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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. You could pay voluntary National Insurance Contributions to make up the shortfall.

National Insurance Contributions and your State Pension

The amount of basic State Pension (and certain bereavement benefits) you are entitled to is based on your National Insurance Contributions record over your working life from age 16 until State Pension age.

Your record comprises National Insurance Contributions paid or credited to you in each tax year. A minimum amount of contributions or credits is required for a year to 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:

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 will need fewer qualifying years than previously. Also the number of qualifying years needed for a full basic State Pension for men and women is the same, whereas previously they were different. See the table below.

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 for times when you don't work or your earnings are too low to count towards a qualifying year because you have caring responsibilities.

If you reached State Pension age before 6 April 2010 the number of qualifying years you need for a full basic State Pension can be reduced if you were entitled to 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 age 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.

You can get an idea of how many years you have to date and how much State Pension you may have built up by following the link below.

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

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

You will get 1/30th 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 on your basic State Pension if you don't have the full number of qualifying years and you reached State Pension age before 6 April 2010

Number of qualifying years Amount of basic State Pension you will receive (2014-2015 rates)

Men: 11-44

Women: 10-39

Between the minimum of £28.28 a week and the maximum of £113.10 a week

Men: 0-10

Women: 0-9

You won't get any State Pension based on your own National Insurance Contributions record. Women might still get something on their husband's record if they've paid enough National Insurance Contributions

How do you know if you have a gap in your National Insurance Contributions record?

There are a number of ways to find out:

'Gap in your National Insurance record' letter

You might receive a letter from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) telling you there is a gap in your record. These letters are generally sent out between September and January each year. The 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 check whether you're likely to have a gap in your National Insurance contributions record by requesting a State Pension statement from the Interrnational Pension Centre.

Statement of your National Insurance account

You can also ask HMRC for a statement of your National Insurance account. It 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 the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) - The Pension Service to check your record for any shortfall. They can also provide you with a State Pension statement - follow the link below.

Deciding whether to make up a National Insurance Contributions (NIC) shortfall

It's up to you whether you make up any shortfall. The number of qualifying years you need for a full basic State Pension has reduced to 30 for people reaching State Pension age. You should consider carefully whether you need to top up at all. At the same time, you will need to bear in mind the number of qualifying years required to be eligible for certain bereavement benefits.

You should request a State Pension statement to see if there is any NIC shortfall and decide if you need to make up any gap in your contribution.

If you're unsure, the Citizens Advice Bureau or other free advice organisations may be able to help you. You could consult a financial adviser (but bear in mind they might charge you).

Bereavement benefits and qualifying years

If you reach State Pension age 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) is different to eligibility for basic State Pension. For bereavement benefits, eligibility is 39 qualifying years for a woman and up to 44 for a man. You should 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 of the end of the tax year for which the contributions are being paid. 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 HMRC's guide 'When and how to pay voluntary National Insurance contributions':

More useful links