A full single tier state pension is payable to people who have 35 qualifying years. Individuals who have less than 35 qualifying years, but at least 10 qualifying years are entitled to a reduced state pension.
A person builds up qualifying years by paying sufficient National Insurance contributions and/or receiving National Insurance credits. Anyone who will not have sufficient qualifying years to secure a full state pension can top up their pension by making voluntary National Insurance contributions.
Obtain a state pension forecast
You can check your state pension forecast online at www.gov.uk/check-state-pension.
If you are unlikely to receive a full state pension when you reach state pension age, you may wish to consider whether it is worthwhile to make voluntary contributions.
If you are an employee, a year will be a qualifying year if you have earnings that are at least equal to 52 times the lower earnings limit for the tax year. For 2021/22, the lower earnings limit is £120 per week, and 52 times this is £6,240. You do not need to have earnings of more than the lower earnings limit for every earnings period, but must have earnings of at least £6,240 for 2021/22 for that year to be a qualifying year.
If you are self-employed, you earn qualifying years by the payment of Class 2 National Insurance contributions for the full taxpayer. This cost £3.05 per week for 2021/22.
You may also earn qualifying years as a result of National Insurance credits. These are given, for example, to people who have claimed child benefit in respect of a child under the age of 12 (even if they have chosen not to receive it), who are caring for someone or who are sick or disabled and receiving (or eligible to receive) Employment and Support Allowance.
Full details of the credits that are available can be found on the Gov.uk website (see www.gov.uk/national-insurance-credits).
Paying voluntary contributions
If you will not have sufficient qualifying years to secure a full state pension by the time that you reach state pension age, you may wish to look at paying voluntary contributions.
There is a dedicated category of National Insurance contribution for this purpose – Class 3. For 2021/21, the weekly rate of Class 3 contribution is £15.40.
If you are self-employed but do not need to pay Class 2 contributions as your profits are below the small profits threshold (£6,515 for 2021/22), you can opt to pay these voluntarily. At £3.05 per week for 2021/22, this is significantly cheaper than paying Class 3 contributions.