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New State Pension

If you reach state pension age on or after April 6 2016

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Amy | Edited by Sam D

Updated April 2016

The state pension has undergone a huge change. While the Government's aim is to make it fairer for all and easier to understand your retirement income, it’s still a minefield for most - and some will lose out with the overhaul.

This guide helps you understand the new 'flat-rate' £155.65 state pension which came into force on 6 April for those who reach their state pension age on or after this date.

This is the first incarnation of this guide. Please suggest any changes or questions in the New State Pension discussion. Thanks to Alan Higham of PensionsChamp and Danny Cox of Hargreaves Lansdown for fact-checking and their help putting the guide together.

What is the difference between the old and new state pensions?

A brand new state pension was ushered in on 6 April 2016 as a result of a massive shake-up. The new payout has been designed to make the whole process easier to understand though it's still far from simple.

However, it's only for those who reach state pension age on or after 6 April. This means millions of older people will be unaffected and carry on receiving their state pension under the old system at the same time as the new one comes into effect.

Here are the key differences at a glance...
  Old state pension New state pension
How it's made up 2 parts: basic pension + additional pension 1 flat rate payment + any 'protected payments'
Maximum weekly payout £119.30 basic (+ avg £40 additional) £155.65 + any 'protected payments'
NI years needed for full rate 30 35
NI years to qualify for min payment Any 10

When will it be paid to me?

Just as under the old system, you receive the new state pension when you reach the Government's official retirement age. But what that is depends on when you were born and your gender.

To save the state money, the official retirement age is gradually being raised. While many women currently get the state pension at age 63 and men at age 65, the thresholds are moving up. They will rise to at least 66 for both by 2020, and possibly to 68 in the 2030s.

The rising age for women has triggered much controversy. Campaign group Waspi - Women Against State Pension Inequality - has fought against the pace of change in women's state pension age.

It argues that the speed of the rise in women's age has caught millions unawares and says the Government has not properly communicated the changes to them, whether by post, online or by advertising. However, the Government has so far refused to change the speed of the age rises, or make any concessions.

The state pension age for men and women
  Born Official retirement age
Men Before 6 December 1953 65
  On or after 6 December 1953 Rises from 65 to 66 between December 2018 and April 2020.
Women Before 6 April 1950 60
  On or after 6 April 1950 Rises from 60 to 66 between April 2010 and April 2020.

To find your exact retirement age see the Government's State Pension Age Calculator.

How to claim it

It might feel like an official life milestone but you won’t get your State Pension automatically – it’s up to you to claim it. Four months before you reach your state pension age – currently 65 for men, 63 for women - you should get a letter from the Government’s Pension Service telling you what to do.

If you still haven’t got a letter three months before your State Pension age, call the telephone claim line where staff will be able to discuss with you what you need to do.

You’ve three ways to claim: online by filling in a claims form on-screen; over the phone by calling 0800 731 7898; or by downloading a claim form at, printing it off and sending it to your local pension centre whose address can found on the Government website.

How much state pension will I get?

Assuming you're the right age, what you get depends on how many so-called 'qualifying years' of National Insurance (NI) contributions you have. These are earned over your lifetime and the number you get will depend on how many years you're in work.

You can also build them up as National Insurance credits instead, for time spent raising a family, if you care for the sick or disabled, or have spent time enrolled in full-time training.

Here's what you need...

To get any state pension at all

Under the new state pension rules, you need a minimum of 10 years before you'll get any payout at all. Reach this and you'll be paid 10/35ths of the total - currently £155.65, or about £44. These qualifying years can be from before or after 6 Apr 2016 and don’t have to be 10 years in a row - they can be dotted about over a much longer period.

However, if you don't manage to meet this minimum, you won't get a penny (although pension credit should be available). Under the old system, there was no minimum threshold - you could still get a small payout even if you had just 4 or 5 years.

