State pension guide: what you need to know
The State Pension is a regular payment from the government to support you in retirement. But how much you get and when you will be able to claim it can vary.
What is the State Pension?
The State Pension provides a weekly income once you reach State Pension age, topping up income you may receive through private pensions or acting as a safety net for those that haven’t been able to save for their retirement.
Who is eligible for the State Pension?
Your eligibility for the new State Pension is directly linked to your National Insurance record.
To claim the full new State Pension you will need to have made 35 qualifying years of National Insurance contributions before you reach State Pension age. If you’ve paid less than this, you will get a reduced payment, and you need at least 10 years to claim any new State Pension at all.
The new State Pension was introduced in 2016 and is available to women born on or after 6 April 1953 and men born on or after 6 April 1951. If you were born before these dates you will need to claim the old scheme, known as the basic State Pension.
How do I pay National Insurance?
If you work you will pay National Insurance through your payslips or voluntarily through your tax return if you work for yourself.
However, if you’ve ever had periods of unemployment, self-employment or low earnings, lived abroad or taken a career break, you may have gaps in your NI record. You can usually top up your NI contributions for the last six years with extra payments yourself.
It is important to note, though, that if you were claiming certain benefits during this time, including job seekers allowance, universal credit or child benefit, you will receive National Insurance credits to plug these gaps. You can check your NI record on the government’s website and find out more about voluntary contributions.
How to claim Child Benefit to boost your State Pension
If you’re a parent who is not working because you are caring for children, it’s important to claim Child Benefit. If your partner earns more than £50,000 a year, they will have to repay the amount of Child Benefit you receive through the High Income Child Benefit Tax Charge.
For simplicity, some parents opt to stop their Child Benefit, but in doing so they stop NI credits automatically being added to their record, which could mean they end up without enough NICs to be eligible for the full State Pension.
How much State Pension will I get?
In 2021/22 the full new State Pension is £179.60 a week, or a little over £9,000 a year. But not everyone will get the full amount.
If you only qualify for a small amount or no State Pension, you may also be eligible for pension credit, a means-tested benefit to top up your weekly income. How much you get will depend on how much income you have from all sources, including joint income and savings if you are in a couple.
The government has a tool that can forecast how much State Pension you should get.
When can I get the State Pension?
You can claim it once you reach the State Pension age, which depends on when you were born. The State Pension age was 65, but it is gradually increasing and now depends on when you were born and will reach 67 by 2028. This is currently under review, however and may well change.
The government will usually write to you a few months before you reach State Pension age to invite you to claim.
What if I don’t need the State Pension?
If you don’t need your State Pension — for example, if you are still working or have a good private pension — you can defer it in return for a higher weekly payment when you do eventually claim. Your State Pension increases by 1% for every nine weeks you put off claiming it, so that’s an extra 5.8% for each year you defer, and it rises in line with inflation.
» MORE: How to delay your pension
What other ways can I save for retirement?
While the State Pension will be an important part of your overall retirement income, it won’t be enough to give you a good standard of living. That’s why it is important to save during your working life in a private pension such as a workplace scheme.
» COMPARE: Personal pensions
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Hannah is an award-winning journalist with a background in the trade press. She writes about finance, asset management and business for Shares, Citywire, FE Trustnet, and interactive investor. Read more