When it comes to qualifying for the State Pension and other benefits, one of the key requirements is having enough years of paying National Insurance (NI) contributions. So how many years of full NI contributions do you actually need?
What are National Insurance contributions?
National Insurance is a tax on earnings that is used to fund certain state benefits. Most working people aged 16 or over who earn over £184 per week pay Class 1 NI contributions. The amount you pay depends on your earnings. In addition, if you are self-employed you pay Class 2 and 4 NI contributions. These contributions go towards funding the State Pension and other benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Maternity Allowance.
How many years of NI contributions do I need for the full State Pension?
To qualify for the full new State Pension, you need a minimum of 10 qualifying years of NI contributions. To get the full amount of £179.60 per week in 2022/23, you need to have at least 35 qualifying years. If you have between 10 and 35 qualifying years, you will get a pro-rated amount. For example, with 20 qualifying years you would get around £120 per week.
A qualifying year is one in which you have paid enough NI contributions to count towards State Pension entitlement. For 2022/23, this means you need to earn at least £6,240 which would give you the annual qualifying earnings requirement from your paid NI contributions through employment. There are special rules for certain circumstances, for example, periods of unemployment, sickness or raising children.
How to check your State Pension forecast
You can get an estimate of your State Pension and how many qualifying years you have by using the Check your State Pension forecast service on the GOV.UK website. This will tell you:
- Your estimated weekly State Pension amount
- The earliest age you can get your State Pension
- How many qualifying years you have on your National Insurance record
Checking your forecast regularly and keeping track of your qualifying years is important to ensure you are on track for the State Pension amount you are expecting.
Do I need a full NI record to get other benefits?
The number of qualifying years needed for other benefits that require NI contributions can vary. Here are some examples:
Contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
To be eligible for contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), you normally need to have paid Class 1 NI contributions for at least 2 full tax years (6 April to 5 April) before the year you apply for JSA.
To qualify for Incapacity Benefit, you must have paid enough NI contributions in one of the last 3 full tax years before the benefit year in which you claim. The number of contributions required depends on your age:
|Age||NI contributions required in a tax year|
|Under 22||25 weeks|
|22 to 29||50 weeks|
|30 or over||25% of weeks|
Contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance
To get contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you usually need to have paid enough Class 1 or Class 2 NI in one of the last 2 full tax years before the year you claim. The number of contributions required depends on your age:
|Age||NI contributions required in a tax year|
|Under 20||26 weeks|
|20 to 24||50 weeks|
|Over 24||50% of weeks|
To qualify for Maternity Allowance you must have worked for at least 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before your baby is due and have earned at least £30 a week or £150 a month on average. You must also have paid a certain level of NI contributions:
- In the second tax year before the year your baby is due, you must have paid NI contributions for at least 26 weeks
- In the tax year before the one your baby is due, you must have paid NI contributions for at least 13 weeks
What if I have gaps in my NI record?
It’s not uncommon for people to have gaps in their NI record due to being unemployed, travelling, raising children or taking time out of work for other reasons. There are a few options if you have gaps:
You may be able to get NI credits for periods when you were not working – for example, while claiming benefits, unemployed, sick or raising children. NI credits can help protect your entitlement to the State Pension and other benefits.
Pay voluntary NI contributions
If you have gaps of up to 6 years in your NI record, you may be able to pay voluntary Class 3 NI contributions to fill these. This counts towards your State Pension and can help you qualify for certain benefits. You can apply to pay voluntary contributions for the last 6 years, up to the end of the current tax year.
Buy NI contributions
If you have gaps further back in your record, you may be able to buy Class 3 NI contributions for additional years to improve your NI contribution history. This is known as buying “missing years”. You can buy a maximum of 6 additional years but they must be between 2006/07 and the end of the current tax year.
The number of qualifying years of NI contributions you need depends on which benefits you want to claim. For the full State Pension you need at least 35 years, but you can get a pro-rated pension with as little as 10 years. For contribution-based benefits like JSA, ESA and Maternity Allowance you typically need around 2 years of contributions to meet the requirements. If you have gaps in your record, credits, voluntary contributions or buying missing years may help you improve your NI contribution history.
It’s a good idea to regularly check your State Pension forecast to see if you are on track and understand what you might get. If you feel you may have gaps in your NI record that could impact your future entitlement, seek advice to explore your options. Taking action while you are still working gives you the best chance of boosting your NI contribution history.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are NI contributions calculated?
NI contributions are calculated as a percentage of your earnings. If you are employed, you pay Class 1 NI which is 12% on earnings between £184 and £967 per week, and 2% on earnings above this. Your employer also pays 13.8% NI on your earnings above £170 per week. If you are self-employed you pay Class 2 (£3.15 per week in 2022/23) and Class 4 NI which is 10.25% on profits between £9,880 and £50,270, and 3.25% above that.
What about NI if I’m unemployed or claiming benefits?
You can still get NI credits while unemployed and claiming benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance. Certain benefits also count as qualifying years for State Pension purposes including Child Benefit, Carer’s Allowance and Income Support. So even if out of work you may still be accruing qualifying years.
What years are used to calculate State Pension?
Your State Pension is based on your NI record from when you turned 16 up to the year before you reach State Pension age. It takes your 35 best years of contributions to determine the amount. Years where you were contracted out of the additional State Pension may count at a reduced rate when calculating your new State Pension.
Should I pay voluntary NI contributions?
Paying voluntary contributions can be worth considering if you have gaps in your NI record, but make sure to check your State Pension forecast first. Filling a gap may not increase your State Pension if you already have over 35 years, so focus on any gaps between 2006/07 and now. Seek advice to weigh up the costs and benefits before paying voluntary NI.
What about NI if I live and work overseas?
If you live or work in certain countries overseas, you may be able to count your NI contributions there through social security agreements with the UK. For example, in the EU and certain EEA countries and Switzerland. If not covered, you may be able to pay voluntary NI to fill gaps in your UK record while abroad.
Ensuring you have adequate National Insurance contributions is important to safeguard your entitlement to the State Pension and other benefits you may need to rely on. Check your State Pension regularly and be aware of the qualification rules for benefits you may want to claim. Seek help if you think you may have gaps in your NI record so you can take timely action. Paying voluntary contributions or buying missing years where possible could make a difference to your long term financial security.