State pension

State pension

How much do you get and can you boost it?

Most of us will receive some state pension when we retire, but it's a complicated system, so understanding what you're entitled to is important. This guide helps explain how much state pension you'll get, when you'll get it and how you might be able to boost it. 

Thanks to Alan Higham formerly of PensionsChamp and Danny Cox of Hargreaves Lansdown for fact-checking and their help in putting this guide together.

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What is the state pension and when will I get it?

Put simply, the state pension is your retirement income from the Government. You pay national insurance (or qualify for national insurance credits) throughout your working life, and in return you get your state pension. Recent reforms mean different people get different amounts – it's a complicated system.

A 'flat-rate' state pension was ushered in on 6 April 2016. While the overhaul was designed to make the system easier to understand, it's still far from simple.

The flat-rate state pension ONLY applies to those reaching state pension age on or after 6 April 2016. This means millions of older people aren't affected by it and have simply carried on receiving their state pension under the previous system. In short: 

  • Reached state pension age after April 2016? You'll currently get a maximum new state pension of £185.15 a week.

  • Reached state pension age before April 2016? You'll currently get a maximum basic state pension of £141.85 a week.   

In both cases, you could get more than this if you've built up additional state pension, or less if you haven't built up enough national insurance contributions. See why you might get less state pension than you thought.

The state pension is paid directly into your bank account every four weeks.

At what age will I receive the state pension?

You receive the state pension when you reach the Government's official state pension age. What that is depends on when you were born. The current state pension age is 66 for both men and women.

To cut costs, the official state pension age is gradually being raised. It has increased to 66 for men and women since April 2020, then it will rise to 67 by 2028, with a further rise to 68 due between 2044 and 2046, but this could be brought forward to between 2037 and 2039.

The rising pension age for women has triggered much controversy – previously it was just 60. Campaign group Backto60 has fought against the pace of change in women's state pension age, but lost a legal fight against the Government.  

To find your exact state pension age, see the Government's state pension age calculator.

Will my state pension increase each year?

Yes, but exactly how much it increases by will vary year on year. The UK Government has a system in place called the 'triple lock', which helps it decide how much the annual increase should be. This means every April the state pension amount increases by the highest of:

  • The previous September's inflation rate (based on the Consumer Prices Index) OR
  • The increase in average earnings OR
  • 2.5%

The Government has confirmed that the triple lock will apply for the 2023/24 tax year, so the state pension will increase by 10.1% on 6 April 2023, in line with September 2022's rate of inflation. That means the full new state pension will rise from £185.15 to £203.85 per week (£10,600/year); the old state pension will go up from £141.85 to £156.20 per week (£8,122/year).

It's worth noting if you retire to certain countries outside the UK, your state pension is frozen, and so may not increase every year.

How do I claim the state pension?

While it might feel like an official life milestone, you won't get your state pension automatically – it's up to you to claim it:

  • You will receive a letter reminding you to claim before reaching state pension age. No later than two months before you reach your state pension age you should get a letter from the Government's Pension Service telling you what to do. If you don't receive a letter, call the telephone claim line where staff will be able to discuss with you what you need to do.

  • You then need to make the claim. There are two ways you can do this: by filling in a claim form online, or by calling 0800 731 7898 (8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday, except bank holidays). If you were born before 6 April 1951 (men) or before 6 April 1953 (women) you can also download a claim form and send it to:

    Pension Service 8
    Post Handling Site B
    Wolverhampton
    WV98 1AF

How much state pension will I get?

How much state pension you'll get depends on various factors. Two of the most important are when you were born and how many qualifying years of national insurance (NI) contributions you have.

Yet if you're not already claiming your state pension, the easiest thing to do to check how much you'll get is to:

Check your state pension forecast

You'll need to have (or sign up for) a Government Gateway account. Your pension forecast will show you how many qualifying NI years you've already built up, and how many more you need (if any) to get the maximum amount of state pension. 

We've more info below on how NI years work, but their impact's different depending on whether you reach(ed) state pension age on or after 6 April 2016 or before 5 April 2016.

What are qualifying NI years and how many do you have?

You earn qualifying NI years over your lifetime, either by working and paying NI contributions, or by qualifying for NI credits.

