Should I top up my state pension? It will cost me £780 a year

15 November 2019


I have a question about National Insurance Contributions (NICs). I am considering making voluntary contributions to cover seven incomplete years. I am aged 61, intending to work one or two more years and should get £144.63 a week when I can take my pension at age 66. I was working abroad for the missing years.

I have 39 years’ full contributions now and four years to contribute before 5 Apr 2023. I see that each year is £780 to buy and that would take three years to recoup (not allowing for increased tax).

I will receive an RAF pension of £12,500 a year and another pension of £5,400 a year, so any additional state pension I could earn would be reduced by paying more tax.

Is it worth buying additional years and if so, how many, assuming I live long enough to recoup the overpayment?



Topping up your state pension is a good option if you want to maximise your income in retirement and are eligible for the full amount. The cost of doing this is effectively subsidised by the government, so it can be good value for money.

The number of years of NICs that you need to have paid or got credit for in order to get the full state pension is 35 years (30 years if you hit state retirement age before April 2016). However, if you have been in a contracted-out occupational pension scheme (which includes the public sector schemes such as the Armed Forces pension scheme), there will be a deduction (called a COPE) from the state pension for the period that you were contracted out of the state pension scheme.

During the period that you were in the Armed Forces pension scheme, you and your employer would have benefited from paying in a reduced rate of NICs. In return, the Armed Forces pension scheme made a promise to replace part of the state pension you would have been building up if you had not been contracted out. As a result, a one-off deduction is made from the new state pension to take account the period that you were contracted out.

You seem to have had a reasonable period of service in the RAF. As you already have 39 years’ NICs, you cannot top up based on gaps in your NI history before April 2016 as you already have over 30 years’ credits. You have been paying NI since April 2016 so do not have any gaps to make voluntary contributions. 

Michelle Cracknell is former chief executive of the Pensions Advisory Service

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