Retirement planning might seem complex, but it's vital for a secure future. One key element is understanding your state pension forecast.
Imagine your state pension as a reliable foundation for your retirement – a steady income the government provides. It can help you embrace the retirement you've worked hard for, whether that means travelling, pursuing hobbies, or simply relaxing.
As of 2023, the new state pension stands at £203.85 per week, and you can start claiming it when you turn 66.
If you reached the pension age before 2016, this amount will be lower as you’ll be eligible for the basic state pension of £156.20 per week instead. Depending on the National Insurance (NI) contributions you’ve accrued throughout your working life, you might be eligible for the additional state pension, also known as SERPS.
The state pension might seem like a modest amount relative to your current income, but it’s likely to form a crucial part of your income in retirement. That’s why it’s so important to understand whether you’ll receive the full state pension and how to check your state pension forecast.
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Understanding the basics of the state pension
You might take the idea of receiving your state pension for granted. After all, you’ve paid into the system all your life, and now you’re entitled to “reap the benefits”.
What you might not know is that the state pension is a relatively modern invention that has only existed since 1909. Back then, the maximum weekly payment you could receive was 5 shillings, the equivalent of £30 in today’s money when adjusted for inflation. This was a means-tested benefit; you had to be at least 70 years old to qualify for it. Bear in mind that in 1909, only about 5% of the population was older than 70.
It’s safe to say things have moved on since then. The state pension is far more generous now, despite our ageing population. Still, there are specific criteria you need to meet to claim it.
Are you eligible for the state pension?
You’ll need at least ten qualifying years to qualify for some state pension. A qualifying year is a tax year in which you have paid sufficient National Insurance contributions.
Alternatively, you may receive National Insurance credits for a particular year in some exceptional cases if your income isn’t high enough.
But, if you’re interested in getting the full new state pension, you’ll need a minimum of 35 qualifying years to be eligible.
How to check your state pension forecast
If you’re unsure whether you’re on track to receive the full new state pension, you can use the government’s state pension forecast tool to see how many qualifying years you have. This will help you determine how much state pension you’ll likely receive.
You’ll need your Government Gateway user ID to log in, but if you don’t have one, creating one is easy.
You can also call the Future Pension Centre and ask them to post your forecast to you, or you can fill out a BR19 state pension forecast application form.
Remember that the state pension forecast tools only work if you aren’t already claiming your state pension. If you are claiming your state pension or deferred claiming it and have questions about your entitlement, you must contact the Pension Service via gov.uk. If you live abroad, you must ring the international pension centre. They can answer questions regarding eligibility and claiming your state pension.
Factors that might affect your state pension forecast
Several factors might affect your state pension forecast and the amount of state pension you’re likely to receive.
Self-employment and your National Insurance record
Being self-employed doesn’t exclude you from receiving the state pension. If you’re self-employed, you will pay National Insurance through your self-assessment, building up qualifying years in the same way as someone who is employed might.
But, if your profits are too small to pay enough National Insurance, you may lose out on qualifying years. Class 4 National Insurance contributions are only charged if your profits are above £12,570 a year. That’s why keeping an eye on your NI contribution record is essential.
It's important to remember that if you're self-employed, you won't receive employer contributions towards a pension scheme like auto-enrolled employees. According to the Office for National Statistics, the workplace pension participation rate in the UK was 79% (22.6 million employees) in April 2021. Instead, you might need to look up pension providers and set up a private pension to build a pension pot that way. While you will still get government relief on your contributions, you won’t have any employer contributions.
Working abroad and your state pension
Your UK state pension is based on your UK National Insurance record. To be eligible for the state pension in the UK, you must have a minimum of ten years' worth of National Insurance contributions. If you work abroad, you won’t automatically accrue those years.
But, time spent abroad may contribute to these qualifying years if you’ve lived in:
- The EEA.
- Countries that have special agreements with the UK, such as Barbados, Jamaica and Turkey.