  • If you're in work, to earn a qualifying year, you generally need to earn a minimum amount of money during a tax year (6 April to 5 April), and pay the required NI contributions. For 2022/23 these minimums are:

    - For employees: £123/week, £533/month, £6,396/year
    - For the self-employed: £129/week, £560/month, £6,725/year

    So, if you work full-time, even on the minimum wage or just a few days a week throughout the year, you are likely to earn a qualifying year. And these qualifying years don't have to be consecutive.

  • If you're not earning enough to pay NI – for example if you're claiming benefits because you're ill or unemployed – you may be able to get NI credits to fill gaps in your record. For instance, you can build up NI credits for time spent raising a family, if you care for someone who is sick or disabled, or if you've been enrolled in full-time training.

    Sometimes these credits are awarded automatically and sometimes you need to apply. You can check if you qualify for credits, but you need to wait until a tax year ends on 5 April before you can apply for credits for the previous 12 months.

Again, check how many qualifying years you have by visiting the Gov.uk website, or phone the national insurance helpline on 0300 200 3500.

Reached (or will reach) state pension age ON OR AFTER 6 April 2016? 

Your age means you fall under the new state pension system. How much you will get (if any) when you reach state pension age depends on how many qualifying NI years you have:

  • To get the full new state pension (currently £185.15 a week), you'll likely need at least 35 qualifying NI years (though some will need many more). Crucially, you don't have to start from scratch from 6 April 2016 – any qualifying years earned before this date will count along with later years.

    Some people can get more than £185.15 a week. Under the previous state pension rules, workers were able to build up what's known as the additional state pension (also called the state second pension, S2P or SERPS) – a top-up to the former basic state pension. Although current rules have now scrapped this top-up, the Government has allowed many workers in their 40s, 50s and early-60s to keep their existing entitlement.

    Because anyone retiring now (or soon) likely built up most of their NI record before 2016, the calculation of how many years you need to get the full state pension isn't straightforward. The best way to check how much you're on track to get is to see your state pension forecast

  • To get some of the new state pension, you need at least 10 qualifying NI years. If you have that many or more, 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 £185.15 payout, or about £122. As a guide to what you might get, multiply the number of years you've got by £5 – this figure is what each qualifying year is roughly worth.

    But there's a potential catch. Some years in which you paid NI don't count when working out how much you're entitled to, because they're not deemed 'full' years. This could mean you end up with less than you thought, in which case you may want to pay for more NI years.

  • You won't get any state pension if you have less than 10 qualifying NI years when you reach state pension age. If this is you, you may be able to buy NI contributions to get you over the 10-year mark. For people who have reached state pension age and are on a low income, pension credit may also help.

If you reached state pension age before April 2016

Your age means you fall under the old state pension system. Whether you get the full amount (currently £141.85 a week) still depends on how many qualifying NI years you have, but the rules also vary depending on if you got to state pension age before or after 6 April 2010:

  • State pension age BEFORE 6 April 2010? If you had fewer than 25% of the qualifying years (44 for a man, 39 for a woman) – 11 years for a man and 10 for a woman – then you wouldn't be entitled to a basic state pension. If you have 25% or more, it's likely you're getting an approximate pro-rata weekly income. In other words, if you've half the qualifying years, you'd get roughly half the full state pension.

    However, if you don't qualify for the basic state pension and have no other income, you're usually eligible for pension credit, which ensures you receive a guaranteed minimum income. For more information, see our guide on pension credit.
  • State pension age on or AFTER 6 April 2010 (but before April 2016)? If you have at least one qualifying year, you'll get one 30th of the full amount for each qualifying year. Therefore, if you've 18 qualifying years, you'll get 18/30th (three fifths) of the FULL state pension.

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How can I boost my state pension?

There are two main ways you can boost your state pension – deferring or buying extra years – however each option needs to be considered carefully. 

Defer your state pension

You can put off claiming – 'defer' – your basic state pension. This can be useful if you're still working, as it means you could get larger pension payments later. Unless you claim your pension, it will automatically be deferred.

How much extra can I get?

It depends on when you reached/will reach state pension age:

  • Reaching state pension age after April 2016? Every nine weeks you defer boosts your weekly state pension by 1%. If you hold off taking your state pension for 12 months, this works out as a 5.8% boost. For someone entitled to the full £185.15 (2022/23) flat-rate pension, deferring by a year means they'll then get an extra £10.74 a week (about £558 a year). The extra amount is paid with your regular state pension payment.

