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Free occupational health advice…what’s the catch?

The government is preparing to launch a new Health and Work Service (HWS) which aims to reduce long-term sickness absence by providing free, independent occupational health advice to all employers.

How will it work?

GPs will be able to refer employees to the HWS once they are absent, or expected to be absent due to illness for four weeks. Employer referrals will also be possible.

The HWS will carry out an occupational health assessment identifying obstacles to a return to work; recommended interventions; and a timetable for return to work. However, assessments will not be compulsory.

There will also be an internet and telephone advice service.

Is there a catch?

The HWS will be funded by the abolition of the Percentage Threshold Scheme (PTS) which allows employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay where this exceeds 13% of their monthly national insurance liability. The PTS is expected to be abolished from 6 April 2014.

The government hopes that that any loss to business from the ending of the PTS will be offset by savings achieved by the HWS, which it anticipates will save employers £70 million a year and cut the time people spend off work by 20 – 40%.

What about funding for ‘recommended interventions’?

There will be a tax exemption of up to £500 per employee per year for any medical treatments recommended for the employee through the HWS, or through an employer’s occupational health service.


Early indications were that the HWS would start in April 2014, however, it is now expected to be running nationally by April 2015, with some areas ‘going live’ in Autumn 2014.

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