Why might I need to top up my National Insurance record?
You may have gaps or part years in your National Insurance (NI) record due to a number of reasons – you may have been employed on low earnings or unemployed but not claiming benefits.
Those who were self-employed or worked abroad may also have gaps in their record.
If your National Insurance record is incomplete you can make up one or more qualifying years by paying voluntary contributions – known as Class 3 contributions. Voluntary Class 2 contributions are for low-income self-employed people.
How many full National Insurance qualifying years you have is important as it will go some way to determining how much state pension you’ll get.
How many years NI contributions are needed for a full pension?
Previously, you were entitled to a full pension after 30 years of National Insurance contributions, it’s now 35.
To qualify at all, you need 10 years of National Insurance payments. Find out more in our guide to National Insurance and the state pension.
People must usually pay the voluntary contributions within six years of the year in question, although there are some exceptions.
The cost of the extra contributions varies depending on which system you qualify under – see below – but everyone can top up their pension in this way if they have gaps.
How can I check if I’ve any National Insurance gaps?
You’ll need to access your National Insurance record to check if you have any gaps, if you’re eligible to pay voluntary contributions, and how much it will cost.
Visit the Check your State Pension website to get a summary of your National Insurance history and gaps you might have.
How many years of missing National Insurance can I buy?
You can usually pay voluntary contributions for the past six years. The deadline is 5 April each year.
So you have until 5 April 2021 to make up for gaps for the tax year 2014 to 2015.
Can I pay gaps of more than six years?
You can sometimes pay for gaps from more than six years ago, depending on your age.
Pensioners have 6 years after you reach state pension age to increase their state pension if you’re a man born between 6 April 1945 and 5 April 1950 or a woman born between 6 April 1950 and 5 October 1952
If you’re a man born after 5 April 1951 or a woman born after 5 April 1953, you have until 5 April 2023 to pay voluntary contributions to make up for gaps between April 2006 and April 2016.
How much do voluntary National Insurance contributions cost in 2020?
If you qualify under the old state pension system
This is men born before 6 April 1951 and women born before 6 April 1953.
Every week that you plug a gap for in 2020-21 will cost you £15.30 (for financial years more than two years ago) or £796 maximum if you contribute the whole year.
If you are paying for a relatively recent year (2018/19 or 2019/20) you would pay the rate that applied in those years. These are £14.65 for 2018/19 and £15.00 for 2019/20.
In return, you’ll get another full qualifying year added to your National Insurance record. This will add an extra £4.48 (£134.25/30) per week or £232.70 a year in 2020/21.
It will take around three-and-a-half years of receiving your state pension to recoup your outlay, and you’d get the extra pension for the rest of your life.
If you qualify under the new state pension system
Those covered under the new state pension are men born on or after 6 April 1951 and women born on or after 6 April 1953.
The current rate is again £15.30 per week.
Since 6 April 2019, the cost of filling missing weeks' of National Insurance contributions between 2006 and April 2017 has been £15 and now £15.30 per week. Before April 2019, it depended on the year in question.
To fill recent gaps from 2018-19 and 2019-20, the cost is £14.65 and £15.00, respectively.
Who can pay voluntary National Insurance contributions?
A wide range of people can pay voluntary National Insurance contributions. Those in employment (Class 3) and the self-employed (usually Class 2) can plug gaps.
Those who’ve reached state pension age and want to fill in gaps in their National Insurance record are able to via Class 3 contributions.
Citizens living abroad and working (Class 2) or not working (Class 3) can still add contribution years.
Should I do it?
Voluntary contributions won’t always increase your state pension, so you’ll need to find out if you’ll benefit from plugging the gaps.
It may be a good idea to consider it if:
- you’re close to state pension age and don’t have enough qualifying years to get the full state pension
- you know you won’t be able to get the qualifying years you need to get the full state pension during your working life
- you’re self-employed and don’t have to pay Class 2 contributions because you have low profits or live outside the UK, but you want to qualify for some benefits.
State pension top up FAQ
What are Class 2 and Class 4 voluntary NI contributions?
You make Class 2 National Insurance contributions if you're self-employed to qualify for benefits like the state pension.
The rates for the 2020 to 2021 tax year are £3.05 a week for Class 2
Class 4 NI contributions apply if your profits are £8,632 or more. The rate is 9% on profits between £8,632 and £50,000, and 2% on profits over £50,000.
Most people pay the contributions as part of their self-assessment tax bill.
What if I’ve paid some NI contributions in a year?
You may have paid some or partial National Insurance contributions in a financial year but not enough to get a full qualifying year. Making contributions for those extra weeks can get you another full qualifying year.
Topping up 10 weeks of contributions from 2014/15 would, therefore, cost you £153 if you’re under the old state pension system and £139 if you’re under the new system.
Making up the cheapest year first (years with fewest weeks to make up to have a full year) makes the best sense. However, if you wait too long you may run out of time.
What if I’ve spent periods abroad?
You may be able to pay voluntary National Insurance contributions if you're living abroad or fill in gaps from when you were living abroad.
If you’re living and working abroad, you’ll pay Class 2 contributions, but only if you worked in the UK immediately before leaving and you’ve previously lived in the UK for three years in a row and paid three years of contributions.
Those not working can pay Class 3, but only if at some point you’ve lived in the UK continuously for three years and paid three years of contributions.
Voluntary National Insurance contributions paid from abroad don’t cover your health insurance in the country where you live.
How do I pay voluntary National Insurance contributions?
You can pay voluntary contributions by direct debit, bank transfer, or by cash or cheque at your local bank branch.
All the information you need can be found on the gov.uk website.
What were Class 3A National Insurance contributions?
These were available until 5 April 2017 and allowed people who had reached the state pension age before April 2016 to top up their pension.
The time-limited offer was designed to help those that won't receive the new single-tier state pension that started in April 2016.
Those aged 65 were able to increase their state pension by £1 per week in exchange for £890.