National Insurance contributions and your state pension
State pension is available only to people who have paid, or been credited with, enough National Insurance contributions.
The number of years' National Insurance contributions needed to qualify for full state pension changed in April 2016.
New state pension rules (after 2016)
From April 2016, the number of qualifying years for the full state pension increased to 35 for both men and women.
To get any state pension, you must have at least 10 qualifying years of National Insurance contributions. The amount you'll get is proportionate to your contributions - for example, if you have twenty years' full contributions, you'll get 57% (20/35) of the full amount.
At the same time, the state pension changed from a two-tier system (basic state pension and additional state pension) to a single-tier system.
Old state pension rules (until April 2016)
Anyone reaching state pension age on or after 6 April 2016 had to build up 30 years' worth of NICs to get a full state pension.
People in this age group may also still be entitled to the additional state pension - and partners may be able to inherit a portion of this upon their partner's death.
Find out more: state pension explained – a full round-up of how to qualify for the state pension
State-pension age increases
You can only claim this benefit once you reach 'state-pension age'.
The state pension age for women has changed over an eight-year period. For women born after April 1950, it reached 65 in November 2018, which was the same qualifying age as men.
But the state pension age is still rising. State pension age for men and women will increase from 65 to 66 between April 2018 and April 2020, then to 67, for those reaching state pension age before 2028, and eventually 68 for those reaching retirement by 2044.
There is every possibility it will rise further in future.
Find out more: use our state pension age calculator to determine when you qualify
Contracting out of National Insurance
Under the new state pension rules, you'll need 35 years' full National Insurance contributions to receive the maximum state pension.
Some people may find that previous contributions don't count towards this limit, as they had contracted out.
This is no longer possible, but was an option for some people in defined benefit company pension schemes.
Essentially, they were able to pay lower NI contributions as they were making their own private pension arrangements.
The easiest way to find out whether this applies to you is to speak to your employer from the time, your pension scheme, or check your old payslips.
National Insurance – Class 3 voluntary contributions
If you're unlikely to qualify for the full state pension because you haven't made enough National Insurance contributions, it's possible to top up your contributions in some circumstances.
Making voluntary Class 3 NICs allows you to fill gaps in your National Insurance contributions record. These are £15.30 per week in 2020-21; £15 per week in 2019-20.
A full year's worth of National Insurance contributions will cost £795.60 in 2020-21, and currently costs £780 in 2019-20 (if you'd bought in 2018-19 they would have been £761.80). If you're filling previous years, you'll pay the cost for the current year, rather than for the year you are making up for.
You can normally go back a maximum of six years to fill National Insurance contributions gaps, though some people may be able to top-up over a longer period.
Calculating the benefit of making additional NICs is quite complicated and depends on the qualifying threshold when you reach state-pension age, as well as the number of years NICs you will have paid or been credited with.
We've explained everything you need to know in our guide to topping up the state pension.