Should I pay to top up my State Pension?

At a glance

  • You’ll be eligible for a full State Pension if you’ve made National Insurance contributions for 35 years. If you’ve paid in for between 10 and 35 years, you could make additional contributions to top up your pot.
  • The government scheme to make voluntary National Insurance contributions going back as far as the 2006/07 tax year has been extended. It will now run until 31 July 2023.
  • While there are clear benefits to maximising your State Pension, it’s important to discuss it with us as there may be additional implications – for example, around tax.

If you aren’t on track to get the full State Pension, it’s possible to buy top-ups. Those with big gaps to fill can take advantage of the government offer to make voluntary National Insurance contributions (NICs) going back 16 years. But it’s important not to delay, as the scheme comes to an end on 31 July 2023.

Normally, you can only make voluntary NICs for the previous six tax years. However, this initiative has extended that period by a further 10 years. That means that until 31 July this year, it’s possible to make voluntary contributions going back to the 2006/07 tax year. From the start of the new tax year, it will only be possible to go back as far as 2016/17.

The offer is open to people who reach State Pension Age (SPA) after April 2016, which means it’s worth considering for anyone aged 45-70 who might have significant gaps in their National Insurance (NI) records.

How much is the State Pension?

On 6 April, the full new State Pension rose to £203.85 a week – a bumper 10.1% increase, thanks to the triple lock, which guarantees payments increase in line with the greater of 2.5%, wage growth or, as in this year’s case, inflation.

However, just how much you’ll be eligible for when you reach SPA will depend on the NICs you’ve made.

To get the full State Pension, you now need 35 years of NICs. If you’ve got between 10 and 35, you’ll get a pro rata amount, but if you’ve got less than 10, you won’t be eligible for any State Pension.

Find out where you stand

If you’ve been working and paying NI consistently throughout your career, you should have paid enough to get the full State Pension.

But if you’ve had extended periods where you haven’t been working or earning enough to pay NI (and weren’t claiming benefits), you might not reach the 35-year threshold you need to get the full State Pension.

You can quickly find out whether you’re on track by applying for a State Pension forecast online at the government website. In addition to telling you how much you’ll get and when, it will highlight any gaps you might have in your NI record.

What happens if I haven’t paid enough National Insurance?

If you do have gaps in your NI record, you can make voluntary contributions. These allow you to increase the State Pension you eventually receive, and for some people they could be an excellent investment.

Currently, Class 3 NICs cost £17.45 per week or £907.40 per year. Each year represents 1/35 of the full State Pension, and one year’s additional top-up alone could boost your weekly income by £5.82 a week or £302.64 a year (based on the 2023/24 State Pension).

However, a person with 10 years of missing contributions would be able to boost their State Pension by £3,026 per year in return for a one-off payment of £9,074, by taking advantage of the government’s offer before it runs out.

Is it a good idea to pay voluntary National Insurance contributions?

The potential risk of making voluntary NICs is that you could die before you’ve had the chance to recover your costs, which would take around three years based on these figures.

But while it might seem like a no-brainer, it’s important to think the decision through and discuss it with us. This is particularly key if you’re likely to have a high income, as there could be tax implications.

It’s also vital to check that you’ve got all the NI credits you’re entitled to. While you’ll normally pay NI contributions from earned income, if you’ve had periods where you haven’t been working, either through illness or because you were caring for somebody else (such as children), you might have been eligible for NI credits. In most cases, these credits will have been applied automatically, but there might be instances where you need to apply for them yourself.

There might also be some surprising ways to get extra NI credits. For example, if you’re a grandparent of working age who’s taken time out to look after children under the age of 12, then so long as the parents of the child are claiming child benefit, they can transfer the NI credit they could be eligible for to you.

You can find out more about when NI credits may be paid here.

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SJP Approved 22/02/2023

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