State pension boosting set to become easier as new online tool to launch within six months
A new online service designed to simplify how you check and pay for voluntary national insurance (NI) contributions is due to launch before the end of this financial year, the Government has confirmed to MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE).
Currently, checking and buying missing NI contributions – which can boost your state pension by £1,000s –requires two phone calls and some have struggled to get through due to overloaded phone lines ahead of a deadline to buy.
Below we cover what you need to know about the new tool. If you don't want to wait for it to launch, you can still top-up your NI contributions in the meantime by calling the dedicated helpline – see our Voluntary national insurance contributions guide for everything you need to know.
You can boost your state pension entitlement with voluntary NI contributions
To boost your state pension entitlement, you can normally buy up to six NI years to fill any gaps, for example, if you've had a break from work. You usually need around 35 full NI years to get the current maximum state pension of £203.85 a week, though some will need more.
However, when the 'new' state pension was introduced in 2016, transitional arrangements were put in place to let you plug gaps all the way back to 2006.
The current process is complex. You have to check your NI record online, call the Government-backed Future Pensions Centre or Pensions Service to get one-to-one advice, then call HMRC to get an 18-digit payment number, before finally being able to pay for any missing years.
On top of this, huge delays to the phone line had left many unable to get through ahead of previous deadlines to do so. MSE research found that before the Government extended the deadline for the first time, 62% of people had been cut off while on hold to the helpline.
A revised deadline of 5 April 2025 is now in place to purchase top-ups going back to 2006. Originally the deadline had been 5 April 2023, though this was extended to 31 July 2023 to try to deal with the numbers of people trying to call in, before being extended again to the current deadline.
The Government's new online service will aim to speed up the process
The Government's new online service, which is currently in development, aims to make plugging the gaps in your NI record quicker and more accessible.
Once launched, the online service will provide information to help you decide which years you may want to make up shortfalls for, including finding the cheapest or most beneficial years to pay voluntary contributions for. And, if you decide to buy extra years, you'll then be able to pay online.
Pensions Minister, Laura Trott, first told MSE founder Martin Lewis about the new tool on ITV's The Martin Lewis Money Show Live in June, though at the time we didn't know when it would become available.
Now, the Government has confirmed plans to launch the service before the end of this financial year on 5 April 2024. The Government says the new service will be tested to ensure it is easy to use and provides accurate information in a straightforward way.
You can still phone up if you prefer
If you feel more comfortable talking to someone over the phone, you can continue to call up to find out more information about your NI record and to pay for any missing years – and you'll still be able to do so once the new online service has launched too.
Anecdotal evidence we've seen suggests pressure on the official phone lines has eased since the Government announced the extension of transitional measures to 2025. Earlier this year, readers regularly reported waits of several hours on phone lines, while in recent months fewer people have told us they struggled to get through.