To get the full £155.65 pension

You'll need 35 years to get this full headline rate (which itself will rise each year by either 2.5%, inflation or average wage growth - whichever is highest.) Crucially, you don't have to start from scratch from 6 April 2016 - any years earned before this date will count as well as the ones after it.

And some people can get more. Under the old state pension rules, workers were able to build up what's known as the Additional State Pension - a top up to the former basic state pension. Although the new rules have now scrapped this top-up, the Government has allowed many workers in their 40s, 50s and early 60s to keep any of this extra cash already amassed.

It's part of the Government's pledge that people who worked to build up a healthy state pension under the old rules shouldn't lose out under the new one.

To make it work - and it is fiendishly complicated - what you'll get depends on a so-called 'starting sum' calculation. This compares what you'd have been entitled to under the old and new regimes - and, in a nutshell, you'll get the higher of the two.

Say you earned an extra £65 a week in Additional State Pension over your working life under the old system which would have given you £184.30 a week. This is well over the new £155.65 limit but the rules allow you to keep this extra £28.65 a week.

This extra money is known as your 'protected payment' and will be highlighted on your state pension statement.

To get somewhere in between

You'll get the equivalent value of the state pension according to the total number of years you've built up - so 23 years would give you roughly two thirds of the current £155.65 payout, or about £102.

As a guide to what you might get, multiply the number of years you've got by £4.44 - this figure is what each qualifying year is roughly worth.

There's a potentially nasty sting in the tail, though, for many people who thought they had built up a given number of years. Not all NI years actually count when working out how much you're entitled - this is because they're not treated as 'full' years - and it could mean you end up with much less than you imagined (see 'contracting out' below).

Quick question

How can I find out how much state pension I'm on track for?

What are NI years - and how do I find out how many I've got?

To gain a qualifying year, you need to earn a set minimum amount of money during a tax year (6 April to 5 April) - and pay the required NI contributions. For 2016/17, these minimums are:

  • £112/wk, £486/mth, £5,824/yr for employees
  • £114.70/wk, £497/mth, £5,965/yr for the self-employed

In past years, the amount was lower. But it has always been a similar figure in relation to average salaries. So only those on very low wages could have missed out.

If you were working full time, even on the minimum wage, or even just a few days a week throughout the year, it's likely you earned a qualifying year. These qualifying years can be from before or after 6 Apr 2016 and don’t have to be 10 years in a row - they can be dotted about over a much longer period.

Rememer, you'll need at least 10 to qualify for any payout at all.

Does it matter if I don't have a job?

If you’re unable to work - for example due to long-term illness or you’re caring for someone - you may be able to get NI credits. With some benefits, such as child benefit for a child under 12, jobseeker’s allowance, and employment and support allowance, you get NI credits automatically.

There are some instances where it isn't done automatically and you have to apply; for example if you care for someone for at least 20 hours a week, you may be able to apply for carer’s credit.

You can check if you’re eligible for credits, but you need to wait until the tax year - which runs from 6 April to 5 April - is over before you can apply for credits for the previous 12 months.

Where can I check how many years I have?

HMRC regularly writes to people where a gap appears in NI contributions, so if you've had one of these letters it's quite possible you've been affected by this. First, ensure you check whether you actually worked during these years.

If you haven't had such a letter and want to check your situation, you can go to the Government's website or call its National Insurance helpline on 0300 200 3500.

Ask it:

Which years have you got me down as paying national insurance?

Those NI contributions or credits on your record under the old state pension will still count towards your new state pension – you don't have to start from scratch with your contributions under the new system. For more on NI contributions, see the Q&As below.

Why 'contracting out' will cut your state pension payout

It's estimated less than half retiring under the new system will be eligible for the full £155.65 flat-rate sum in the first five years. This is chiefly due to the numbers of people who won't have enough qualifying NI years because they've been what's known as 'contracted out' of the old state pension in the past.

It's anything but simple so here's a breakdown...

Under the old system, the state pension is made up of two parts:

  • The basic state pension, and
  • Additional state pension, sometimes referred to as state second pension or SERPS (State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme).