Remember, you’ll only be able to use your time abroad to supplement the ten qualifying years. If you lived and worked abroad for 20 years and lived and worked within the UK for five, you’ll still only “get” ten qualifying years if you’re eligible. This will entitle you to some form of UK state pension, but not the full amount. In May 2020, there were over 490,000 people overseas in receipt of a frozen UK State Pension (this is the practice of the British government “freezing” state pensions which means each year, instead of their pension increasing with inflation, it remains static).
However, you may also be entitled to a state pension in the country where you’ve worked to supplement your income.
Taking time off work and your state pension
If you need to take time off work or are on a persistent low income, you might not build up qualifying years for that period. If a household lives on less than 60% of the median income, they are considered to be in a persistent low-income bracket. During the period between January 2019 and December 2020, the median income (excluding housing costs) for a couple with no children was slightly less than £30,000.
However, there are a few circumstances where if you take time off work, you’ll be entitled to National Insurance credits instead. These credits will top up your qualifying years, ensuring you’re on track to receive your state pension.
You might be eligible for National Insurance credits if you are:
- Claiming benefits like universal credit due to poor health.
- On maternity, paternity, or adoption leave.
- A carer for a child under 12.
If you don’t qualify for National Insurance credits and want to ensure you’ll get the full state pension, you might want to consider making voluntary payments to fill any gaps in your records if you’re eligible. You can normally only make these voluntary payments for gaps in the past six years.
Is maximising the state pension enough for a comfortable retirement in the UK?
Assuming you have 35 qualifying years, you will get the full new state pension if you're due to reach the state pension age soon. In 2023, this is around £10,600. But is this enough to retire on?
A Pensions and Lifetime Savings Associations study suggests not, especially if you live alone. According to the PSLA, the minimum you need to retire on your own in the UK is £12,800 per year. This should be enough to cover your basic needs, with a little left over for "fun", perhaps an occasional meal out or a weekend away in the UK.
If you live alone in London and plan to retire there, the minimum pension income you need is £14,300. As a couple outside of London, you would need £19,900 for a minimum retirement. Therefore, if there are two of you, you may be able to get by on the state pension.
Remember, this is a “bare bones” retirement. You would not have a car, a minimal budget for “social activities”, and you won’t be taking any overseas holidays. The PSLA also assumes you’ve paid off your mortgage and won’t be spending money on rent or mortgage payments.
What if you want more than the bare essentials in retirement?
For a moderate retirement, meaning you get a second-hand car every ten years and a holiday abroad in Europe, you will need £23,300 a year if you live by yourself and about £34,000 a year as a couple outside London.
A comfortable retirement where you can afford some luxuries would set you back £37,300 for an individual and £54,500 as a couple currently outside of London. Remember that you’ll still have to pay income tax in retirement.
Clearly, the full state pension is simply not enough to retire on unless you're part of a couple. But, if one of you dies and you don't have any additional pension entitlements, the surviving partner will be left to survive on less than the basics.
These figures may increase with the cost of living crisis out of control. As of January 2023, 92 per cent of UK households reported that their cost of living had increased compared with a year earlier. So it’s worth figuring out how much you’ll need to retire with inflation in mind.
In truth, most people will have a personal pension or workplace pension to supplement their state pension. Your private pension is one way to “top up” your retirement income.
What happens if you don’t qualify for the full state pension and don’t have much in savings?
If you’re approaching the state pension age, and you’ve checked your forecast and realised you won’t qualify for the full state pension, you might be getting a little worried.
You can still take steps to make the most of your retirement. If you don’t have 35 full years of National Insurance contributions, remember that you might be able to top up your entitlement.
It’s also worth using a lost-pension tool to track down any pension pots you may have forgotten about. There are plenty of online services to help you do this. Every little helps when it comes to retirement planning.
If all else fails, you may be eligible for pension credit. Pension credit is designed to top up your weekly income to at least £201.05 if you’re single or £306.85 if you’re in a couple. In some cases, such as if you’re a carer or have a disability, you may be eligible for extra help.
Start planning your retirement today
Accessing your state pension forecast early is a great way to ensure you’re on track for retirement. The full state pension might not be enough to survive on, but it’ll likely be a crucial part of most people’s retirement income. That’s why it’s essential to understand what you’ll be entitled to and make up for any shortfalls while you still have time.