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Explainer: how to top up your UK state pension when living in France

We explain what French residents can do to help qualify for a pension in the UK

You need to have contributed for at least 10 years to claim any UK state pension Pic: Diego Barbieri / Shutterstock

For many people, moving to France is a long-standing dream based on the kind of lifestyle on offer. 

Practical details such as the impact on any future state pension can be secondary, but it is important to consider such issues as there are steps you can take to boost this from abroad.

In particular, people who have previously worked in the UK and wish to top up their UK state pension from France should be aware of the options.

Minimum ten years’ contributions

In 2016, the UK introduced a new state pension scheme. 

As a result, the ‘full’ standard pension rose but so did the required length of National Insurance (NI) contributions – from 30 to 35 qualifying years.

Note that some years’ contributions may not count if you were ‘opted out’ via an employer’s or other pension scheme. 

Many workers were eligible for extra amounts via the Additional State Pension, also known as the State Second Pension, or SERPS, but this has now stopped. 

You need to have contributed for at least 10 years to claim any pension.

The full new UK state pension payable (this year) is £203.85 per week. 

Read more: How to top up your UK state pension when you live in France

Fill in any gaps with voluntary NI contributions

As part of the change above, it is still possible to fill in gaps in your contributions between tax years April 2006 and April 2016, whether those gaps are due to time spent abroad or career breaks – for example, to care for children.

The original deadline for paying voluntary NI contributions for this period was April 5 this year, but this has been extended to April 2025. 

After that you will be able to fill in gaps only for the previous six years (on a rolling basis from 2025).

Pension contribution years in the UK end on April 5 annually, corresponding to the UK financial year, so, normally, as of now you could top up the years from 2017-18 and onwards.

How do you check your record?

You can check your NI record and see how many ‘qualifying years’ you have here and see your pension forecast here

You will need a Government Gate­way user ID and password which you can create with your NI number, passport and a smartphone. 

You will be directed to download a government ‘ID check’ app and then, at the appropriate stage, take a photo of the main passport page and a ‘selfie’. 

Finally, allow your phone to scan the microchip on your passport cover by putting the phone on top of your UK passport and moving it up and down until the scan starts. 

If the Gateway site does not work, you can apply for a pension forecast by sending a form or by calling 0044 191 218 3600, Monday to Friday, 8:00 to 18:00. 

Read more: How to access the British gov.uk website as a French resident

Make top-up voluntary contributions from France

There is more about paying NI from abroad here. You can apply to pay by sending a CF83 form to HMRC. 

Applications are currently taking eight months to process but HMRC takes note of the date the form was received with regard to payment deadlines. You can check when to expect a response here.

Once accepted, payment methods include a UK bank cheque or a transfer from a French or UK bank. 

For those who live in France, paying voluntary NI contributions can be a valuable option if you are unlikely to make up for the missing years by returning to work in the UK.

Usually, to do this you must have lived in the UK previously for at least three years or made at least three years of NI contributions, though years in the EU can be taken into account as long as you have been subject to UK legislation at some point.

What does it cost?

If you are also working abroad and worked in the UK immediately before leaving, you pay class two contributions, at £3.45 per week at 2023/24 rates. 

Otherwise, you pay class three rates, currently £17.45 per week.

If you pay before April 2025 to make up for gaps between April 6, 2006, and April 5, 2017, you will pay the lower 2022/23 rates: £3.15 for class two and £15.85 for class three.

Is it worth doing?

A year’s voluntary contributions can boost payments by £5.29 a week, or ap­proximately £275 per year, according to fi­nance site Interactive Investor.  

“Purcha­sing six years at a cost of £4,945 [this is at the class three rate, it is £913 for class two] could translate to additional state pension of £36,000 over 20 years, £18,000 over 10 years, and £9,100 over five years.”

You can do your own calculation as to the potential benefit by reviewing your current state pension forecast payment and the cost of the amount of years you would need to ‘purchase’ to raise this to the maximum new state pension sum, currently £203.85/week, when you reach state pension age (currently 66).

Reader experience

One reader explains his route through the process: 

“The government site is very helpful. It showed how much state pension will be paid from pension age, 67 for me.

“It also provided a forecast as to the level of pension that could be achieved if I contributed more, either through continued work or by back-buying years. 

“I could then make a simple calculation – it would cost me around £4,500 to back-buy six years (I pay level three rates).

“The increase in state pension I will receive by doing this effectively means that I am in ‘profit’ from age 71 onwards.”

There is no benefit to making voluntary contributions if you already have 35 years of qualifying contributions.

Will pension payments increase even if you live in France?

The UK state pensions of EU-based recipients are uprated regularly, currently according to a ‘triple lock’, meaning they rise each April by the highest of average earnings, consumer price rises, or 2.5%. 

In countries without a pension deal with the UK, eg. Canada, pensions are frozen from when a person moves there.

Under the terms of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, ‘pension aggregation’ continues between the UK and EU. 

Read more: Why did French pension body ask about UK National Insurance record?

This means if you have not paid in at least 10 years of NI credits, then years paying into the French system can also be taken into account, so you may still be eligible for a UK pension, although it will be reduced due to the limited number of UK qualifying years. 

Equally, years paid into the UK state pension system can reduce a ‘penalty’ that is usually applied as part of a French pension calculation if you have not contributed to the French system for the appropriate period (41.5 years or more, depending on age). 

In this case your French state pension is likely to be slightly higher than it would have been otherwise, once UK state pension contributions are accounted for.

Some other countries have similar systems. 

Does a spouse inherit their husband/wife’s state pension?

There are circumstances where an element of a spouse’s state pension may be inherited. 

The UK government has a tool to check. 

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