How to find out when you’ll get it, and how to fill any gaps.
The idea of working until I’m nearly 70 fills me with dread! I hope I don’t have to, and any early retirement will be down to personal pensions, investments and savings.
But once I do hit my late 60s, the State Pension could be a vital source of funds. In fact, knowing I’ll get it could free up other funds to perhaps allow me to stop working much earlier.
Seeing as it’s decades away, it might seem pointless to care about it now. But there are important questions to understand. Not just how much it’ll be and what age I’d be getting it, but will I even be eligible?
There’s confusing and misleading information out there (from pretty major websites too) so I’ll hopefully answer all of these questions and more in this article so you’ll know what you need to do to get the most money possible.
When can you get the State Pension?
To start, let’s go back to basics. The State Pension is a guaranteed weekly income paid to you when you reach State Pension age. You can of course retire earlier if you have other income sources or other pensions, but you don’t get this cash until you hit the State Pension age.
The traditional age of 65 for men and 60 for women is sadly behind us. It’s now 66 for men and women (the latter really missed out in the years leading up to this levelling out).
The age then continues to rise, first to 67 between 2026 and 2028, impacting those born after 1960.
The next increase is to 68 years old. This latter change is meant to happen around 2044 (adding a year for those born around 1977), but could occur up to 10 years earlier between 2035 and 2039 (meaning those born after 1968).
Though of course, these ages could – and probably will – change again. I imagine I’ll be 69 when my time comes. And it’s anticipated that anyone currently under 30 will have to wait until 70 years old to get the payments. Indeed, in 30 years there might not even be a State Pension anymore!
Finding out your State Pension age
The way to find out what the date will be (as things stand now) is for you is to use the State Pension age tool on the Gov.UK website.
You simply enter your date of birth and whether you’re male or female (gender only makes a difference to people already in their mid-60s) and ta-da, you’ll see your State Pension age.
Quick note – as the earlier increase to 68 is just a proposal it’s not been factored into the calculator, so add a year if you fit that eight to 10-year range(born after 1968) to be on the safe side.
Why you should care about your State Pension now
So you now know when you’ll get it, and it could well be a long time until you reach State Pension age. Hey, for me it’s at least another 25 years! So we can forget about it until then, right?
No – there are important reasons I care now, and you should too.
It reduces how much you’ll need in your other pensions
The full amount from the State Pension (SP) might not seem much – currently just £203.85* a week. But that’s £10,600 odd a year. Until. You. Die. Live for 20 years after claiming it and it’s worth close to £212,000.
Say you’ve worked out you need £30,000 a year to live when you retire, the full State Pension means you’ll actually need to save enough to cover £20,000 a year from 67 / 68 etc. That’s a much easier (and less scary) total to target.
* How much you get can get a little complicated so this is the most. I won’t go into detail here but you’ll get less if you ever “contracted out”. Or if you would have been better off under the older system it’s possible you might get small top-ups when you retire.
You’re not automatically entitled to it
But, you don’t automatically qualify for the SP. You might think it just starts when you hit State Pension age, but you’re wrong. You need to make at least 10 years of National Insurance contributions to qualify. Less than this and you won’t get anything.
You generally make National Insurance contributions through your pay, or you might get National Insurance credits through things like child benefit, jobseekers allowance, carers allowance and maternity leave.
You might not get the full amount
That 10-year figure is the minimum. You’ll need as many as 35 years of NI contributions to get the full amount (though depending on your age it could be a little less – more on this later). It’s well worth making sure you have made or will make enough contributions to reach this number.
If you only qualify for two-thirds of the full amount (roughly what you’d get if you only made 24 out of 35 years of full contributions) then you’d be around £3,533 worse off a year. That will make a difference.
I’ve detailed further down the article how you can check your current status and how much you’d get (at current figures).
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You might have missed some years
If you’ve been working or on certain benefits each year since school or University (or even before) then it’s likely you’ll have each year so far marked on your record as full. But if for any reason you took time out – a gap year perhaps – you’ll have a missing year.
