National Insurance is the system of contribution towards state benefits and other welfare provisions operated in the United Kingdom. It was first introduced in 1911, to insure the population against illness and unemployment.
Today the National Insurance system does not directly fund the health service, but instead offers a fund to pay for state benefits such as statutory sick pay, job seekers’ allowance, disability allowance and the state pension.
In fact, the Government collected over £84 billion in National Insurance contributions in 2012/13, the vast majority of which paid for state retirement pensions (£77 billion).
What is a National Insurance number?
A National Insurance number, or NI number, is an account number given to every individual in the UK who is eligible to pay National Insurance contributions. It is made up from letters and numbers, and remains your account number for your life, regardless of whether you change names, move abroad or get married.
Your NI number identifies your account, allowing your contributions to be correctly attributed to you. This is important because the claims you can make against the fund throughout your working life are sometimes based on the amount you have contributed.
Every UK citizen automatically receives a National Insurance number, often on a distinctive blue and red card, which is sent shortly before your 16th birthday.
Who pays National Insurance contributions?
Anyone over the age of 16 who is either employed or self-employed should pay a contribution to National Insurance, once their income is above a certain level.
In the 2014/15 tax year, if you are employed you must earn more than £153 per week to pay any contribution to National Insurance. At this threshold you will pay 12% of your income as a contribution, and that rate is fixed for earnings up to £805 per week.
If you are self-employed you pay National Insurance at two levels, or ‘classes’. Class 2 contributions are paid at £2.75 per week, fixed rate.
Class 4 contributions are paid as a percentage of your profits. If you make less than £7,956 profit per year, then you may not have to pay any National Insurance contributions at all.
Applying for a National Insurance number
If you are a UK citizen and do not already have a National Insurance number, then you will need to contact the National Insurance Registrations Helpline (0300 200 3502) to discuss obtaining an NI number.
If you are not a UK citizen but have moved to the UK to live and work, then you will need to apply for a National Insurance number. You will also need an NI number if you intend to apply for state benefits or tax credits.
Applying for a National Insurance number will normally form part of the benefit claims process, or the process for registering as self employed. If you are planning to work in the UK you will need to confirm that you are entitled to work, and will need to check your eligibility at your local Jobcentre Plus or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs office, or online.
Part of the application process involves an ‘Evidence of Identity’ interview at your local Jobcentre Plus. You will need to bring valid ID documentation with you for your interview, such as a passport, ID card, residence permit or driving licence.
If you have simply lost your NI number, you can fill in form CA5403 and submit the form to your local HMRC office.