I am in my early 30s and have an illness which has affected my ability to work full-time.
I had to leave my career and work various minimum wage part-time jobs to facilitate this, with periods of not being able to work at all.
I have 13 years of full contributions on my National Insurance record, with three outstanding from 2010-2013.
I would like to pay my missing three years of contributions as I do not know for sure whether in the future I will be able to work.
Pension dilemma: I am in my 30s and too ill to work, so should I buy state pension top-ups now to boost my 13-year record? (Stock image)
However, I read there is no point in paying any contributions prior to 2016, but am unsure whether this applies universally, or just to those older than myself nearing retirement?
Also, I recently had a baby and believe I will receive 12 years of NI contributions. If I find myself able to work part time again, will this affect these if I begin to work and then find I can’t continue?
If I make voluntary payments, are these counted as the same value as those taken from employment when working out pension entitlement and whether a record is counted as ‘full’?
And does it matter how much you have paid in each year, as because I had to go from a well-paid job to a minimum wage part-time job, my contributions have varied.
I do not claim any benefits, except for child benefit. I would not want to claim any other benefit anyway, but as it happens my illness falls through the cracks of ‘disability’, so I couldn’t.
My husband works full time, is self-employed and has a full NI record. I have no private pension as I simply have not earned enough to be able to contribute, so this meagre state pension is currently all I have and so I want to protect it.
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Steve Webb replies: For someone whose working life mostly happens from 2016/17 onwards, when the new state pension system was introduced, the rules around pensions and National Insurance should be a lot simpler than for people whose working life extensively straddled the old and new systems.
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Under the new state pension system, you need 35 years of contributions or credits to get a full state pension.
These are sometimes known as ‘qualifying years’ towards the state pension.
The good news is that you can get a qualifying year in lots of different ways.
You can get a year by working and paying NI contributions. You can get a year through credits (for things like bringing up young children).
And you can get a year through making voluntary payment of NI contributions.
In each case, a qualifying year is adding 1/35 of the full rate to your state pension, and there’s no difference as to whether this came from paid work, credits or voluntary contributions.
It also doesn’t matter exactly how much you earned, as long as you are earning above the lower earnings limit for National Insurance (currently £120 per week).
On your specific point about receiving child benefit, as long as you claim it and have a child under 12 you will get credits for each year.
You can work if you want to or not work if you want to – it doesn’t make any difference.
STEVE WEBB ANSWERS YOUR PENSION QUESTIONS
The only useful thing to be aware of is that if you were in paid work (and paying NI contributions) and also getting child benefit, you could sign over your child benefit credits to a grandparent or other family member who was looking after you child for part of the week.
I explain more about this issue here.
On your question about years before 2016, the contributions you made will still count towards your final pension.
The articles you have read about voluntary contributions not counting before 2016 are in a specific case where someone is much older than you and has already made at least 30 years of contributions.
In that case, further voluntary contributions before 2016 may not be of any value.
Having said that, given your age, and despite your illness, I can’t see a very strong case for you paying voluntary contributions for any gap years.
As you have said, you will get credits each year you are getting child benefit for a child under 12. These will be added to the years on your record before your child was born.
Furthermore, you probably won’t get a pension until your late 60s.
You say you do not know for sure whether you will be able to work in future, but even if you cannot there is still plenty of time in your working life to build up the 35 years you need for a full pension without bothering to pay voluntary NI contributions at a young age.
And if you find yourself on benefits such as universal credit or employment and support allowance because of your poor health, these may well entitle you to credits which will further protect your National Insurance record.
If it turns out that you might be short, you can always start to pay voluntary contributions later in your life for gap years when you are older.
The chances are that you will get a full pension in any case, and in that case your voluntary contributions would be a waste of money, especially if you pay them now.
Ask Steve Webb a pension question
Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is This Is Money’s Agony Uncle.
He is ready to answer your questions, whether you are still saving, in the process of stopping work, or juggling your finances in retirement.
Steve left the Department of Work and Pensions after the May 2015 election. He is now a partner at actuary and consulting firm Lane Clark & Peacock.
If you would like to ask Steve a question about pensions, please email him at email@example.com.
Steve will do his best to reply to your message in a forthcoming column, but he won’t be able to answer everyone or correspond privately with readers. Nothing in his replies constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.
Please include a daytime contact number with your message – this will be kept confidential and not used for marketing purposes.
If Steve is unable to answer your question, you can also contact The Pensions Advisory Service, a Government-backed organisation which gives free help to the public. TPAS can be found here and its number is 0800 011 3797.
Steve receives many questions about state pension forecasts and COPE – the Contracted Out Pension Equivalent. If you are writing to Steve on this topic, he responds to a typical reader question here. It includes links to Steve’s several earlier columns about state pension forecasts and contracting out, which might be helpful.