Sunday, 24 May 2020


UPDATED for the 2020/21 tax year

More than a million people who reach state pension age in the years from 6 April 2016 will not get the full amount of the new ‘flat-rate’ state pension - currently £175.20 from 6 April 2020.

But many of them could boost their pension towards or up to the full flat rate amount.

This guide is for men born 6 April 1952 or later and women born 6 July 1953 or later who paid into a good pension at work or, in some cases, into a personal pension.

There are other groups who can boost their state pension. Separate links for them are listed at the end of this guide.

The new state pension was supposed to be simple. A flat-rate amount for everyone who had at least 35 years of National Insurance contributions. This year 2020/21 that amount is £175.20 a week (£9110.40 a year) and is taxable. However, there are around one and a half million people who will reach pension age in the years before 2027 who will get less than that even if they have 35 years or more National Insurance contributions.

That is because an amount is deducted from the pension for every year they paid into a good pension at work. I call it a contracted out deduction because they were ‘contracted out’ of part of the state pension called SERPS or State Second Pension (S2P). They paid lower National Insurance contributions and instead of that additional state pension they get a pension from their job which was supposed to replace it. The Government prefers to call it 'Contracted Out Pension Equivalent' or COPE. It is that COPE amount that is deducted from your new state pension.

This group includes most people who worked in the public sector, such as

  • nurses, doctors, and others in the NHS
  • teachers in schools and universities
  • police officers and fire brigade staff
  • civil servants
  • local government workers
  • armed forces
  • Post Office workers
It also includes many people who worked for one of the privatised industries such as British Airways, British Rail, British Steel, and Royal Mail.

Another large group affected are people who worked for a private sector employer who paid into a good scheme at work that promised them a pension related to their salary. They used to be called ‘final salary’ schemes and nowadays are called Defined Benefit or DB schemes. In the past many large firms ran such schemes. There are still nearly 6000 of them and if you paid into one at any time from 1978 your new state pension will be reduced.

Also included are some people who paid into a personal pension and who were persuaded to contract out of part of the state scheme – at the time it was normally called ‘contracting out of SERPS’.

For all these people their new state pension will be reduced for the years they paid into a contracted out pension scheme. That deduction applies even if they have paid the 35 years which is needed to get a full pension – the deduction is made after the full pension is worked out. It can also apply even if they were contracted out for a short period and paid in 35 years or more when they were not contracted out. These deductions can be very large but normally can never leave you with less than £134.25 a week of the old or 'basic' state pension.

Please do not ask me why that is fair! It may not be fair, but it is the law. The good news is that you can reduce that deduction and, depending on your age, you may be able to get your pension up to the full flat-rate £175.20.

If your new state pension has an amount deducted from it because you spent some time paying into a good pension scheme at work then you can reduce that deduction or even wipe it out. This guide is of most use to people who are currently aged at least 57. It will help even if you already have 35 years National Insurance contributions or more.

If your new state pension is reduced because you paid into a good pension scheme at work then every year of National Insurance contributions from 2016/17 to the year before the tax year you reach state pension age will mean that deduction is less.

If you work and earn more than £120 a week you will get contributions credited or paid to your account (you start actually paying for them when you earn above £183 a week; under that they are credited). If you get child benefit for a child who is less than 12 then you will also get a credit for each week. If you get jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, or working tax credit then you will get a credit for each week you get that benefit. You can also get credits if you are a carer in some circumstances. Check here for more details of who can get credits. Some are given automatically, others have to be claimed.

Men can get credits for years between women’s state pension age and 65. They get a credit for the tax year in which they reach women's state pension age (unless they also reach 65 in that tax year) and any subsequent tax year before the tax year they reach 65. So these man credits are only available to men born before 6 October 1953. See footnote.

