Buying voluntary Class 3 National Insurance contributions can help you top up your state pension if you have gaps in your record. Find out how much voluntary contributions cost and how to buy them.

Why might I need to top up my National Insurance record?

You may have gaps or part years in your National Insurance (NI) record for a number of reasons – you may have been employed on low earnings or unemployed but not claiming benefits.

Those who were self-employed or worked abroad may also have gaps in their record.

If your National Insurance record is incomplete you can make up one or more qualifying years by paying voluntary contributions – known as Class 3 contributions. Voluntary Class 2 contributions are for low-income self-employed people.

How many years NI contributions are needed for a full pension?

You now need 35 years of National Insurance contributions to qualify for the full state pension, which is worth £185.15 a week in 2022-23.

To qualify for any state pension at all, you need 10 years of National Insurance contributions.

If you decide to pay for voluntary contributions you’ll usually need to do so within six years of the year in question, although there are some exceptions.

Everyone can top up their state pension in this way if they have gaps, but the cost of the extra contributions varies depending on which system you qualify under – see below.

How can I check if I have any National Insurance gaps?

You’ll need to access your National Insurance record to check if you have any gaps, if you’re eligible to pay voluntary contributions, and how much it will cost.

Visit the Check your State Pension website to get a summary of your National Insurance history and gaps you might have.

How many years of missing National Insurance contributions can I buy?

You can usually pay voluntary contributions for the past six years. The deadline is 5 April each year.

So you have until 5 April 2023 to make up for gaps for the tax year 2016-17.

Can I pay for gaps from more than six years ago?

You can sometimes pay for gaps from more than six years ago, depending on your age.

If you’re a man born between 6 April 1945 and 5 April 1950 or a woman born between 6 April 1950 and 5 October 1952, you have six years after you reach state pension age to increase your state pension.

If you’re a man born after 5 April 1951 or a woman born after 5 April 1953, you have until 5 April 2023 to pay voluntary contributions to make up for gaps between April 2006 and April 2016.

How much do voluntary National Insurance contributions cost in 2022?

This will depend on when the gaps in your record occurred.

The standard cost of buying ‘Class 3’ National Insurance contributions is £15.85 for a week of missing contributions in the 2022-23 tax year. It would cost you £824.20 for an entire year.

However, if you are looking to fill gaps that occurred in the past two tax years, you would pay the rate from those years. Voluntary contributions for gaps in 2021-22 cost £15.40 per week; for gaps in 2020-21, the cost is £15.30 per week.

For those able to fill gaps between 2006 and 2016 (men born after 5 April 1951 and women born after 5 April 1953), the cost for a week is £15.40.

Who can pay voluntary National Insurance contributions?

A wide range of people can pay voluntary National Insurance contributions. Those in employment (Class 3) and the self-employed (usually Class 2) can plug gaps.

Those who’ve reached state pension age and want to fill in gaps in their National Insurance record are able to via Class 3 contributions.

Citizens living abroad and working (Class 2) or not working (Class 3) can still add contribution years.

Should I do it?

Voluntary contributions won’t always increase your state pension, so you’ll need to find out if you’ll benefit from plugging the gaps.

It may be a good idea if:

  • you’re close to state pension age and don’t have enough qualifying years to get the full state pension
  • you know you won’t be able to get the qualifying years you need to get the full state pension during your working life
  • you’re self-employed and don’t have to pay Class 2 contributions because you have low profits or live outside the UK, but you want to qualify for some benefits.

State pension top-up FAQ

What are Class 2 and Class 4 voluntary NI contributions?

You make Class 2 National Insurance contributions if you’re self-employed to qualify for benefits like the state pension. This becomes payable once your profits exceed £6,725 a year.

In the 2022-23 tax year, the rate of Class 2 contributions is £3.15 a week. You can cover these gaps, too.

You’ll also have to pay Class 4 NI contributions if your profits are £9,880 or more. The rate is 10.25% on profits between £9,880 and £50,270, and 3.25% on profits over £50,270.

Most people pay these contributions as part of their self-assessment tax return.

What if I’ve spent periods abroad?

You may be able to pay voluntary National Insurance contributions if you’re living abroad or fill in gaps from when you were living abroad.

If you’re living and working abroad, you’ll pay Class 2 contributions, but only if you worked in the UK immediately before leaving and you’ve previously lived in the UK for three years in a row and paid three years of contributions.

Those not working can pay Class 3 contributions, but only if at some point you’ve lived in the UK continuously for three years and paid three years of contributions.

Voluntary National Insurance contributions paid from abroad don’t cover your health insurance in the country where you live.

How do I pay voluntary National Insurance contributions?

You can pay voluntary contributions by direct debit, bank transfer, or by cash or cheque at your local bank branch.

All the information you need can be found on the website.

What were Class 3A National Insurance contributions?

These were available until 5 April 2017 and allowed people who had reached the state pension age before April 2016 to top up their pension.

The time-limited offer was designed to help those who won’t receive the new single-tier state pension that started in April 2016.

Those aged 65 were able to increase their state pension by £1 per week in exchange for £890.