Do you need to top up your National Insurance contributions?

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

On this page:

National Insurance contributions and your State Pension

The amount of basic State Pension (and certain bereavement 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 and/or credited to you in each tax year. A minimum amount of contributions and/or credits is required to make each year count as a 'qualifying year' towards your overall contributions record.

Read more about how you qualify for the State Pension on GOV.UK (Opens new window)

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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 £111 a week (2014 to 2015 tax year rates)
  • unemployed and not claiming benefit
  • self-employed and you didn't have to pay Class 2 National Insurance contributions because you applied for and were issued with a CA6812 Small Earnings Exception certificate - follow the link below
  • living abroad

Class 2 National Insurance contributions

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

This depends on when you reach your State Pension age.

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 but before 6 April 2016 30 30
If you reached State Pension age before 6 April 2010 normally 44 normally 39

State Pension age calculator (Opens new window)

You may also be able to get National Insurance credits for times when you cannot work or don't earn enough to pay National Insurance because you are caring for someone. These credits could count towards a qualifying year or reduce the number of qualifying years needed for a full State Pension. Find out more by following the links below.

Read more about credits for parents and carers on GOV.UK (Opens new window)

Read more about Home Responsibilities Protection on GOV.UK (Opens new window)

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 under current State Pension law by following the link below.

Get a State Pension statement (Opens new window)

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 but before 6 April 2016.

You'll 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 ten qualifying years you would be entitled to 10/30th of the full basic State Pension.

If you reach State Pension age on or after 6 April 2016

If you reach State Pension age after 6 April 2016 the Government is proposing to simplify the State Pension. The proposals - if accepted will bring in different rules to work out your State Pension and will affect men born on or after 6 April 1951 and women born on or after 6 April 1953. Until the rules change it will be more difficult for you to decide whether topping up your contributions will improve your future State Pension. Before deciding to top up your contributions or to fill any gaps in your record you should find out more about the proposals to change State Pensions by following the link below.

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

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

There are a number of ways you can find out:

'Gap in your National Insurance record' letter

If you reach State Pension age before 6 April 2016 you may have received a letter from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) telling you there is a gap in your record. The letter isn't a bill - but it will tell you how much you can pay if you want to fill the gap and how you can pay if you opt to do so.

'Gap in your National Insurance record' letter - find out more

If you reach State Pension Age after 6 April 2016, and have gaps in your National Insurance, HMRC won't send you a 'Gap in your National Insurance record' letter. This is because, subject to Parliaments approval, the Government plans to simplify the State Pension. Until these changes are implemented in 2016, it will be more difficult for you to decide whether paying for any gaps in your record will improve your future State Pension.

State Pension Statement

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Future Pension Centre can provide you with a State Pension Statement that will give you an estimate of your State Pension based on current rules. Once you have this they can also tell you whether there are any gaps in your National Insurance contributions record.

Contact the Future Pension Centre (Opens new window)

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 gap is, whether you are able to make up that gap, and how you can pay if you wish to do so.

Checking your National Insurance contributions record

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 gaps, they can also provide you with information about your State Pension entitlement under current State Pension law - follow the link below.

Get a State Pension statement (Opens new window)

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Deciding whether to make up National Insurance contribution gaps

It's up to you whether you make up any gaps. However, remember that because the number of qualifying years you need for a full basic State Pension was reduced to 30 for people reaching State Pension age on or after 6 April 2010 but before 6 April 2016, you'll need to consider carefully whether you need to top up at all. It may not always be right or beneficial for you to top up by paying voluntary contributions as your entitlement to basic State Pension depends on how much you've already contributed and the date you reach State Pension age.

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 reach State Pension age on or after 6 April 2016 you should also consider the Government's proposals to simplify the State Pension. The proposals - if accepted will bring in different rules to work out your State Pension. These changes will not affect anyone reaching State Pension age before 6 April 2016.

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

HMRC recommends that you find out about your State Pension entitlement to help you decide - find out how to do this in the section above.

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

Get help to plan your retirement income on GOV.UK (Opens new window)

Find your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau office (Opens new window)

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Bereavement benefits and qualifying years

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) is different to the eligibility for basic State Pension. For bereavement benefits, it remains 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.

Read more about bereavement benefits (Opens new window)

You should also consider the Government's proposals for simplifying the future State Pension as these include plans to reform bereavement benefits. The proposals mean you would receive the full benefits if your late spouse or civil partner paid National Insurance contributions at 25 times the Lower Earnings Limit for any one year before they died. The changes will not affect anyone reaching State Pension age before 6 April 2017.

Find out about the government's Bereavement Benefit proposals (Opens new window)

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Deadlines for making up National Insurance contribution gaps

You usually have to make up the gaps within six years of the end of the tax year for which the National Insurance contributions are being paid. However there are extended time limits for some tax years and special rules if you reach State Pension age either between 6 April 2008 and 5 April 2015 or after 6 April 2016.

For more information on deadlines, and the extended time limits, for paying voluntary National Insurance contributions read our guide 'When and how to pay voluntary National Insurance contributions' by following the link below.

When and how to pay voluntary National Insurance contributions

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More useful links

A basic guide to understanding the State Pension (Opens new window)

Read about changes to the State Pension from April 2010 (Opens new window)

How to ensure you stop paying National Insurance from State Pension age

Check National Insurance contributions rates

Voluntary National Insurance contributions - the basics

Claiming back overpaid National Insurance contributions

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