If you are self-employed then you must pay what are called Class 2 National Insurance contributions if your profits are £6475 or more. They are called Class 2 and are £3.05 a week (£158.60 a year). Self-employed people can also pay these contributions voluntarily even if their profits are below £6475 - but only for years in which the were genuinely self-employed. The Government planned to phase out Class 2 contributions but that has been deferred. 

If you will not pay National Insurance contributions at work or as self-employed or get credits for them you can pay voluntary contributions, called ‘Class 3’. They will cost you £15.30 a week (£795.60 for a year). For each extra year of contributions your pension will be boosted by £5.01 a week (£260.30 a year) so the payback is rapid – just over three years for non-taxpayers; almost four if you pay basic rate tax; just over five for higher rate taxpayers, and almost six for top rate 45% taxpayers. Contributions for earlier years are less: 2019/20 - £780, 2018/19 - £772, 2017/18 - £740, and 2016/17 - £733.20 making them even better value for money.

The new state pension up to £175.20 a week comes under the ‘triple lock’ promise and will rise each April by prices, earnings, or 2.5% whichever is the highest, at least until April 2022. Recent economic conditions may see the end of that triple lock from April 2023 or even earlier. 

If you have paid some contributions at work or as self-employed during the tax year but you are short of a full year you can pay individual weeks through Class 3 (or Class 2) to make your record up to a full year.

You can only pay Class 3 contributions for the years before the tax year in which you reach state pension age. That limits the number of years you can pay to boost your pension. The table show which years you can pay Class 3 contributions for to set against the contracted out deduction and the maximum boost that may give to your pension. Your pension cannot be boosted to more than £175.20 a week and it cannot be less than £134.25 so the maximum boost is £40.95.

Reach State Pension Age in
Men born
Women born
Years you can pay
Maximum pension boost (2019/20 rates)
6 April 1951
5 April 1952
6 April 1953
5 July 1953
6 April 1952
5 April 1953
6 July 1953
5 Oct 1953
6 April 1953
5 Jan 1954
6 Oct 1953
5 Jan 1954

Men and women born

from 6 January 1954
to 5 July 1954
from 6 July 1954
to 5 April 1955
from 6 April 1955
to 5 April 1956
from 6 April 1956
to 5 April 1957
from 6 April 1957
to 5 April 1958
from 6 April 1958
to 5 April 1959
and later
from 6 April 1959
to 5 April 1960
and later

There is no hurry to do anything. You can pay voluntary Class 3 contributions in the tax year they are due or up to six years after that. You cannot pay them in advance. The price may rise as time passes so it will be cheaper to pay them as soon as you can.

If you will reach state pension age in 2019/20 you may want to act soon to see if you can boost your pension by paying National Insurance contributions for 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19, and 2019/20. Otherwise it is probably best to wait.

You can phone the DWP’s Future Pension Centre on 0800 731 0175 and ask for help. Ask them what your ‘starting amount’ is and ask if there is a deduction for being contracted out. If your starting amount is less than £175.20 and there is a contracted out deduction then you may be able to boost it using the information in this guide. 'Starting amount' is explained in the notes below. If you have a deduction for a pension which you cannot trace use the Government's free Pension Tracing Service.

Many people have contacted the DWP and been told they cannot boost their pension because they have 35 years of contributions. That is incorrect. Some officials seem to be confusing this scheme with one to fill gaps in your contribution record. There is a separate guide about that – see Filling Gaps below. Others have been told that they need more than 35 years to get a full pension. That can be true in the circumstances in this blogpost, but it is a confusing way to put it. 

You may get more sense from the free and excellent Pensions AdvisoryService or call on 0800 011 3797. Beware of similar sounding commercial organisations.

You can check your starting amount at this Government website. You will have to go through security procedures which can be a pain. Make sure it includes your 2015/16 contributions. This website may let you see how you can boost your pension by paying extra National Insurance contributions. It may be operational now or that may still be pending. 

