ‘working’, but ‘training’. Any repayment has so far amounted to less than the total NI and tax rebate, but the rules allow for the possibility that you could end up owing back more in working tax credits than you receive as a rebate.

How to make a WAT claim

HMRC state that your payroll department should submit a claim on your behalf. You can ask your payroll department if they have already done this for you on your behalf.

You can find out more about the claims process on HMRC’s WAT scheme getting a refund page.

HMRC have two separate helpline numbers for tax and National Insurance questions, but will try to sort out both issues during the one phone call.

National Insurance helpline: 0300 200 3500. Tax helpline: 0300 200 3300.

You need to clarify your contract status as either and employee or ‘contract of training’. Then you need to express your wish to reclaim the tax and National Insurance payments that you made while on the WAT scheme; supported by HMRC’s regulations on earning while training.

Is it worth the hassle?

MoneySavingExpert.com reports that the highest sum awarded to an individual, to date, as a repayment is £13,500.This was claimed by a psychologist and claimed for tax and National Insurance he paid whilst doing clinical training over the course of three years.  It does take time, perseverance and patience to get through the system, but it can be very financially worthwhile.

Another example reported to MoneySavingExpert.com is a nurse called Diane who said: “I was seconded to nurse training while employed by the NHS from March 2006 until March 2009. It took seven months to receive the NI refund and 10 months for tax. I know three others who have received refunds too.” She got back £3,000 of overpaid National Insurance and £8,000 in tax.

How many people are involved in this type of rebate?

At the conclusion of their investigation, MoneySavingExpert.com found that neither HMRC, nor the NHS could put a figure on how many employees are probably owed a WAT rebate. But they did uncover one online group of NHS community workers, like Health Visitors, that share their stories of submitting a claim. This group comprises over 1,000 members who are determined to get their refunds.

Similar situations are getting very different responses from HMRC, which is adding to the confusion of applicants. For example, some of those who are over the official threshold are having NI claims turned down and some are getting the full amount back. HMRC don’t give comment on particular cases and are covered by their ‘each case on its own merits’ rule.

One thing is certain, even if you obviously meet all of the criteria and have your evidence, you will never get an automatic refund from HMRC; you must make an official claim. If you don’t ask, you won’t get.

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