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Social Security and Pensions
If you live in the UK and meet certain minimum income requirements, you have to pay National Insurance (NI) contributions on your wages or salary. Those contributions are used to fund essential parts of the UK’s social security system – mostly retirement pensions, contribution-based jobseeker’s allowance, and statutory maternity pay.
Contributing to National Insurance
The income limits for having to pay National Insurance contributions are as follows:
- If you are an employee earning more than GBP 153 per week, you’ll need to contribute to the NI.
- The same applies to self-employed people whose business profits are higher than GBP 5,885 per year.
- If you don’t meet any of these income requirements, you can still make voluntary contributions to avoid gaps in your insurance history.
Before you start working in the UK, you therefore need to get a National Insurance number. You can apply for this at Jobcentre Plus: Dial 0345 600 0643 for their hotline (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm) and make an appointment for an interview at the nearest local office.
Once you have an NI number, your contributions will be deducted from your earnings on a PAYE basis. Employees have to pay so-called Class 1 contributions: They have to share 12% of their weekly income, as well as an extra 2% of all weekly earnings over GBP 805.
Self-employed contributors to National Insurance, on the other hand, fall into either the Class 2 or the Class 4 categories. They pay a nominal sum of GBP 2.75 per week; the major part of their NI contributions consists of a certain percentage of their profit. It needs to be calculated and paid as a part of their income tax returns.
The UK Pension System
Once you reach the official retirement age (to be raised to 68 by 2046), you are entitled to a basic state pension based on your history of National Insurance contributions. If you have paid the latter for at least 30 years, you will receive the full amount of the UK basic pension.
However, the basic national pension only provides a subsistence-level income for retirees. Therefore, the UK government added the so-called State Second Pension (S2P) to their pension schemes. This allowed employees to top up their government pension, based on their employment history and their income over the years.
However, the basic pension and the S2P may soon be subject to a rather controversial reform: For future generations of pensioners, their retirement benefits will probably be combined in a flat sum of roughly GBP 144 per week. Therefore, company pension plans and individual pension provisions are more important than ever.
Pension Issues for Expatriates
If you are a national of an EU member state, or an expat from a country that has entered into a social security agreement with the UK, you are normally entitled to a UK pension as well. This may also apply if you retire outside the UK.
For instance, the principle of pension harmonization applies throughout the European Union. If you have lived, worked and paid insurance contributions in several EU member states, your government pension will consist of individual shares according to the countries’ respective pension systems.
If you are covered by one of the UK’s social security agreements, the regulations may vary. In this case, it’s probably best to study the agreement carefully and find out how working in the UK could affect your future government pension. This applies especially to expats from the following countries:
- New Zealand
- The Philippines
- South Korea
- The United States
For more information on social security agreements with the UK, please read on in the online guide provided by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Moreover, you should always talk to your local pension office and your financial advisors well before you move to the UK. Take enough time to find out how exactly your stay as an expat will impact your long-term financial planning.
If you’d like to know more about social security and pensions in the UK, just check out our in-depth guide for expatriates. It also includes a comprehensive overview of taxation for expats living and working in the UK.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.