1. All the rates in this guide are correct in 2020/21. 

2. If your income is low then you may get extra money from pension credit or help with your council tax or rent (rent or rates in Northern Ireland). If you buy Class 3 contributions to boost your pension those benefits will be reduced but it will almost always still be worthwhile.

3. Your ‘starting amount’ is the calculation of how much state pension you have built up at 6 April 2016 under the old and the new rules. Your starting amount is the one that is bigger. It will take account of National Insurance contributions paid up to 2015/16 and will also make a deduction for years you have been ‘contracted out’ of part of the state pension system called SERPS. If it shows you have fewer than 35 years of National Insurance contributions then you may be able to pay more to boost that number towards 35. See ‘other groups’ guides link below.

4. SERPS, the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme, was an earnings-related supplement to the basic state pension. People paid into it as part of their National Insurance contributions from April 1978 to April 2016. From April 2002 it was changed and renamed State Second Pension (S2P). It was SERPS and S2P – sometimes called ‘additional pension’ – which people ‘contracted out’ of if they paid into a good pension at work or in some cases into a personal pension which they chose to ‘contract out’. They paid lower National Insurance contributions. The pension they paid into was supposed to replace the SERPS or S2P but it does not always do so in full.

5. Tax years run from 6 April one year to 5 April the next. So 2020/21 runs from 6 April 2020 to 5 April 2021.

6. If you have an old pension you cannot trace, use the Government's free Pension Tracing Service.

7. Contacted Out Pension Equivalent is the amount deducted from your new state pension to take account of the time you were contracted out of SERPS/S2P. In theory the amount deducted should be paid to you by the pension scheme you paid into as part of being contracted out. But that will not always happen especially if you were contracted out into a personal pension. This government guide to contracting out sort of explains it.

8. Man credits. These man credits - called auto-credits - are only awarded for whole tax years, not individual weeks. Men born 6 April 1952 to 5 April 1953 can get a year of contributions credited for 2016/17. They may also get earlier years credit but they do not help with reducing their contracted out deduction. Men born 6 April 1953 to 5 October 1953 can get a year credited for 2017/18.

The credit is given for the tax year in which they reach women's state pension age (unless they also reach 65 in that tax year) and for any subsequent tax year before the tax year they reach 65.

Men born 6 April 1951 or later and women born 6 April 1953 or later.
·         Filling gaps in your National Insurance record – new state pension 

Men born before 6 April 1951 and women born before 6 April 1953
·        Filling gaps in your National Insurance record – old state pension 
There is also a comprehensive guide to what you can do to top up your state pension available as a download from the mutual insurance company Royal London written by former Pensions Minister Steve Webb. It is well worth a couple of hours study.

Version: 4.00
24 May 2020
Previously: Target 155, Target 164, Target 169

Friday, 22 May 2020


Tens of thousands of married women in their seventies or older are being paid too little state pension. Some could be owed £4000 a year. 

You are almost certainly entitled to extra state pension i
  • your husband was born before 17 March 1943
  • you get less than £80.45 a week state pension
Some slightly younger women - aged at lest 67 - and some women with younger husbands may also be due extra money.

The women affected get the old state pension, not the new one which began for those who reached state pension age from 6 April 2016.

These married women are normally entitled to a top up to bring their basic pension up £80.45 a week. However, many did not claim it or it was not paid due to an error by the Department for Work and Pensions. See 'Married women' below.

Some divorced or widowed women may also be entitled to a bigger state pension. See 'Widowed or divorced' below.

Anyone aged 80 or more - men and women, married or not - should normally get a state pension of at least £80.45 a week. See 'over 80' below

Married women 
Nowadays most married women have their own state pension paid for with their own National Insurance contributions. But millions of older women do not. Women born before April 1950 needed 39 years of contributions to get a full pension. If they had fewer than that their pension was reduced and women with fewer than 10 years contributions got no state pension of their own. 

