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National insurance contributions (NIC)

National insurance is a tax on your earnings that goes into the National Insurance Fund which pays for various benefits. This guide covers some basic information about NIC.

1. What is national insurance ?

National insurance is a tax on your earnings that goes into the National Insurance Fund which pays for various benefits. This guide covers some basic information about NIC.

Applies to: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Age Rules: You pay national insurance contributions between the ages of 16 and state pension age on earnings but not pensions. After state pension age, even if you have a job you do not need to pay any more contributions. 

Which Agency: National Insurance Contributions Office of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)

Reviewed: December 2019

2. What is a national insurance number?

Your national Insurance (NI) number is unique to you throughout your life but it is not a form of identity. It is made up of two letters, six numbers and a final letter.

Everyone who wants to work in the UK must have a national insurance number. To obtain a national insurance number, you must be 16 or over and resident in Great Britain or Northern Ireland. 

You can start work without one but you must then apply for a national insurance number immediately. The law requires you to apply for NI number if you do not already have one and you are working or are intending to work.

Reviewed: December 2019

3. How do I get a national insurance (NI) number?

If you are looking for work, starting work or setting up as a self-employed person, you will need a national insurance number. If you have the right to work in the UK, you will need to telephone 0800 141 2075 to arrange to get one. They may require you to attend an 'Evidence of identity' interview.

There is some useful information on how to apply for a national insurance number on the Gov.UK website

Once your application is successful, you will receive a letter confirming your NI number. Take good care of this as it is your reminder of your NI number and you will need to use it when you contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). As soon as you have your NI number, you should tell your employer.

Reviewed: December 2019

4. What are national insurance contributions (NIC)?

National insurance helps to pay for some state benefits including retirement pensions. Your national insurance contributions (NIC) earn you the right to receive certain benefits.

Whether you are working for an employer or are self employed and working for yourself or for a partnership will affect the type of contribution you pay.


Employees pay Class 1 national insurance contributions of 12% on earnings above the £184 per week primary threshold. You will only pay contributions of 2% on any earnings over £967 per week.

If your income falls below the primary threshold, you will not need to pay any contributions. If your income is between £120 (the lower earnings limit) and £184 per week, then you will be treated as if you had made national Insurance contributions, even though you don't pay any.

Employers are also expected to pay Class 1 NICs (known as secondary contributions) at 13.8% on the earnings of each employee who earns more than the primary threshold. This contributes, among other things, towards the employee's entitlement to statutory payments.

Self employed

If you are self employed, you pay two types of NICs.

A weekly flat rate (Class 2) is payable. Most people now pay Class 2 contributions as part of their self-assessment tax bill. Information for those who don't pay through self-assessment can be found on the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) website

The second type of NICs (Class 4) are based on the level of your profits.

Voluntary Contributions

You can also pay voluntary NIC (Class 3).

If you are self employed and you think your profits will be less than a set limit - £6,515 - you won't need to pay Class 2 NIC. However, you will have the option to pay Class 2 voluntarily to protect your entitlement to the state pension and other benefits. 

If you are employed but have been earning less than £120 per week, you can also choose to pay voluntary contributions to protect your pension entitlement. You should check your benefit entitlement first to see if you could be getting National Insurance Credits instead.

Updated: April 2021

5. What benefits do my national insurance contributions (NIC) pay for?

For some UK benefits, you need to have paid or been credited national insurance contributions (NIC). These are called contributory benefits. There are other benefits where provided the rules for claiming apply to you, it does not matter whether or not you have paid any NI contributions. 

Benefits which depend on NIC include:

Benefits which do not depend on NIC include:

Benefits Class 1 Class 2 Class 3
Maternity Allowance Yes Yes No
Contribution-based Jobseeker's Allowance Yes No No
Incapacity Benefit Yes Yes No
Contribution-based / New Style Employment and Support Allowance Yes Yes No
Widow's Benefits Yes Yes Yes
Basic State Pension Yes Yes Yes
State Second Pension Yes No No
New State Pension Yes Yes Yes


6. Frequently Asked Questions

What if I have more than one job?

Unless you are a director of a company, each employment you have is looked at separately and each has the weekly £184 lower limit primary threshold.

If, in the 2021/22 tax year you have two jobs, you may be able to defer paying Class 1 national insurance contributions. You can find out more about the conditions for this on the Gov.UK website. You do this on form CA72A 'Application for deferment of payment of class 1 NICs' available on the Gov.UK website.

If you need them, there are guidance notes for form CA72A that you can download from the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) website at the link above.

What happens if I am employed and self-employed?

If you are both employed and self-employed, you need to pay both Class 1 NIC on your employed income and Class 2/4 NIC on your self-employed income. Class 2 is now paid at the same time as Class 4 when you file your self-assessment tax return. How much you pay depends on your combined income from all your jobs.  HMRC will let you know how much Class 2 and Class 4 is due after you've filed your self-assessment tax return. If you pay the maximum amount of annual NIC by way of Class 1/Class 2, you may not need to pay any more.

Reviewed: April 2021