  • Reached state pension age before April 2016? If you opted to delay, a year's wait was worth the full value of that year's state pension plus 10.4% extra. You also have the option to take any deferred state pension as a lump sum. This is made up of the deferred payment plus interest at 2% above the Bank of England base rate. After collecting the lump sum, you then get the standard pension.

    So someone who'd built up an annual state pension of, say, £6,000 would get £6,150 in 12 months' time – and then be paid their weekly payout as normal. However, this lump sum option has been abandoned for those who become eligible for state pension after April 2016.

Should I defer my state pension?

If you are still working at state pension age, or have other retirement income such as a company pension, deferring the state pension might seem a good idea.

However, you need to balance the prospect of a bigger state pension in the future against giving up £1,000s of pension income in the short term.

The answer to this lies in your longevity – and there's no crystal ball that can tell you how long you'll live. The Office for National Statistics produces a 'What is my life expectancy?' calculator, which shows that on average a man aged 65 has 20 years to live and a woman aged 65 has 22 years.

When you eventually start drawing your deferred (larger) state pension, it will be years before you make up for the forgone payouts. The 'break even' point has been calculated as 17 years from when you start drawing your deferred state pension.

The longer you live, the more you stand to benefit from deferring. Equally, unless you live to a good age in retirement, deferring will cost you overall. Also, drawing your extra state pension may reduce the amount you get from state benefits such as pension credit, housing benefit and council tax reduction.   

So the odds suggest that if you're healthy and can afford to defer, you're probably better off doing so because the extra cash will be paid for long enough to make it worth it. But there are risks of course: put off claiming for five years and you'll have forgone £30,000 in income. Although you'll then get a higher state pension payout, if you were to die suddenly you'd have lost out on a huge sum.

When should I defer my state pension?

You can defer it before you start receiving it BUT you also have the option to stop receiving your state pension once you've started it. If you'd like to do the latter, you can only do so once – in other words, you can't start receiving it then stop receiving it, then start it and then stop receiving it again.

Buy 'extra' pension years

If you've got spare savings and can afford to be without the cash in the short term, it's also possible to replace some missing NI qualifying years. This could lead to a big increase in your basic state pension payout over your retirement.

If you're eligible, and you could benefit by boosting, buying extra years involves paying what are called 'voluntary class 3 NI contributions'. The rate is £15.85 (2022/23) per missing week of NI contributions – £824 for a full year. 

The state pension system can be complicated and there are exceptions and anomalies when it comes to voluntary national insurance contributions. We've written a whole guide on it, to help you weigh up whether buying extra national insurance years might be a good idea for you.

Why you might get less state pension than you thought

You may get less state pension for one of three main reasons which we've outlined below.

If you were 'contracted out' of the state pension at some point

Not everyone is eligible for the full flat-rate sum. This mainly affects people who won't have enough qualifying NI years because they've been 'contracted out' of the state pension in the past.

Before April 2016, the state pension was 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)

Contracting out was a government initiative which began in 1978 and finally ended on 6 April 2016, when the new flat-rate system was introduced. It allowed people who were paying into a workplace or private pension to pay less national insurance towards their additional state pension in exchange for getting a higher private pension.

You're likely to have been contracted out of the additional state pension if:

  • You are or were in a salary-related pension (also known as a defined benefit) scheme, or
  • You were in some other types of workplace pension scheme before 6 April 2012

The Gov.uk website offers more details about contracting out.

As a result of contracting out, the Government will deduct a sum from your new state pension. It says that although you'll get less than the full £185.15 (2022/23), 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.

How can I find out if this will affect me?

You may have to dig out old payslips or P60s. If you were contracted out via a personal pension, you'll need to get your pension provider to confirm. You can check with your pension provider if you've been contracted out in the past. The Pension Tracing Service may be able to find your pension providers' details if you've lost contact with them.

You're more likely to have been contracted out if you work in public sector organisations and professions such as the armed forces, civil service, council, fire service, the NHS, police and teaching.

If you're a stay-at-home parent

More than 200,000 stay-at-home parents or carers of under-12s risk losing some of their state pension because it's their earning partner who's registered for child benefit.

