Article by Sarah Pennells
Well, the bad news is that almost half of all women don’t qualify for a full basic state pension because they don’t pay National Insurance for long enough, and divorced women are often among those who rely on the state pension the most. But what you might not realise is that you can claim a basic state pension based on your ex husband’s National Insurance contributions – and he doesn’t even have to be told.
Married women can also use their husband’s National Insurance contribution record to boost their own pension, up to a maximum of 60% of the pension he’s due to receive. From April 6th, when there’s a big shake up of state pensions, this option will also be available to husbands and civil partners.
The reason so many women fail to get the elusive prize of £95 a week from the government is that, under the current rules, you have to have paid National Insurance contributions or been credited with payments (which you can receive for years spent looking after your children, for example) for 39 years. That’s also about to change on April 6th when the threshold falls to 30 years, but it won’t help anyone who’s about to retire.
There are ways you can boost your state pension if you’re not in line to receive much based on your own NI record and – such as buying extra years of NI contributions. But one method that won’t cost you a penny, is to use your husband or ex husband’s NI contributions record. This is what you need to do:
1. Get a state pension forecast as soon as you can. The form (called BR19) will tell you how much you are in line to receive when you retire, based on your current National Insurance contributions record. If you’re still married, you won’t automatically be given information on the pension you’d receive based on your husband’s NI record, instead it’s up to you to ask.
2. If you are divorced the state pensions forecast should give you specific information based on your circumstances about how much you’d receive based on your own NI contributions record and if you claimed on your ex husband’s record. However, if you ask for a state pensions forecast over the phone, this might not happen. Instead, make sure you tell the adviser that you’re divorced and that you want to know how which is the best way of claiming your pension to maximise the amount you’d receive.
3. When you come to claim your pension, the claim form will ask you whether you are married, divorced, single or separated. Once again, if you’re claiming your state pension over the telephone, make sure you tell them whether you are divorced and, if so, when the decree absolute came through. I’m aware of women who haven’t been given the full picture when they’ve tried to claim their pension over the phone, so make sure you don’t miss out.
The Rules on State Pension
The rules about how much you will receive if you claim on your husband or ex husband’s NI record aren’t straightforward, but I will try my best to simplify them:
If you’re still married: you can claim a pension of up to 60% of the value of your husband’s pension, but you won’t receive it until he starts drawing his. This means you may have to start claiming a state pension based on your own contributions until your husband starts drawing his pension and then switch. It’s worth knowing that from April 6th 2010 the rules will change and this restriction will be removed.
If you’re divorced: you can claim a state pension based on your ex husband’s record as long as you don’t remarry before you reach state pension age (which is currently 60 for women). You can use your ex husband’s NI record for the time when you were married either until your marriage ended or until you reach state pension age, whichever comes first. The good news is that if you remarry after you reach state pension age, it doesn’t affect the amount you receive.