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How does National Insurance work and should you be paying it?

You’ll have to pay National Insurance contributions if you're over 16 years of age and earn or have self-employed profits over a certain amount. This helps build your entitlement to certain benefits, such as the State Pension and Maternity Allowance.

What is National Insurance?

National Insurance contributions are a tax on earnings and self-employed profits paid by employees, employers and the self-employed. They can help to build your entitlement to certain benefits depending whether you are employed or self-employed, such as the State Pension and Maternity Allowance. Some social security benefits will be dependant on payment of sufficient National Insurance Contributions.

Several factors can determine the level and type of national insurance contribution is payable including:

  • employment status
  • age
  • level of earnings
  • residence status.

When will I pay National Insurance?

Do you get paid through a Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system? Then National Insurance contributions will be automatically deducted from your salary, so you won’t need to do anything.

It applies to each pay period. Depending on how often you get paid, it could be weekly, monthly, or a different time period.

This means if you earn extra in one month, you’ll pay extra National Insurance. But you won’t be able to claim the extra back, even if your pay is lower during the other months of the tax year.

Are you self-employed? Then your National Insurance contributions will be calculated based on your Self Assessment tax return. They’ll be paid at the same time as Income Tax.

How much is National Insurance?

How much you’ll pay in National Insurance depends on what kind of National Insurance you’re paying.

There are four main classes of National Insurance:

  • Class 1is paid by employees and employers
  • Class 2 is paid if you’re self-employed
  • Class 3 is a voluntary contribution
  • Class 4  is paid if you’re self-employed and have profits over a certain amount 

Class 1 National Insurance Rates 

If you’re an employee you start paying National Insurance when you earn more than £184 a week (2021/22).

The National Insurance rate you pay depends on how much you earn, and is made up of:

  • 12% of your weekly earnings between £184 and £967 (2021/22)
  • 2% of your weekly earnings above £967.
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For example, if you earn £1,000 a week, you pay:

  • nothing on the first £184
  • 12% (£93.96) on the next £783
  • 2% (£0.66) on the next £33.

The rate of National Insurance you pay might be lower if you opted into the Married Women’s Reduced Rate before April 1977. Find out more on the GOV.UK site

As an employee, your National Insurance contributions stop when you reach State Pension age.

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Class 2 National Insurance rates

If you’re self-employed, you might be able to pay Class 2 contributions instead. Class 2 National Insurance contributions are set at a flat-rate weekly contributions of £3.05 a week in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

You’ll need to pay them for every week or partial week of self-employment in a tax year. This is if your profits for the entire tax year are £6,515 (the Small Profits Threshold) or more in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

Paying Class 2 contributions is voluntary for self-employed people with profits below the Small Profits Threshold. Paying Class 2 National Insurance contributions, even if your profits are lower, can still help you build contributory entitlements to benefits.

This can be a specialist area but if you use an accountant to do your books or help with your tax return they will be able to give you some guidance on this.

Voluntary ‘Class 3’ National Insurance rates

Class 3 voluntary National Insurance contributions are designed to fill in any gaps in your National Insurance record. The aim is to get you a higher State Pension.

To receive the full new State Pension, you’ll need to have at least 35 qualifying years of National Insurance contributions. It’s payable to people who have reached their State Pension age on or after 6 April 2016.

Anyone with less than this will receive a reduced State Pension. To receive the new State Pension you need to have a minimum of ten qualifying years.

If you don’t have enough qualifying years, you might want to pay Class 3 voluntary contributions to boost your pension entitlement.

In 2021-22, Class 3 contributions are payable at a weekly rate of £15.40. This is the maximum you can pay each week. Rates for previous tax years will be different. 

You might not always be able to pay Class 3 contributions for a tax year.

That’s why it’s important to find out whether:

  • you can make payments towards any gaps
  • how much you’ll need to pay
  • you will benefit from making any voluntary National Insurance contributions. 
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Class 4 National Insurance rates

If you’re self-employed and make profits of £9,568 or more in 2021-22 (£9,500 in 2021-22), you’ll pay Class 4 National Insurance contributions.

If you’re over this threshold, you’ll pay 9% on profits between £9,556 and £50,270 in 2021-22 (£9,500 and £50,000 in 2020-21).

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