What is National Insurance anyway?
National Insurance is a tax that is taken from your income to fund some of the welfare system in the UK. It pays for the state pension, maternity allowance and unemployment benefits.
It’s different to income tax, which will also be deducted from your pay.
What is a National Insurance Number and why do I need one?
A National Insurance Number (NIN) is a unique code that the government uses to record your tax contributions and entitlements against your name. It’s pretty much equivalent to your Tax File Number (TFN) in Australia.
It’s yours for life, so even if you return to the UK in 50 years time you will still have the same number (which is great, you won’t have to go through the application process again!)
How do I pay my National Insurance contributions?
If you’re employed by someone, National Insurance (NI) will automatically be deducted from your pay, along with your income tax. No need to do anything, just sit back, relax, and check your payslip each week.
Your type of employment and level of income will determine which National Insurance “Class” you are in and how much you pay. See my post on the UK tax system for an explanation of the classes and rates you’ll pay.
Got it. So how do I get myself a NIN?
In theory the process is quite simple, but as with most government applications and processes the world-over there can be a few hiccups and delays here and there (as I’ve found out first hand). I’ve broken down the steps for you here:
1. Arrive in the UK
You can’t apply until you’re on British soil!
2 Call the NIN Application Line
Phone 0800 141 2075. You’ll speak to a lovely operator who will ask for your personal details and a postal address to send your paperwork to (this will take 7-10 working days to arrive so make sure you will actually be at this address). They’ll also give you a reference number for your application so make sure you write this down, you’ll need it for any future correspondence or enquiries you might have.
You must have the right to work in the UK to apply for a NIN so they’ll ask why you need one. Just tell them you’ll be working as a health professional.
3. Receive a letter in the post
You will either receive:
a) An application form to complete asking:
- Do you work for someone? Tick YES if you’ll be working through an agency
- Are you self-employed? Tick NO if you’ll be working through an agency
- Are you a sub-contractor? Tick NO if you’ll be working through an agency
b) A request to attend an interview at a Job Centre Plus (the same as Centrelink in Australia)
You’ll fill out the same paperwork and provide the same supporting documents (photocopies of your passport and BRP card), along with any other evidence they request.
4. Wait patiently
I’ve spoken to people who had absolutely no issues, and received their NIN in the post 2 weeks later, while others have had to wait up to 6 weeks or more… at the time of writing I’m still waiting (which is my own fault for leaving the country so often!).
You are allowed to start work without your NIN, just explain to your employer that you’ve applied and you’re just waiting for the number to arrive in the post.
5. Receive your NIN card
It will be good times all-round the day your NIN arrives in the post. Make sure you tell your employer the number as soon as you’ve received it so they can adjust your pay.
Just like your TFN, don’t go telling everybody your NIN. The only people who really need to know it are your employer, the tax department, your doctor/medical centre etc. Keep it safe.
Because I was coming and going from the UK travelling so much, it took 6 months to actually receive my NIN. It was a bit stressful at the time, but really not the end of the world. If you don’t have your NIN when you’re ready to start working your employer will just use an emergency tax code to calculate your contributions. My best piece of advice? Wait until you’re settled in one place before starting the application process – then you won’t have to worry about mail getting lost like me.
Fingers-crossed your experience is a lot smoother than mine!
> The UK tax system explained
< Back to the UK