There's a lot to think about when it comes to pensions and it’s not always easy to know where to look for information.
The chances are the state pension will play a big role in the amount of money you will have to live on when you retire, so it’s important to know how much you are going to get.
In 2022, the average pensioner’s income fell to £349 a week (after housing costs and direct taxes are accounted for), down from £376 in 2021, according to government figures. This equates to £18,148 over a year.
The full new state pension has increased to £203.85 per week, rising 10.1% in line with inflation from 10 April, totalling £10,600 a year. This means the state pension now makes up more than half of the average retirement income, after housing costs and direct taxes.
If you reached state pension age before April 2016, you’ll also receive an uplift and will now receive £8,122 a year, or £156.20 a week.
But you do not automatically get the full state pension. Your state pension entitlement is based on how many years of National Insurance Contributions (NICs) you have made. So, it is important to check your state pension as part of your retirement planning.
“The state pension forms the very backbone of many people’s retirement,” says Helen Morrissey, senior pension and retirement analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “Once you know how much you are likely to get, it becomes the foundation of your retirement income planning.”
“Knowing what you will get from the state will help you decide how much you need to save yourself, whether through the workplace – where you benefit from matched employer contributions as well as tax relief – or in a SIPP [self-invested personal pension],” says Tom Selby, head of retirement policy at AJ Bell.
Most people do not know how much state pension they will receive, but it is easy to check. Here’s what you need to know.
How to check your state pension
You can check your state pension entitlement at Gov.uk. You’ll need a Government Gateway ID or Gov.uk verify account. If you don’t already have one, you’ll need an email address to register.
Then you can get your state pension forecast. This will tell you when you are due to start receiving your state pension, how much state pension you have currently built up, and how much you are forecast to receive when you retire.
Alternatively, you can call the government’s Future Pension Centre on 0800 731 0175 and they will check your state pension for you.
The government is planning to launch a Pension Dashboard that will allow you to view your state pension forecast alongside your other pension pots. But for now, this service is not yet available. It was due to launch in 2023, but the government recently announced the rollout has been delayed; it will reveal more details later this year.
How to check your state pension age
You can check your state pension age via the government site gov.uk. All you need to do is tap in your date of birth then you’ll see when you can start collecting your state pension.
As well as knowing how much state pension you will receive when you retire you also need to know when you will get it to help you plan your retirement. The state pension age is steadily rising so when you will be able to collect your state pension could be different to what you expect.
The state pension age is gradually increasing so it will rise from 66 to 67 for everyone by 2028. It is then expected to rise gradually to 68 between 2044 and 2046 for those born on or after April 5, 1977.
How much state pension will I get?
The amount of state pension you receive will depend on how many years of NICs you have made.
To get the full state pension, you need at least 35 qualifying years of National Insurance. If you don’t have a full National Insurance record, you will not get the full state pension.
Also, you are not entitled to any state pension if you have less than 10 qualifying National Insurance years when you reach state pension age.
You pay National Insurance through your taxes when you are working. If you are unemployed, claiming child benefit and not working or, in some circumstances, caring for someone, you can get National Insurance credits so that you continue to build your state pension entitlement.
“If you’ve got gaps in your National Insurance record, you may be able to go back and pay voluntary National Insurance to fill them in,” says Sarah Pennells, consumer finance specialist at the insurer Royal London. “However, there are time limits on this and there’s no one-size fits all approach as to whether paying voluntary National Insurance is good value. It will depend on your individual circumstances.”
READ MORE: State pension: does it pay to buy National Insurance credits?
Can I boost my state pension?
If you have checked your state pension and aren’t due to receive as much as you had hoped there are ways you can boost your state pension.
One option, as mentioned above, is to make voluntary NICs to get you up to the full state pension entitlement. Buying a year’s worth of NICs costs around £824.20, according to the investment platform Interactive Investor. Just be aware that once you have reached the 35 years needed for full state pension, you can’t boost your entitlement any further.
If you buy 10 years of NI contributions for £8,242 (10 x £824.20), you could boost your state pension by almost £61,000 over a 20-year retirement, £30,000 over 10 years and £15,000 over five years, according to Interactive Investor. Buying just one additional year of NI contributions for £824 could uplift your state pension by £6,100 over 20 years, £3,000 over 10 years and £1,500 over five years.
Another option is to defer receiving the state pension. For every nine weeks you delay receiving your state pension you’ll get a 1% increase to what you get. It amounts to just under a 5.8% increase for every full year you defer. But you need to consider if you will live long enough to get back what you missed out on by delaying taking your state pension.
“The payback period is approximately 17 years,” says Pennells. “Based on current life expectancy – people may not live long enough to see the benefit.”
How much will you need in retirement?
You will likely need much more money than you think to live comfortably in retirement. This is what the average retiree would need in annual retirement income to live a minimum, moderate and comfortable life, according to a 2022 report by Loughborough University and the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association:
- Minimum (£12,800) – This covers all essentials with some discretionary spending left over.
- Moderate (£23,300/London: £28,300) – This gives more financial stability and security with more discretionary spending.
- Comfortable (£37,300/London: £40,900) – This provides a much more comfortable retirement with more flexibility and some luxuries.
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Ruth is a personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience writing about everything from pensions to pet insurance. Ruth started her career as a staff writer for MoneyWeek and she continues to edit their personal finance section. Ruth also writes for numerous national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping. Ruth is passionate about ethical investing and encouraging people to take control of their finances and not be put off by jargon.