Individual National Insurance numbers (NINO) track each person’s entitlement to contributory benefit. The NINO is linked to payments of National Insurance contributions on earnings or profits.

Most people automatically receive a number as they approach age 16. Every new Child Benefit claim generates a Child Reference Number (CRN). When the child reaches 15 years 9 months, the HMRC converts the CRN into that person’s NINO and sends it to them.

What if I didn’t get a NINO at 16?

Anyone who doesn’t already have a NINO must apply for one if they are:

  • resident or present in Great Britain and over 16
  • employed or self-employed, or
  • wishes to pay voluntary (Class 3) National Insurance contributions.

Please note that this note quotes information provided for Great Britain. The information for Northern Ireland is essentially the same, but the process is managed separately and involves the Department of Communities.

HMRC’s National Insurance Manual summarises these criteria as follows:

Adult Registration: applying for a NINO through DWP’s Jobcentre Plus

This guidance applies to:

  • adults who were not issued with a number under the Juvenile Registration processes [that is, given a number when they reached their 16th birthday]
  • children who have not been part of a Child Benefit claim […]
  • people coming in to the UK from abroad

In order to get a NINO, they must satisfy legislative criteria. They must be either:

  • working, about to start work or actively seeking employment, and have the right to work in the UK
  • be liable to UK Class 1 NICs
  • making a claim to benefit
  • be entitled to and wish to pay voluntary Class 3 NICs, or be entitled to other credits
  • be referred by student loan company

Initially applicants need to make an application by phone: 0800 141 2075 (which operates Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm). They may then have to attend an interview at a DWP JobCentrePlus office, as HMRC’s guidance explains:

You’ll get a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) asking you to come to a National Insurance number interview at Jobcentre Plus.

The letter will also tell you which documents to bring to prove your identity, such as:

  • passport or identity card
  • residence permit
  • birth or adoption certificate
  • marriage or civil partnership certificate
  • driving licence

At the interview, you’ll be asked about your circumstances and why you need a National Insurance number. You’ll also be told how long it’ll take to get your National Insurance number.

In Northern Ireland, applicants should contact their local processing centre or call 0300 200 3500 to make an appointment.

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group provides some more information about these interviews:

What is a National Insurance interview?

During the telephone call the adviser will make sure that you need a NINO and may arrange for an interview.

The interview will usually be one-to-one (unless, for example, an interpreter is required) and the purpose is to find out why you need a NINO and whether you can be given one. DWP will also need to confirm your identity and this part of the interview (sometimes called the ‘evidence of identity interview’) may be needed by HMRC for benefits such as tax credits and child benefit.

The interviewer will ask you questions about your background and circumstances and ask to see all your official documents, including your passport and any other proof of identity documents, such as national identity card, residence permit, birth certificate, driving licence, marriage or civil partnership certificate. You should take the original documents with you to the interview.

Jobcentre Plus will write to you following the interview to let you know whether or not your application was successful. If it was successful, they will send a NINO to you. It is important to keep the letter as a reminder of the number as plastic NINO cards are no longer issued.

Please note that you can start work before your NINO arrives if you can prove you have the right to work in the UK. You should tell your employer that you have applied for a NINO and give it to them when you have it.

How do I find a lost NINO?

NINOs appear on various official documents, such as payslips, tax returns and PAYE coding notices.

The HMRC has guidance about what to do if those documents aren’t available. You can ring the NINO helpline, or send in a written request (by post or online). In answering a request, HMRC will only confirm someone’s NINO in writing, and will not give it over the phone.

Disclaimer

The Commons Library does not intend the information in these articles to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs.

You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein.

You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information is required. This Library briefing provides information about sources of legal advice and help.