Voluntary National Insurance contributions - the basics

Sometimes you don't have to pay National Insurance contributions. This might be because you're not working or you don't earn enough. But you may be able to pay voluntary contributions so that you can still claim certain state benefits, including the State Pension.

On this page:

What are voluntary contributions?

If your work or personal situation means that you don't currently have to pay National Insurance contributions, or you are not entitled to receive National Insurance credits, you may still be able to pay voluntary contributions to fill in any gaps in your National Insurance record. Voluntary contributions count towards some state benefits and can also increase the amount of benefit you'll get.

The National Insurance contributions you can pay voluntarily are normally Class 3 contributions, but if you're self-employed or living abroad you may be able to pay Class 2 contributions voluntarily instead.

National Insurance - the basics

If you reach State Pension age before 6 April 2016 you may wish to consider the Government’s proposals to introduce a new type of voluntary contribution (Class 3A). These contributions are used to top up your Additional State Pension. The cost varies according to your age. More information can be found by following the link below.

Find out more about voluntary class 3A national insurance contributions (Opens new window)

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When you might pay voluntary contributions

You might choose to pay National Insurance contributions voluntarily if you're:

  • unemployed and not claiming benefits
  • employed but you don't earn enough to pay National Insurance contributions and you don't get National Insurance credits
  • self-employed and you have a 'Small Earnings Exception certificate' that means that you don't have to pay Class 2 National Insurance contributions - follow the second link below
  • a married woman or widow who cancels her 'reduced rate election' part way through a tax year - follow the third link below
  • living abroad
  • State Pension age before 6 April 2016 and you want to increase your Additional State Pension

National Insurance credits

Self-employed tax and National Insurance

Married women, widows and reduced National Insurance

Voluntary class 3A National Insurance contributions (Opens new window)

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If you have a State Pension Statement and want to pay Voluntary National Insurance contributions

Before deciding to pay Voluntary National Insurance contributions, you should make sure that:

  • there are gaps in your National Insurance record for which payment can be made - see the section below on when you can't pay Class 3 voluntary contributions
  • you know how much you need to pay
  • you understand the benefits of paying

If you are unsure about any of the above, you should telephone the DWP Future Pension Centre on
+44 191 218 3600 (Textphone +44 191 218 2051).

Find out more about Proposals to change State Pensions (Opens new window)

If, after considering the above you want to pay Voluntary National Insurance contributions - follow the link below.

How to pay voluntary Class 3 National Insurance

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When you can't pay Class 3 voluntary contributions

There are some circumstances when you won't be able to pay Class 3 voluntary contributions. The most usual ones are if:

  • you're a married woman - or a widow - and you chose to pay reduced rate National Insurance contributions for the whole tax year for which you want to pay Class 3 voluntary contributions
  • you reached State Pension age in the tax year for which you want to pay Class 3 voluntary contributions
  • you're entitled to National Insurance credits (but there are a couple of exceptions to this)

Paying reduced National Insurance contributions

National Insurance credits - learn more

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How much do voluntary contributions cost?

If you want to pay voluntary National Insurance contributions for the 2014 to 2015 tax year you'll have to pay:

  • £13.90 a week for Class 3 voluntary contributions
  • £2.75 a week for Class 2 contributions

If you're self-employed there are some circumstances when you won't be able to pay Class 2 contributions voluntarily - see the section below on voluntary contributions if you're self-employed.

Check the National Insurance rates

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Voluntary contributions choices if you're self-employed

If you're self-employed you can choose to pay Class 2 voluntary National Insurance contributions even if you don't have to pay them. It's normally better to pay Class 2 contributions voluntarily than to pay Class 3 voluntary contributions. It will cost you less and you'll get a wider range of state benefits.

You might choose to pay Class 2 contributions voluntarily when your earnings are low or because you work outside the UK. But there are some conditions you'll have to meet for paying Class 2 contributions voluntarily, if you're working outside the UK. To find out more, follow the link under the next section 'Paying voluntary contributions for periods spent abroad'.

You can find out more about how the type of contributions you pay affects the benefits you can get in our guide on National Insurance and state benefits.

National Insurance and state benefits

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Paying voluntary contributions for periods spent abroad

You may be able to pay voluntary National Insurance contributions if you're living abroad and you may be able to pay them for a past period when you were abroad. There are special rules for paying voluntary National Insurance contributions for periods when you're abroad. You can check the rules by following the link below.

Voluntary National Insurance contributions if you live abroad

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Do you need to top up your contributions?

If you've got gaps in your National Insurance contributions record, your entitlement to the State Pension and certain bereavement benefits could be affected. You may want to consider filling in the gaps by paying voluntary National Insurance contributions.

You may also be able to increase your additional State Pension by paying voluntary Class 3A National Insurance contributions.

But it isn't always right or beneficial for you to pay voluntary contributions. It depends on several things, including how much you've contributed already and the date you reach State Pension age.

You should also consider the Government's changes to:

  • simplify the future State Pension. These changes won’t affect anyone reaching State Pension age before the reforms are introduced
  • introduce voluntary Class 3A National Insurance contributions. These proposal will allow men born before 6 April 1951 and women born before 6 April 1953 to top up their additional state pension by up to £25 a week if eligibility conditions are met

You can find more information to help you decide if it's worth paying voluntary contributions by following the links below.

Do you need to top up your National Insurance contributions?

Find out more about the changes to State Pensions (Opens new window)

Find out more about voluntary class 3A national insurance contributions (Opens new window)

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More useful links

When and how to pay voluntary National Insurance contributions

National Insurance - the basics

Tax and National Insurance for the employed

Tax and National Insurance for the self-employed

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