How to top up and boost your state pension: Steve Webb’s golden rules

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How to top up and boost your state pension: Steve Webb’s golden rules

Buying state pension top-ups can give a huge boost to retirement income, but people are often baffled over whether this will be worthwhile for them pe

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Buying state pension top-ups can give a huge boost to retirement income, but people are often baffled over whether this will be worthwhile for them personally.

You will need to check your National Insurance record to find out what you have paid towards a state pension already, then decide if you need to top up and if so which years to either fill gaps in or purchase from scratch.

Right now the usual six-year deadline to do this is extended back to 2006/07 – a special deal that was due to expire on 5 April, but after a phone meltdown the deadline for buying state pension top-ups was pushed back to 31 July.

State pension top-ups: Find out how to boost YOUR retirement income

State pension top-ups: Find out how to boost YOUR retirement income

State pension top-ups: Find out how to boost YOUR retirement income

Former Pensions Minister and This is Money columnist Steve Webb runs a free website on buying state pension top-ups to help savers through the taxing process.

Webb, now a partner at LCP, says the site is aimed at helping people ‘decode’ the information they get about their National Insurance record from the Government’s site and work out whether topping up their state pension makes sense.

How much does it cost to boost your state pension?

One year of voluntary National Insurance contributions costs £824.20 at the current ‘Class 3’ rate, or less if you are filling in a part year.

‘At best topping up your state pension can be a highly cost-effective way of securing a higher income in retirement,’ says Steve Webb. 

‘In many cases this will boost state pension entitlement by 1/35th of the standard rate, or around £275 per year.

‘This means that someone who tops up by one year will get their money back within four years of drawing their pension, even allowing for basic rate tax.’

Webb says someone who draws a state pension for 20 years will get back £4,400 (net of basic rate tax) for an initial outlay of £824.20 at today’s rates.

What do you need to know before buying top-ups?

Steve Webb believes the Government’s ‘check your state pension’ website provides useful information but crucially does not help people to decide which years, if any, they should top up.

The LCP website helps to plug the gap for those who come under the ‘new’ state pension system launched in April 2106 – so, men born on or after 6 April 1951 and women born on or after 6 April 1953.

It works as follows:

– Users are asked to obtain information about their personal National Insurance record from the Gov.uk site first

– They are asked for basic details about their age and what it says on that record – this is not retained by LCP

– The site then interprets that information to explain to users their options

– Users are warned they should always check with the Department for Work and Pensions that topping up the years identified will definitely boost their state pension before paying any money.

Webb says in some cases the LCP site will simply confirm what users had already concluded, but he hopes it helps others discover the potential of top-ups.

He adds that there are two groups for whom top-ups may be of particular interest. First, public servants who retired early and were members of a contracted out occupational pension scheme which reduced their state pension below the maximum amount.

And second, self-employed people who might have gaps in their NI record and be able to go back to any year since 2006/07 to top it up.

Are you struggling to buy top-ups? 

This is Money receives many complaints from readers about the confusing and at times chaotic state pension top-ups system.

A constant bugbear is that the information line is run by the DWP, but the top-up payments must be made to HMRC, which also holds the NI records.

In the past, we covered numerous cases of savers who innocently bought worthless top-ups, and were initially refused refunds before HMRC backed down and started issuing them routinely.

And we have flagged cases of savers who paid thousands of pounds for state pension top-ups and saw their money disappear without explanation for months, until This is Money intervened.

Meanwhile, some people have waited months to receive confirmation from the Department for Work and Pensions about which years to buy and what amount and how to pay.

Write and tell us your story at [email protected]Please put STATE PENSION TOP-UPS in the subject line.

This is Money will not use your information for any marketing or other purposes.

Unfortunately we will not be able to reply to everyone. You might also want to contact your MP for help.

Steve Webb’s golden rules for buying state pension top-ups

1. Make sure you are getting any credits you are entitled to before paying voluntary NI for a particular year.

For example, grandparents under pension age may be able to get credits towards their state pension if they are looking after a grandchild, enabling the child’s parent to go out to work.

As NI credits don’t cost anything, you should always claim what is available for free before paying voluntary NI for any given year.

2. Whether or not it makes sense for any given individual to top up depends on their individual circumstances.

You should always start by checking your state pension record at the Government’s web page.

This may tell you, for example, that you are already going to get the maximum state pension and therefore don’t need to make any voluntary contributions, even if you have some gaps in your record.

Filling blanks for certain years – particularly those before 2016/17 – can sometimes have no impact on your state pension, particularly if you were contracted out and have already paid in 30 years by April 2016

3. Some years may be cheaper to fill than others. If, for example, you worked for part of a year, you may find that you can complete that year more cheaply than filling a year that was completely blank.

4. Fill gaps at the Class 2 rate if you can as voluntary NI for the self-employed is much cheaper than for employees – currently £163.80 per year, rather than Class 3 contributions at £824.20 per year.

If you had low-income self-employment in a particular year and have a gap in your record, you should be able to pay at the Class 2 rate for that year, which will save you money.

5. People who expect to be on benefits in retirement might find their increased state pension is clawed back in reduced pension credit or housing benefit

6. Always check before handing over any money. The rules are complex and you can sometimes fill a gap which makes no difference to your final pension.

How much is the state pension? 

The basic state pension is currently £141.85 a week, or around £7,400 a year.  It is topped up by additional state pension entitlements – S2P and Serps – if accrued during working years. 

The two-tier state system was replaced in 2016 by a new ‘flat rate’ state pension. This is currently worth £185.15 a week or around £9,600 a year.

Both amounts will rise by 10.1 per cent in April – the old state pension to £156.20 and the new to £203.85. 

People who have contracted out of S2P and Serps over the years and retire after April 2016 get less than the full new state pension. 

Workers needed to have 30 years of qualifying National Insurance contributions to get the old state pension, but they now need to have 35 years of contributions to get the new flat rate state pension.

But even if you paid in full for a whole 35 years, if you contracted out for some years on top of that it might still reduce what you get. 

Everyone gets the option of deferring their state pension to get more in their later years.

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