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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Do you need to top up your National Insurance contributions?

Your entitlement to the basic State Pension and certain bereavement benefits could be affected if there are gaps in your National Insurance contributions record. Whether it will make sense for you to fill in the gaps by paying voluntary National Insurance contributions will depend on a number of factors.

National Insurance contributions and your State Pension

The amount of basic State Pension (and certain other state benefits) you're entitled to is based on your National Insurance contributions record over your working life from age 16 until State Pension age. This record is made up from National Insurance contributions paid or credited to you in each tax year. A minimum amount of contributions is required to make each year count as a 'qualifying year' towards your overall contributions record.

How gaps in your National Insurance contributions record might occur

There could be gaps in your National Insurance contributions record for various reasons. For example, you may have been:

  • employed and had low earnings (below the lower earnings limit of £97 a week for the tax year 2010-11)
  • unemployed and not claiming benefit
  • self-employed and you didn’t have to pay Class 2 contributions because you applied for, and were issued with, a Certificate of Exception
  • living abroad

How many qualifying years do you need to get the full basic State Pension?

This depends on when you reach State Pension age. If this is on or after 6 April 2010 you'll need fewer qualifying years than previously. Also the number of qualifying years needed for a full basic pension for men and women is the same, whereas previously they were different. See the table below.

Note that if you reach State Pension age on or after 6 April 2010 you may be able to get National Insurance credits for parents and carers when:

  • you weren't working or your earnings were too low to count towards a qualifying year
  • you had caring responsibilities

If you reached State Pension age before 6 April 2010 the number of qualifying years you need to get a full basic State Pension may have been reduced if you got Home Responsibilities Protection.

Qualifying years needed for entitlement to the full basic State Pension

Number of qualifying years Men Women
If you reach State Pension age on or after 6 April 2010 30 30
If you reached State Pension before 6 April 2010 Normally 44 Normally 39

Effect on your basic State Pension if you don't have the full number of qualifying years

If you don't have the full number of qualifying years at State Pension age the amount you'll receive will depend on the date you reached State Pension age and the number of qualifying years you've built up.

Effect on your basic State pension if you don’t have the full number of qualifying years and you reach State Pension age on or after 6 April 2010

From 6 April 2010 the number of qualifying years needed are the same for men and women.

You'll get 1/30 of the full basic State Pension for each qualifying year you have. In practice this means that any number of qualifying years will give you entitlement to at least some basic State Pension.

So if, for example, you had 10 qualifying years you would be entitled to 10/30th of the full basic State Pension.

Effect of a shortfall in the number of qualifying years on your basic State Pension if you reached State Pension age before 6 April 2010

Number of qualifying years Amount of basic State Pension you will receive (2010-11 rates)

Men: 11-44

Women: 10-39

Between the minimum of £24.41 a week and the maximum of £97.65 a week

Men: 0-10

Women: 0-9

You won't get any State Pension based on your own National Insurance contributions record (you might still get something on your spouse's or civil partner's record if they've paid enough National Insurance contributions)

How do you know if you have a National Insurance contributions shortfall?

There are a number of ways to find out if you have a shortfall in National Insurance contributions:

'Gap in your National Insurance record' letter

You might receive a letter from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) telling you there is a gap in your record. These letters are generally sent out between September and January each year. This letter isn't a demand - but it will tell you how much you can pay if you want to fill the gaps and how you can pay if you opt to do so.

You can use the State Pension profiler to work out how much State Pension you may have built up.

National Insurance Enquiry Line

You can also ask HMRC's National Insurance Helpline on 0845 915 5996 to check your National Insurance contributions record. They will tell you how much, if anything, your shortfall is, whether you are able to make up that shortfall, and how you can pay if you wish to do so.

If you live or have lived abroad

If you've lived abroad you can ask HMRC Charity, Assets and Residency to check your record for any shortfall or provide you with State Pension forecast.

Deciding whether to make up a National Insurance contributions shortfall

It's up to you whether you make up any shortfall. However, remember that because the number of qualifying years you need for a full basic State Pension has reduced to 30 for people reaching State Pension age on or after 6 April 2010, you'll need to consider carefully whether you need to top up at all. At the same time, you'll need to bear in mind the effect on certain bereavement benefits of not topping up - see the next section on this for more information.

If you're unsure, Citizens Advice or a number of other free organisations may be able to help you - or you could consult a financial adviser (though bear in mind that there may be a charge).

Bereavement benefits and qualifying years

It's important to note that if you reach State Pension age on or after 6 April 2010 eligibility for bereavement benefits (payable if someone dies to their spouse or civil partner if under State Pension age, and based on the deceased's National Insurance contributions) will remain at up to 39 qualifying years for a woman and up to 44 for a man. You may want to take this into account when deciding whether or not to top up your National Insurance contributions.

Deadlines for making up a National Insurance contributions shortfall

You usually have to make up the shortfall within six years from the end of the tax year for which they are being paid - and you can do this even if you've already reached State Pension age.

However there are extended time limits for some tax years and special rules if you reach State Pension age between 6 April 2008 and 5 April 2015.


For more information on deadlines for paying voluntary National Insurance contributions read the HMRC guide ‘When and how to top up your National Insurance contributions’ by following the link below.

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