And the closer you get to retirement, the bigger the impact any missed year will have on how much you get. But if the missed year is within the last six years you can voluntarily pay to top it up.
Of course if you’ve got plenty of years to catch up you might not need to do this, but it’s worth thinking about if you’re approaching the time you’d like to stop working.
You won’t want to be making future contributions if you retire early
Do you want to keep working until you actually reach the State Pension age? If you can afford to retire earlier it makes sense to ensure you don’t have to keep making (voluntary) contributions when your income is low, in order to get the max SP available to you.
Say you’re aiming to quit in 10 years at 55 years old but have 23 years of contributions so far. You’ll either need to change your goal to 57 years old, or you’ll need to make voluntary contributions (or keep working) for another 2 years to reach the magic number of 35 years of contributions.
How many qualifying years do you need?
Under the new system (introduced in April 2016), you qualify for the State Pension after 10 years of contributions and will get the full rate after 35 years of contributions (this is for men born after 1951 and women born after 1953).
But as I mentioned above it’s not going to be 35 years for everyone – it could actually be less. This is despite pretty much every major newspaper and personal finance website stating it’s now 35 years for everyone. It’s not! And I’m proof of this.
You see, if you started making contributions before April 2016 – which is going to be most people in their late 20s and some younger – the total number of years is based on a mix of the new and old systems.
For me I only need to make a total of 30 years of full National Insurance contributions. For my wife it’s 32 years. This is despite the fact we’ve both already contributed the same number of years so far (22 years).
A few years ago I called up the HMRC helpline to find out why this was (and why so many sources reported a blanket 35 years). The answer wasn’t massively clear, but it might be down to me being a little older than her, or me earning more in some of those years. Whatever the reason, we’re both examples of people who need to pay less than 35 years – so it could well be the same for you.
How to check your State Pension record
There’s a way to check how much State Pension you’ll get when you retire, based on your current record and also if you continue paying in. You’ll also be able to see if there are any gaps.
It’s a five-minute job well worth doing so you know if you’re on track, or whether you need to take action now – and if you’re over 40 you may well need to fill in any missing gaps.
You need to request a State Pension forecast. It’s easy and doesn’t take long. You need a Government Gateway ID, and it might take five to 10 minutes to set this up. You need to validate your identity using your passport or a recent payslip, but once sorted you can find out how many years you still need to contribute to get the full amount. For me it was 7 years.
In the same system (but annoyingly not on the same page) you can check your National Insurance record. You’ll see how many years you’ve already made full contributions (as mentioned this was 23 years for me so far). Add together those figures and you’ll get the total number of years that YOU need to pay.
This page will also tell you how many more years you have left to make contributions – i.e. before you reach the State Pension age.
So I now know that I’ve 25 full qualifying years and I’ve 24 years to contribute another 5 full years. Or in other words, I could stop working in 5 years and still get the full State Pension when I hit 68.
Topping up missing years
Though you’ll keep gaining qualifying years when you work or claim certain benefits, it could be you can pay money now to fill in some gaps. This is meant to be limited to the past six years, but an increased time frame has been extended a few times.
You’ve now got until 31 April 2025 (extended from the original 5 April 2023 deadline and subsequent 31 July extension) to make back payments. This extension is for men born since April 1951 and women after April 1953. If that’s you, you can top up as far back as April 2006.
There’s obviously a cost to any top-up – roughly £824 per year if you do it this year. That’s obviously a sizeable amount. But for each year you add now, you’ll break even if you claim the State Pension for at least three years. So claim it for four years and you’ll be better off.
If you’re self-employed then you’ll need to pay less per missing year to make it a qualifying credit. More on the different rates and how to make these payments here.
Broadly this isn’t going to be worth it for those under the age of 45, and probably a good few years after that. But the closer you get to state retirement age, the more likely it is you could benefit from a top-up rather than missing out on the full amount or having to keep working for longer.
You’ll want to contact the Future Pension Service on 0800 731 0175 before making any overpayments as they can advise on whether you actually need to. There have been huge backlogs and delays getting through (hence the extensions), so keep trying.