Qualifying for State Pension
You qualify for State Pension based on the number of qualifying years you paid National Insurance contributions (NICs). You pay NICs from age 16 until you reach 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.
If you are a man born before 6 April 1951 or a woman born before 6 April 1953 go to the nidirect page about qualifying for State Pension before 6 April 2016 for more information:
If you are a man born on or after 6 April 1951 or a woman born on or after 6 April 1953 go to the nidirect page about qualifying for new State Pension for more information:
National Insurance contributions
If you're employed you pay Class 1 National Insurance contributions based on your level of earnings. They’re automatically deducted by your employer.
If you're self-employed you pay Class 2 contributions at a flat weekly rate and Class 4 contributions annually, based on your level of taxable profits.
For more information about National Insurance or to pay your Class 2 National Insurance bill, visit the following pages on GOV.UK:
Getting credits towards your State Pension
You may not be able to pay National Insurance, for example if you are ill or caring for someone. The government may give you credits so you can continue building up State Pension entitlement. Find out who can get National Insurance credits, and whether you need to take action.
Your National Insurance record
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 £111 per week (in 2014-2015 tax year)
- 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 Small Earnings Exception
- living abroad
Statement of your National Insurance account
You can 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.
'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.
State Pension Statement
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 Future Pension Centre. Their office is in England.
If you live or have lived abroad
If you've lived abroad you can ask about any shortfall in your National Insurance record. You can also request a State Pension statement from the International Pension Centre. Their office is in England.
Making up a National Insurance Contributions (NIC) shortfall
It's up to you whether you make up any shortfall. 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. If you consult a financial adviser, they might charge you for their advice.
You must be eligible to pay voluntary National Insurance contributions for the time that the contributions cover.
The rates for the current tax year can be found on the following GOV.UK page:
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 on or before 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':
State Pension top-up
The State Pension Top-Up Scheme is open until 5 April 2017 for all pensioners who reach State Pension age before the new State Pension was introduced on 6 April 2016.
Voluntary Class 3A contributions gives pensioners an option to top up their pension by up to £25 a week in a way that protects them from inflation and offers protection to surviving spouses.
Class 3 National Insurance contributions
If you reach State Pension age between 6 April 2008 and 5 April 2015 and already have 20 qualifying years you may be able to pay voluntary Class 3 National Insurance contributions for up to six additional years. These six years date from 6 April 1975 and cover years that do not currently count towards the basic State Pension.