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Can I Qualify for a UK State Pension as a Non-UK Resident?

This is the first blog in a 2-part series about the UK state pension. In the first blog, we will discuss how a non-UK resident can qualify for a UK state pension and how to determine your benefits. In the second blog, we address voluntary National Insurance contributions and how you can utilize them to boost your entitlement. You can access the second blog here.

Can I Qualify for a UK State Pension as a Non-UK Resident?

Many British expats living in the US are surprised to discover they still qualify for a State Pension (SP) in the UK. If you worked in the UK for at least 10 years (and paid National Insurance contributions during that time) then you will qualify for the SP. In most cases even if you “opted out” as part of your workplace pension, you will still qualify.

This blog addresses the “new State Pension” which applies to men born after 6 April 1951 and women born after 6 April 1953. For those born before these dates then the basic State Pension applies to you which is slightly different.

About New UK State Pensions

The maximum UK SP is currently £203.85 per week (in 2023/24), which is £10,600.20 per annum. While it’s likely not enough to change your life, it’s at least some beer tokens. To achieve the maximum UK SP you will need 35 qualifying years. These are usually years worked in the UK, but you can make voluntary National Insurance contributions to “buy” additional years (see part 2 of the blog).

If you have less than 35 years, but more than 10 years, then you will qualify for a proportional benefit. For example, if you have 15 years of qualifying contributions then you will qualify for 15/35 x £203.85 = £87.36 per week. You can usually get a UK SP forecast in about 5 minutes online – more on this later.

The age from which you can claim your UK SP is 65-68 depending on your birth year. This is currently under review and will likely be pushed higher. If you were born after 5 April 1978 then your UK SP age is 68. You can quickly and easily confirm your personal UK SP age here.

Assuming you reside in the US (or return to the UK), your UK SP entitlement increases with inflation both prior to taking benefits and after you start receiving them. The US has a Bilateral/Reciprocal Agreement with the UK, but not all countries do. So if you are reading this from another country then you need to investigate further.

If you live outside the UK, you can start the application process to claim your benefit as early as 4 months prior to your UK SP age. You can have it paid every 4 or 13 weeks and you can have it paid into a non-UK and non-GBP account. For US bank accounts, you’ll likely need to provide your bank account #, routing # and BIC/SWIFT code.

You can defer your UK SP by simply not claiming it. It will increase by 1% for every 9 weeks you defer it (which equates to 5.8% for every year you defer). The extra amount is paid with your regular SP when you do claim it and both elements will increase with CPI (consumer price index).

Annual Increases – The “Triple Lock”

The basic State Pension increases every year by whichever is the highest of the following:
earnings –

  • the average percentage growth in wages (in Great Britain)
  • prices – the percentage growth in prices in the UK as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI)
  • 2.5%

This so-called “Triple Lock” is a bit of a political hot potato in the UK. It costs the government a lot of money to maintain and thus there is continuous appetite to reduce it, but it remains hugely popular with voters.

Tips and Resources

If you have less than 30 years of paying into the US Social Security system, then your US Social Security retirement benefit will be cut when you become eligible for your UK SP under something called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). This takes many expats by surprise. We have blogged about it previously.

The UK SP, because it is below the UK’s personal allowance for income tax (£12,570 in 2023/24), is usually paid out gross (i.e. with no tax withholding), although it is taxable income whether you live in the UK or the US.

If you live outside the UK and you have additional UK income paid via PAYE (such as from a UK pension/SIPP and you do not have a current UK tax code then HMRC may decide to deduct emergency tax. You may be able to avoid this by procuring an NT (no tax) tax code, We have blogged about requesting a NT tax code previously.)

Here is the government’s informational site on the new State Pension (it’s actually pretty good and intuitive): https://www.gov.uk/new-state-pension

Here’s how to get a UK SP forecast.

Check your National Insurance contributions record here.

If you “opted out” when you were a member of UK company pension scheme then you may find that your contribution record does not match your accrued pension. This is because the shortfall should essentially be paid by the company pension scheme you opted into. You may be able to catch up and remove or reduce the shortfall.

We’ve heard from readers of this blog who had full NIC records in terms of years (i.e. 35 “full” years of contributions) and yet their accrued pension wasn’t the maximum. When we queried this we were told that it was a result of having contracted out earlier in their career. We also believe that it can occur as a result of the switch from the Basic State Pension to the new State Pension. Either way, they were able to make it up to the maximum entitlement amount by paying several move years of class 2 contributions.

The lesson: even if you believe you have met the 35-year contribution threshold, it is still worth checking your NIC record as you may be able to top up your entitlement.

You will need your National Insurance Number. If you don’t know yours, here’s how you can request it.

Here’s how to claim your UK SP if you are retiring outside the US.

Plan First Wealth is a registered investment adviser. Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies.  Investments involve risk and, unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed.  Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial adviser and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.

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