How many qualifying years do I need for old State Pension?

To receive the full basic State Pension under the old rules you need 30 qualifying years of National Insurance contributions or credits. If you have less than 30 qualifying years, you will receive a pro-rated amount. This article explains what counts as a qualifying year, how to check your National Insurance record, and what to do if you have gaps in your contributions.

What is the old State Pension system?

The State Pension system underwent a major change on 6 April 2016. If you reached State Pension age before that date, you fall under the old State Pension rules. This is sometimes referred to as the basic State Pension.

Under the old system, you needed 30 qualifying years of National Insurance contributions or credits to receive the maximum basic State Pension. Each qualifying year would give you 1/30th of the full State Pension amount.

For the 2022/23 tax year the full basic State Pension is £141.85 per week. So each qualifying year is worth around £4.73 per week.

What counts as a qualifying year?

There are a few ways to get a qualifying year under the old system:

  • Paying or being credited with enough National Insurance contributions in a tax year. This was 52 contributions for most of the period.
  • Contributions paid or credited when you were abroad in the EEA or certain countries with which the UK has an agreement.
  • Being credited with Home Responsibilities Protection for looking after children under 12 or ill or disabled people.
  • Periods you received certain benefits, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance or Incapacity Benefit.

National Insurance contributions

To get a qualifying year, you generally had to have paid or been credited with National Insurance contributions for at least 90% of the weeks in a tax year (April to April) between 1978 and 1998. The requirement was 50 contributions per year before 1978.

The majority of people build up qualifying years by paying National Insurance contributions. You pay these if you are:

  • Employed and earning over the Lower Earnings Limit (£123 per week for 2022/23)
  • Self-employed and making profits over the Small Profits Threshold (£6,725 per year for 2022/23)

People who do not work or earn enough to pay National Insurance may get voluntary contributions credited, such as parents and carers. Credits also apply for periods of unemployment, sickness or disability.

Home Responsibilities Protection

Home Responsibilities Protection (HRP) replaced the Home Responsibilities Protection from 1978. It protects your State Pension for up to 20 years spent caring for children under 12 or sick or disabled people of any age.

You must have been claiming Child Benefit or getting Home Responsibilities Protection credits if you were not eligible for Child Benefit. Each year protected counts as a qualifying year.

Pension credits

You may also qualify for a State Pension credit while claiming certain benefits if you are:

  • Unemployed – Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support
  • Sick – Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance
  • A carer – Carer’s Allowance

Credits for Jobseeker’s Allowance, Incapacity Benefit and Carer’s Allowance can help protect your State Pension entitlement up to retirement age.

How to check your National Insurance record

You can check your National Insurance record and see any gaps in your contributions by requesting a State Pension statement from the government.

Your statement will include:

  • Your State Pension age under the old and new systems
  • An estimate of how much State Pension you may get
  • A summary of your National Insurance contributions and any credits or gaps
  • Details of any Home Responsibilities Protection you have

You can request your State Pension statement online through the Government Gateway or by post using form BR19. It’s important to check your record regularly so you can address any issues well in advance of retirement.

How to get a missing qualifying year

If your statement shows gaps where you should have paid National Insurance contributions, there are a few options to get a missing qualifying year:

Make voluntary National Insurance contributions

You may be able to pay voluntary Class 3 National Insurance contributions to buy extra qualifying years. You can generally only go back 6 years with voluntary contributions. The current cost is £15.85 per week.

Apply for National Insurance credits

If you were unemployed, sick, disabled, or a parent/carer during the gaps, you may qualify for National Insurance credits to get a missing year. For example, parents getting Child Benefit are automatically credited.

You can apply for most credits online or by post using CF411. But they can currently only be added to your record within 3 years of the gap year.

Correct your record if wrong

If your record is incorrect or shows the wrong contributions, you can apply to have it corrected. This process lets you dispute any detail on your National Insurance statement.

Getting errors fixed can be a lengthy process so it is advisable to do this as soon as possible.

Special situations

There are some exceptions where you may be able to qualify for the full State Pension with less than 30 years:

  • You lived abroad – Years spent working abroad before April 2016 in the EEA or certain countries can count towards your State Pension.
  • You had gaps due to unemployment – You need gaps of no more than 5 consecutive years after April 1975 to still qualify for the maximum.
  • You were contracted out – Periods you paid lower NI rates because you were contracted out of the State Second Pension scheme can count.

The new State Pension system

The new State Pension system was introduced on 6 April 2016 for people reaching State Pension age from then. This changed the qualifying rules to:

  • A minimum 10 qualifying years of National Insurance contributions or credits
  • 35 years needed for the full new State Pension amount

The new system also brought in a single-tier pension. Qualifying years built up under both the old and new systems determine your final State Pension amount.

How is my State Pension calculated?

Your State Pension is calculated based on your National Insurance record:

  • Old system – Each qualifying year before 6 April 2016 gives 1/30 of the basic State Pension (£4.73 a week per year for 2022/23).
  • New system – Each qualifying year from 6 April 2016 gives 1/35 of the new State Pension (£5.59 a week per year for 2022/23).

Any qualifying years over the maximum (30 for old rules, 35 for new rules) will not increase your State Pension further. Years spent contracted out or getting credits may count, but accrue at a lower pension amount.

Some examples of how State Pension amounts are calculated:

Qualifying years Old system New system Total weekly State Pension
10 10 x £4.73 = £47.30 0 £47.30
20 20 x £4.73 = £94.60 0 £94.60
30 30 x £4.73 = £141.90 0 £141.90 (maximum)

15 15 x £4.73 = £71.00 5 x £5.59 = £27.95 £98.95
0 0 10 x £5.59 = £55.90 £55.90

Should I top up my National Insurance?

It is usually advisable to top up any missing years if you can by making voluntary contributions. Each qualifying year adds to your eventual State Pension amount.

Topping up may be beneficial if:

  • You are close to accruing 30 qualifying years under the old system
  • You have gaps of more than 5 years after April 1975 under the old system
  • You have gaps in your record after April 2016 under the new system

However, there are some cases where topping up may not boost your State Pension or be good value for money:

  • You already have 30+ qualifying years under the old system
  • You have 35+ qualifying years under the new system
  • You are now living abroad and subject to different State Pension rules
  • You have less than 10 years until State Pension age

Getting independent financial advice can help you decide if topping up will benefit you based on your individual circumstances.


You need 30 qualifying years on your National Insurance record to get the full basic State Pension under the pre-2016 system. Each qualifying year gives you 1/30 of the full amount.

A qualifying year is gained through paid contributions, credits when unemployed or a carer, and Home Responsibilities Protection. Gaps in your record can be filled by voluntary contributions or credits.

Checking your State Pension statement lets you understand your current entitlement. Topping up any missing years can boost this, but is not always worthwhile depending on your existing record.

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