Many married women did not earn enough at work to pay National Insurance contributions or, if they did, they chose to pay the reduced married woman's contribution - known in the past as the  'married woman's stamp'. It did not count towards a state pension. The result is that millions of older married women are only entitled to a reduced state pension of their own, or none at all.

To help them there is a special rule that when a husband reaches state pension age his wife can get a pension based on his National Insurance Contributions. That married woman's pension is 60% of the basic pension – and currently comes to £80.45 a week. 

If a married woman has a basic state pension of less than £80.45 a week or none at all it is topped up to that amount when her husband reaches state pension age. That applies even if he – but not she – gets the new state pension (men born from 6 April 1951 get the new state pension). 

Nowadays that top up to £80.45 a week should be paid automatically when her husband reaches state pension age. However, before 17 March 2008 a married woman who already had a pension when her husband reached pension age had to apply for the upgrade. 

Research done by former Pensions Minister Steve Webb indicates that there could be more than 100,000 women whose husbands were born before 17 March 1943 who get a state pension of less than £80.45 a week but who did not apply for the top-up. Those women were born before 17 March 1948 and are now aged 72 or more.

They can apply for the higher pension now. It will top up their state pension to £80.45 a week and the top up will be backdated for a year. A woman with no state pension will get £4183 plus £80.45 a week for life. 

There may also be some younger women born between 17 March 1948 and 5 April 1953 and some women with younger husbands - born 17 March 1943 or later - whose pension should have been upgraded automatically but was not. Steve Webb's figures show that error did happen in many cases. They can apply for this pension now and, because the mistake was made by the Department for Work and Pensions, it will be backdated to the date it should have been paid. That can be up to 12 years. 

Any married woman who has a basic state pension of less than £80.45 a week should claim the extra. She will probably be successful.

To see if you qualify use this calculator provided by Steve Webb at Lane Clark & Peacock. 

You can claim your extra pension either online at the Pension Service or call free 0800 169 0154.

Widowed or divorced
A widow can use her late husband's record to get a state pension if that would be more than was due on hers. In most cases her reduced pension can be boosted to 100% of the basic state pension - currently £134.25 a week. She can also inherit some or all of his SERPS.

A woman who is divorced can use her ex-husband's National Insurance record instead of her own up to the date of the divorce. If she has had more than one husband then it is only the record of the most recent one she can use to boost her state pension. This should be done when she claims her state pension. But it may not have been so it is worth checking.

Women who are widowed or divorced and get less than the full 100% basic state pension of £134.25 should ask the DWP to check they are getting all they are entitled to. If it was worked out wrongly in the past it could be backdated to the date of that error. 

Call the Pension Service free on 0800 169 0154.

Over 80
Once you reach 80 you are entitled to a state pension of £80.45 a week if your existing state pension is less than that or you do not get one at all. To qualify you must be 
  • aged 80 or more 
  • live in the UK or the EU when you reached 80 or when you claim
  • have lived in England, Scotland, or Wales for at least ten years out of the last twenty.
It is not means-tested and does not depend on your National Insurance record. The full rules are here. 

If you are over 80 but get less state pension than £80.45 or none at all then claim it now. It can be backdated up to a year.   

You can claim your extra pension either online at the Pension Service or call free 0800 169 0154.


Not every married woman with an old state pension of less than £80.45 will be due extra pension. Some husbands themselves had less than a full state pension - they needed 44 years of National Insurance contributions then to get a full one. If he gets less than the full basic state pension – currently £134.25 a week - then his wife will also get a lower married woman's pension. However, it is his basic state pension that counts (called Category A), so ignore all extras like additional pension - what we used to call SERPS - graduated retirement benefit, or extra pension for not claiming it at 65.

If he was originally given less than a full basic state pension then his wife’s pension on his contributions will be 60% of that and will be less than £80.45 a week. But she may still be getting too little and should claim.

People living outside the UK in a country where the state pension is frozen - it does not rise with inflation - may well be getting less than £80.45 a week and not be entitled to any top up. 

23 May 2020
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