Most people can claim a State Pension once they reach State Pension age.
The State Pension age for men is currently 65.
The State Pension age for women is currently between 62 and 65. The exact age depends on when you were born, because the State Pension age for women is gradually rising to match the age for men. By 2020 the State Pension age for everyone will increase to 66, and this will continue to rise in stages until it is 68.
It’s important to start thinking about your State Pension early. Even if you’re many years below pension age, it could be helpful to know now when you are likely to reach Basic State Pension age. You can get an idea of how much State Pension you may get by visiting gov.uk/calculate-state-pension or by calling the UK Government’s Future Pension Centre on 0845 3000 168.
Who gets state pension?
The State Pension is currently made up of two main parts: Basic State Pension and Additional State Pension. This is due to change soon (see ‘The new single-tier State Pension’ below).
Under the current rules, you can get Basic State Pension when you reach State Pension age and you have at least one qualifying year. Qualifying years are built up through paying national insurance contributions, or through credits that are given when you can’t work. To get the full Basic State Pension you need 30 qualifying years.
Depending on your national insurance contributions and what benefits you’ve claimed, you may also be eligible for Additional State Pension. This gives you extra money on top of your Basic State Pension. You won’t have built up any Additional State Pension for periods that you self-employed.
The new single-tier state pension
The government has announced that for people reaching State Pension age from 6 April 2016 onwards, the two parts of the current State Pension will be replaced by a new single-tier State Pension. State Pension you’ve already built up under the old system will still be protected. The aim is to simplify the State Pension. The change will mean that people will eventually need more qualifying years than they do now (expected to be 10). The number of contribution years needed to get the full State Pension will also increase from 30 to 35 years.
There will be certain transitional arrangements for people who have entitlement under the current rules but reach their State Pension age under the new rules.
Protecting your right to state pension
There may be times when you don’t pay national insurance, for example, because you’re off work sick, unemployed or not earning enough. In these situations, you usually continue to get national insurance credits. These cover the contributions you were unable to pay and protect your entitlement to Basic State Pension. If you aren’t in work because you care for children, care for a frail or disabled adult, or are disabled yourself, you can also be credited with some Additional State Pension.
You will probably still build up national insurance credits (and therefore Basic State Pension or single-tier pension) if the following applies:
- You are unable to work because of illness or disability.
- You care for someone who is ill or disabled. You must receive Carer’s Allowance or care for them at least 20 hours a week.
- You claim Child Benefit for a child under 12.
- You get Working Tax Credit or a new benefit called Universal Credit.
- You are a man who is approaching 65 and has reached the State Pension age for women, but you don’t work or earn very much.
In other situations, periods off work will probably appear as gaps in your national insurance record. This may reduce the amount of State Pension you eventually get. But you need 30 years (35 years from 2016) of national insurance contributions and credits for a full Basic State Pension, so you may not need to worry about filling these gaps if you’ve worked for a certain number of years.
To find out about national insurance credits, you can:
- visit gov.uk/national-insurance-credits (England, Scotland and Wales)
- visit nidirect.gov.uk/getting-credits-towards-your-state-pension (Northern Ireland)
- call the HMRC national insurance helpline on 0300 200 3500.
Child Benefit and State Pension
If you have a child under 12 and are not working, claiming Child Benefit could help you qualify for national insurance credits.
These credits could count towards your State Pension. If you or your partner have an individual income of more than £50,000 and one of you is entitled to Child Benefit, the person with the higher income may be affected by a new tax charge called the High Income Child Benefit Charge. You can choose not to receive Child Benefit to avoid the tax bill. If you do this, make sure you still complete the claim forms even though you will receive nothing. This means you’ll still get national insurance credits while you’re not working, which will protect your State Pension.
For more information, visit gov.uk/child-benefit-tax-charge
Income for early retirement
You can’t start getting your State Pension before you reach State Pension age. But if you can’t work because of illness or caring responsibilities, or if your household income is low, you may be able to claim other state benefits instead.
We have more information about getting financial help or you can call our welfare rights advisers.
If you die before State Pension age
Under the current rules, your surviving husband, wife or civil partner may be able to claim bereavement benefits if you’ve paid or been credited with enough national insurance.
Bereavement benefits will be simplified from 2016. Once this change has happened, your husband, wife or civil partner will be able to claim bereavement benefits if they’ve paid just one year or more of national insurance.
In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, partners who aren’t married or in a civil partnership can’t claim bereavement benefits.
But in Scotland, there may be an exception for couples who have lived together since before 4 May 2006. These couples would need to show that their relationship was ‘an irregular marriage by cohabitation with habit and repute’.
If your surviving family members’ income and savings are low, they may qualify for means-tested benefits, or an increase in benefits that they already claim.
For more information about bereavement benefits speak to one of our welfare rights advisers.