Even if your partner's bringing in £50,000 or more a year – the threshold where child benefit starts to reduce on a sliding scale – the non-earner is still entitled to NI credits – so make sure the right person is registered. You can also transfer NI credits from one partner to another to boost your state pension. 

If you're a woman you may be missing out

Tens of thousands of women are likely to have been underpaid the state pension, and many could be due £1,000s – some even £10,000s.

Married women who reached state pension age before April 2016, plus widows, divorcees and the over-80s – whether married or not – should check. While some women owed will now get an automatic payment, not all will. 

For more on who could be missing out and whether you still need to claim, see our full Are you one of 10,000s women missing out on £1,000s of state pension? guide.

State pension Q&A

  • How often will I get paid the state pension?

    The state pension is paid into your bank account every four weeks. If you want to request a change to this frequency, you can call 0800 731 0469.

    What day will your pension be paid?

    Last two digits of your NI number Day your pension will be paid
    00 to 19 Monday
    20 to 39 Tuesday
    40 to 59 Wednesday
    60 to 79 Thursday
    80 to 99 Friday

    It's worth noting that if you look up your state pension forecast on the Government website, it will give you a monthly amount but your actual state pension will be paid every four weeks. So don't be concerned if there's a difference between the two numbers.

  • Reached state pension age pre-2016? Here's how the old system worked

    Instead of a flat-rate payout like the new £185.15 a week (2022/23) state pension, the previous state pension is made up of two parts.

    The first element is the so-called 'basic' state pension.

    This is simply worked out by totting up the number of eligible NI years you have.

    These qualifying years are earned by working and paying NI contributions in a given year, if you're a carer, or if you're on certain benefits.

    The most basic state pension you can currently earn is £141.85 a week (2022/23), a maximum level that rises every April by the biggest of the following:

    • Inflation in the previous September (using the Consumer Prices Index)
    • The increase in average earnings
    • 2.5%

    This is known as the 'triple lock' – a device to ensure older generations get the best deal possible.

    The second element is known as the additional state pension.

    This extra payout is called SERPS (State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme), S2P or the state second pension.

    Like the basic state pension element, it is based on your NI contributions.

    How much you get largely depends on what your salary was throughout your career and, to a lesser extent, whether you've claimed certain benefits such as child benefit or carer's credit.

    You get the additional state pension paid automatically with your basic state pension and it increases every year with inflation.

  • Why did the state pension change?

    The Government said the previous state pension was hard to understand and unfairly biased against many – notably women – who took time off work to care for others or raise a family.

    Problems lie in the previous system being made up of two parts: a 'basic' state pension (worked out according to your number of national insurance years) and a 'state second pension', also known as S2P, SERPS or the additional rate.

    While the first part was simple enough, the latter caused huge problems with its complexity – particularly when workers opted out of it (knowingly or otherwise) in a process called 'contracting out', which has left many out of pocket.

    The new payout was designed to make the whole process easier to understand, though it's still far from simple.

    The new set-up is also a huge boost for the self-employed who lost out hugely under the previous system since they were unable to build up any second state pension.

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

    No. Having more than 35 qualifying NI years doesn't boost how much state pension you receive. The only way you may get more is if your 'starting sum' under the new rules is higher than the maximum £185.15 (2022/23) pension.

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

    Yes and no. In 2022, the Government announced changes to national insurance contributions which aimed to bring the self-employed in line with employees. Under the flat-rate state pension, class 2 and class 4 NI contributions made by self-employed people with a profit above £11,908 (in 2022/23) will be treated the same as employee contributions, and count towards the new state pension in the same way. This will include any contributions made before 6 April 2016.

  • Can I claim my state pension when I'm abroad?

    Yes, you can, as long as you've paid enough UK national insurance (minimum 10 years) to qualify. If you've paid into a social security system overseas that has a dual agreement with the UK, or is in the EU, then those years can count towards the 10 years.

    For example, if you have five years in the UK and five years in Portugal, then you'd get 5/35ths of the UK state pension. This is because the two periods combine to give 10 years, which meets the qualification, but only the five years in the UK actually count towards the amount. If you're unsure how many years you have you can ask for a state pension statement.

    To claim, you need to be within four months and four days of your state pension age. You'll also need to contact the International Pension Centre. If you live part of the year abroad you have to choose which country you want your pension to be paid in. You can't be paid in one country for part of the year and another for the rest of the year.

