Gaps in your National Insurance record can leave you ineligible for a State Pension and certain benefits. You may be able to fill these gaps by making voluntary National Insurance contributions.
Under current rules, you have until 5 April 2025 to ‘buy back’ any missing national insurance years from 2006 to 2016 using voluntary national insurance contributions.
The following guide for taxpayers on making voluntary National Insurance contributions looks at what voluntary contributions are and why and when these can be made.
We also look at the process for making voluntary National Insurance contributions, how much this is likely to cost and the implications of having gaps in your National Insurance record.
What are voluntary National Insurance contributions?
Voluntary National Insurance contributions (NICs) are financial contributions that an individual can make to avoid or fill gaps in their National Insurance record. NICs are a PAYE deduction or self-assessment payment made by the employed and self-employed on their earnings or profits to be able to qualify for certain benefits and the State Pension.
Under the UK’s current NIC system, employees and the self-employed effectively “earn” an entitlement to government benefits, including the New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance, the contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance, Maternity Allowance, Bereavement Support Payments and, perhaps most significantly, the New State Pension.
You will be liable to pay NICs if you are aged 16 or over and are either an employee or worker earning above £242 a week (the primary threshold), or you are self-employed with annual trading profits of more than £12,570 (the small profits threshold).
There are different classes of National Insurance contributions, depending on your employment status and how much you earn. As an employee under State Pension age earning more than £242 a week from one job, you will pay Class 1 NICs. The employer will also pay Class 1 NICs based on your earnings over £175 a week (the secondary threshold).
As a self-employed person with trading profits of £12,570 or more a year, you will be liable to pay both Class 2 and Class 4 NICs, although Class 4 do not count towards state benefits. Class 2 contributions are fixed weekly amounts paid by self-employed people, while Class 4 contributions are paid by self-employed people on a portion of their trading profits.
However, you do not have to pay NICs, but will still qualify for certain benefits and the State Pension, if you are either an employee with weekly earnings of between £123 and £242, or are self-employed with annual profits between £6,725 and £12,570. In these circumstances, your NICs will be treated as having been paid to protect your NI record.
Why would you make voluntary National Insurance contributions?
The National Insurance scheme in the UK is essentially funded on a “pay as you go” basis by contributions from the employed and self-employed. For employees, this includes contributions made by their employers during periods of gainful employment. However, access to certain benefits or a pension from the government will depend on a satisfactory record of NICs over a given period of time or over the course of a person’s working life.
If you do not pay National Insurance Contributions or are not entitled to National Insurance credits, you may have gaps in your NI record. This could be because either you have been employed but on very low earnings, unemployed and not claiming benefits, self-employed but did not pay NICs because of small trading profits, or even because you have been living or working outside of the UK. In these circumstances, you may want to look into making voluntary National Insurance contributions. You may be able to make voluntary contributions to avoid gaps in your NI record or to fill any gaps retrospectively.
If you are self-employed in a specific job role, you may also not pay Class 2 contributions through self-assessment, but may want to make voluntary contributions. This includes:
- examiners, invigilators, moderators or those who set exam questions
- people running businesses involving land or property
- ministers of religion not in receipt of a salary or stipend
- people who make investments for either themselves or others, but not as a business and without getting paid a fee or commission.
Deadline extended to fill NI gaps between 2006 and 2016
Under standard rules, you can make voluntary NICs up to six years afterwards, but the introduction of the new state pension was accompanied by transitional arrangements were put in place to let you plug gaps all the way back to 2006.
This was due to end on 5 April 2023, and then 31 July 2023, but because so many people are trying, the necessary government phone lines are clogged up (mainly due to Martin shouting from the rooftops about it). So the date has been extended to 5 April 2025
HMRC have extended the previous deadline to 5 April 2025 to pay voluntary NICs on gaps in NI records between 2006 and 2016. The cost of buying back these gaps has been frozen for the same period.
Taxpayers are advised to check their NI record and take advantage of this extension period to resolve any gaps that may impact how much pension they will be entitled to on retirement.
How can you check your National Insurance record?
You can check your National Insurance record online at GOV.UK to find out:
- what you have paid, up to the start of the current tax year, ie; 6 April 2023
- any National Insurance credits that you may have received
- if you have any gaps in your National Insurance record
- if gaps in NICs or NI credits mean some years do not count towards your State Pension, ie; where they are not ‘qualifying years’
- whether you are eligible to pay voluntary National Insurance Contributions
- the cost of making voluntary National Insurance Contributions.
You can request a printed NI statement online if you live in the UK, or online or by post if you live abroad. You can also request a statement by telephone on 0300 200 3500 or +44 (0)191 203 7010 from outside the UK. You will need to say which years you want your statement to cover, although you cannot request statements for either the current or previous tax year. Alternatively, you can write to National Insurance Contributions and Employers Office, His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, BX9 1AN.
Your online NI record does not cover how much State Pension you will be likely to get when you reach State Pension age. You can use another online tool to check when you will reach State Pension age, although this age is regularly reviewed, so the results of this tool may change in the future. Additionally, the State Pension forecast tool can be used to check how much pension you could get, when you can get it and how to increase it.
Are you eligible to make voluntary National Insurance contributions?
You must be eligible to make voluntary National Insurance contributions for the time that these contributions cover, where you may be able to pay either Class 2 or Class 3 contributions. Class 2 contributions are for the self-employed, while Class 3 are voluntary contributions that both employees or self-employed people can pay to fill or avoid gaps in their NI record, although these will only cover you for the State Pension.