If you are, or were, in what is known as a defined benefit company pension scheme – where what you’re paid in retirement is a set proportion of your final salary – you’re likely to have been 'contracted out' of the additional state pension.

In a nutshell, it meant workers paid a lower rate of NI contributions. This was because - in return - they will have paid extra the cash into their workplace scheme, or had it paid in for them by their employer. Millions of workers with company pensions in the public and private sector are affected. Some stakeholder- and personal-pension schemes were also contracted out.

You need 35 FULL years to qualify for a £155.65 pension...

This means you won't get £155.65 despite having what you thought were 35 years of NI contribution. What counts is 35 years of full contributions - not ones where you paid a lower NI rate.

So the Government has decided it will deduct a sum from your new state pension - the equivalent of what you missed out on by being contracted out. It says that, while you'll get less than the full £155.65, retirees will still be paid what they would have got under the old state pension.

The sum is what the Government has coined your 'contracted out pension equivalent' (COPE) amount. If you ask for a state pension statement from the Government it will include this amount.

However, while many people will get a private pension boost equivalent to this deduction, it could be a lot less than the state pension they gave up - much depends on the company scheme and investment performance. To make matters worse, many workers won't even have realised they were contracted out, so will learn of their lower pension as a shock.

Quick questions

Why did 'contracting out' happen?

How do I know if I’ve been contracted out?

How can I boost my state pension?

Regardless whether you're under the old or new state pension system, there are ways you can boost the amount of state pension you'll receive. However, they need to be considered carefully before deciding what to do.

Defer your state pension

You can put off claiming your basic state pension. This can be especially useful if you're still working, as it means you'll get larger pension payments later. You can also defer receiving payments once you've already started claiming, though be careful as you can only do this once.

Here's an example of how it can work.

Bernard's due a £7,000/year state pension (he's at the full state pension rate, plus he has some second state pension). He's going to reach state pension age after 6 April 2016. He decides he can afford to defer his state pension for one year. He gets an increase of 5.8% for each full year he deferred, meaning his yearly pension increases to £7,406 (or an extra £7.80 per week).

Buy 'extra' pension years

If you've got spare savings and can afford to be without the cash in the short-term, it's possible to replace some missing NI qualifying years - up to £733 for each gap year.

This could lead to a big increase in your basic state pension payout over your retirement.

In a nutshell, you pay a one-off lump sum to buy a higher state pension sum. Assuming you live long enough, this extra cash you earn from a bigger weekly state pension could be worth £1000s over a lifetime.

The key that defines whether it's worth bothering is how many NI years you already have. HMRC should send notices to people with NI gaps and is developing a website where you will be able to log on and see for yourself.

If you haven't received one or can't find it, don't worry. You can check whether you have any gaps online by getting a state pension statement or calling the Future Pension Centre on 0845 3000 168 and it'll send you a statement.

Quick questions

How many years can you buy?

Could you be excluded from buying NI years?

What should I consider to see if it's worth it?

Check if you can get pension credit before paying extra

If you don’t have enough money to buy additional NI years to get the full state pension, your payout may be boosted if you apply for pension credit.

Pension credit is an income-related benefit for low earners who do not qualify for the full basic flat-rate of £155.65 a week. All your money, including savings, will be assessed, and if you don’t have enough to buy extra NI years you’ll be topped up to the full basic state pension amount of £155.65.

If you're eligible for pension credit you'll still be entitled to other benefits such as housing benefit. See the Pension Credit guide for full information.

New state pension Q&A

  • Why is the state pension changing?

  • If I've got more than 35 qualifying NI years, does this mean I'll get more than the full flat-rate state pension?

  • I'm self-employed; does it work differently for me?

  • Can I claim my new state pension when I’m abroad?

  • I didn’t make any NI contributions before April 2016, what does that mean for me?

  • Will the new maximum flat-rate £155.65 payout rise each year in line with inflation?