    You'll be paid in local currency – the amount you get may change due to exchange rates – and you can choose to be paid every four or 13 weeks. If your state pension is under £5 a week, you'll be paid once a year in December.

    If you live in the UK, your state pension usually rises each year. But if you move overseas, you're only entitled to an annual increase if you live in:

    • Gibraltar or Switzerland
    • A European Economic Area country
    • A country that has a social security agreement with the UK

    If you move to any other country, the amount you get will be frozen at the rate in place when you left the UK.

    If you have moved abroad since 1 January 2021 then some changes have been made in relation to Brexit – read the Gov.uk website for full details

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

    Your state pension will be calculated entirely under the new state pension rules. This is more likely to affect you if you were born after the year 2000, or became a resident of the UK after 2015.

  • Can I inherit my spouse or civil partner's pension when they die?

    Although your entitlement to the flat-rate state pension is based on your national insurance contributions alone, there are some circumstances where you can inherit parts of your spouse or civil partner's pension. What you get depends on different factors, such as:

    • The number of years they've paid national insurance. Essentially, the longer they've worked, the more you're likely to get, as there's the potential they have accrued more.
    • Whether your deceased spouse or civil partner had any additional state pension, protected payment, state pension top-up or 'graduated retirement benefit' (the earnings-related state pension people could build up between 1961 and 1975). If so, you could get more as there's more to pass on.

    Working out exactly how much you're entitled to is complex. The Department for Work and Pensions' online tool allows you to see what you may get if your spouse or civil partner dies, based on your own circumstances.

    If you reached state pension age and got married before 6 April 2016 and are therefore receiving your state pension under the previous pension rules, it's different. See above in the guide for more.

  • Could my pension be boosted if I apply for pension credit?

    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 don't qualify for the full basic flat-rate of £185.15 a week (2022/23).  

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

  • My spouse receives a state pension under the old system – what happens to their pension when they die?

    If your spouse or civil partner passes away, then just as in life, the pension you receive can be based on their national insurance contributions if their record is better than yours. For example, if you took a career break, you could use their years of NI contributions to plug that gap.

    In addition to their state pension, if your spouse or civil partner reached state pension age before 6 April 2016, you may inherit some of their state pension top-up and half their 'graduated retirement benefit' (the earnings-related state pension that people could build up between 1961 and 1975) if applicable. You may also inherit some of your spouse or civil partner's deferral payment if they put off claiming their state pension.

    How to work out what you'd get

    The Department for Work and Pensions provides an online tool which allows you to see what you may get if your spouse or civil partner dies.

    However, be aware that you will not get anything if you remarry or form a new civil partnership before you reach state pension age. There are more details on how this works on the Gov.uk website.

  • What happens to my state pension if I'm transgender?

    Your state pension might be affected if you're transgender and you:

    • Were born between 24 December 1919 and 3 April 1945
    • Were claiming the state pension before 4 April 2005
    • Can provide evidence that your gender reassignment surgery took place before 4 April 2005

    You don't need to do anything if you legally changed your gender and started claiming state pension on or after 4 April 2005 – you'll already be claiming based on your legally-recognised gender.

  • Do I have to pay tax on my state pension?

    The basic state pension is taxable, but if you don't have any other income, you won't be taxed. You only start to pay tax if you earn more than £12,570 (in the 2022/23 tax year).

    That said, if you defer your pension any lump sum income you take is taxed differently (this is only an option if you reached state pension age pre-April 2016).

    The figures above are only rough guides, as many other variables affect the amount you will get. You can try Gov.uk's calculator for an indication. The best way to find out is to ring 0800 731 7898 (option 2).

    A pension counts as if it were any other income, so will affect your entitlement to pension credit, housing benefit or council tax support. See our Benefits check guide.

  • Will my state pension payouts rise with inflation?

    Your pension payment increases annually in April.

    There's a system called the 'triple lock' in place, which means every April the basic state pension amount increases by the highest of the previous September's inflation rate (based on the Consumer Prices Index), the increase in average earnings, or 2.5%.

    The triple lock is expensive and its future is under review, and in 2021, the Government decided to suspend the triple lock for the 2022/23 tax year as the increase in average earnings was hugely affected by the pandemic. For 2022/23, the basic state pension increased by 3.1% inflation.

    However, your pension may not increase every year if you retire to certain countries outside the UK.

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