Below we set out the circumstances in which you may be eligible to pay Class 2 voluntary National Insurance contributions or Class 3 voluntary NICs, or both:
- Employed but earning under £123 a week and not eligible for NI credits: Class 3
- Self-employed with income of £1,000 or less: Class 2 or 3
- Self-employed with income over £1,000, but with trading profits of less than £6,725: Class 2 or 3
- Both employed and self-employed, with low earnings and with small profits: you should contact HMRC to check if you have a gap and how much you need to pay
- Self-employed as either an examiner, minister of religion, or in an investment or land and property business: Class 2 or 3
- Living and working abroad: Class 2, but only if you worked in the UK immediately prior to leaving, and you have previously lived in the UK for at least 3 consecutive years or paid at least 3 years of contributions
- Living abroad but not working: Class 3, but only if at some point you have lived in the UK for at least 3 consecutive years or paid at least 3 years of contributions
- Unemployed and not claiming benefits: Class 3
- A married woman or widow who stopped paying reduced rates: Class 3.
How do you make voluntary National Insurance contributions?
You can usually only pay for gaps in your NI record from the past 6 years, with a deadline of 5 April each year. For example, you will have until 5 April 2026 to make up for any gaps for the tax year 2019 to 2020, although if you want to make voluntary contributions for the tax years 2016/17 or 2017/18, the deadline has been extended until 5 April 2025. You may also pay for gaps in your record from more than 6 years ago, depending on your age.
You can pay voluntary National Insurance contributions in a number of ways, although it is often best to seek expert financial advice or phone HMRC first before making a payment.
How much are voluntary National Insurance contributions?
When it comes to voluntary National Insurance contributions, the amount you will need to pay will depend on whether you are paying Class 2 or Class 3 contributions. You will usually pay the current rate when you make voluntary contributions, where the rates for the 2023 to 2024 tax year are as follows:
- £3.45 a week for Class 2 voluntary National Insurance contributions
- £17.45 a week for Class 3 voluntary National Insurance contributions.
If the gap in your NI record was between 6 April 2016 and 5 April 2023, you will pay the rates that applied in the 2022/23 tax year of £3.15 for Class 2 and £15.85 for Class 3.
What are the implications of gaps in your National Insurance Record?
If you have gaps in your National Insurance record, this may mean that you will not be eligible for certain benefits and will not qualify for the State Pension, sometimes referred to as ‘qualifying years’. To qualify for the new State Pension, you will usually need 35 qualifying years on your National Insurance record to get the full amount payable, with at least 10 years to get a proportion of the full amount due. Importantly, however, voluntary National Insurance contributions will not affect your entitlement to benefits and do not always necessarily increase your State Pension. This will all depend on your circumstances.
Still, you may want to pay voluntary National Insurance contributions because you are close to State Pension age and do not have enough qualifying years to get the full amount or you will not now be able to get the qualifying years needed during your working life.
To find out if and how you will benefit from making voluntary National Insurance contributions and you have not yet reached State Pension age, you should call the Future Pension Centre on 0800 731 0175 or +44 (0)191 218 3600 from outside the UK. In this way you can make an informed decision on whether or not you will benefit from making voluntary contributions. Alternatively, if you have already reached State Pension age, contact the Pension Service on 0800 731 7898. You may also want to seek financial advice before you decide to make voluntary contributions to check the benefits of doing so.
What are National Insurance credits and are you entitled to these?
You may be able to get National Insurance credits to help avoid gaps in your NI record if you are not paying NICs, for example, where you are currently claiming benefits because you are unemployed, or unable to work due to incapacity or caring for someone full-time.
You may automatically get NI credits or you may need to apply for these. If eligible, you will either get Class 1 or Class 3 credits. Class 1 NI credits will count towards your State Pension and may help you qualify for some other benefits, such as the New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance, while Class 3 NI credits will count only towards your State Pension.
If you have gaps in your record because you do not pay NICs and do not get National Insurance credits, you may still be able to make voluntary contributions. However, it is worth remembering that when making Class 3 voluntary National Insurance contributions, these will only count towards your State Pension. You can check your record online to find out if you have NI credits. You can also check if you are eligible for these credits.
Importantly, you may be able to transfer your National Insurance credits that you got from registering for Child Benefit to your spouse or partner who is living with you if you have paid a year’s National Insurance contributions. Further, if you have already applied for credits but they are wrong on your record, you will need to contact the office where you applied. There is a useful helpline number that you can phone if you have any questions about NI credits or voluntary National Insurance contributions generally on 0300 200 3500.
Voluntary NI contributions FAQs
Is it worth paying voluntary National Insurance contributions?
Paying voluntary National Insurance contributions, where eligible to do so, can fill any gaps in your National Insurance record, in this way ensuring that your have enough qualifying years for the State Pension when you reach State Pension retirement age.
How much should I pay in voluntary National Insurance contributions?
When it comes to voluntary National Insurance contributions, the amount payable will depend on whether you are paying Class 2 or Class 3 contributions, where you will usually pay the current weekly rate when you make voluntary contributions.
How much does it cost to buy additional National Insurance contributions?
The cost of buying additional National Insurance contributions for the 2023/24 tax year, commonly known as voluntary National Insurance contributions, will be £3.45 a week for Class 2 voluntary contributions and £17.45 a week for Class 3 voluntary contributions.
Is it worth buying extra years for State Pension?
It may be worth buying extra years to ensure that you qualify for the full State Pension by the time that your reach State Pension age, although paying voluntary National Insurance contributions does not always increase your pension amount.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal or financial advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law or tax rules and should not be treated as such.
Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission.
Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert professional advice should be sought.