This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.

What are NINOs?

Under the UK’s National Insurance system, someone’s entitlement to contributory benefits is linked to their paying National Insurance contributions (NICs).

NICs are charged on someone’s earnings from employment, paid both by the employee (primary Class 1 NICs), and their employer (secondary Class 1 NICs). The self-employed pay a weekly flat rate Class 2 NIC and may be liable to pay a separate Class 4 profits-related contribution. Individuals may be entitled to pay voluntary Class 3 NICs, set at a weekly flat rate, to ensure that they qualify for the state pension and bereavement benefits.

Individual National Insurance numbers (NINOs) are used to track each person’s record in paying NICs. Anyone’s NINO is unique: they use the same number throughout their life.

How does someone get a NINO?

Most people automatically receive a NINO as they approach age 16. When someone makes a claim for Child Benefit, the child for whom the claim is being made is allocated a Child Reference Number (CRN). Subsequently when a child reaches the age of 15 years and 9 months, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) use this number, assign that child with a NINO and send it to them. 

If someone doesn’t have a NINO, do they need to apply for one?

Briefly, 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.

Further to this, someone making an application for a NINO must satisfy certain legislative criteria, as set out in HMRC’s National Insurance Manual. Individuals 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 the Student Loans Company.

What is the process for making an application for a NINO?

HMRC set out details of this process on Applications are made online. Applicants will be required to prove their identity. When making an application, if they have them, individuals can use:

  • a passport from any country;
  • a Biometric residence permit (BRP);
  • a national identity card from a country in the EU, Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland.

Individuals can still make an application if they do not have any of these documents, but they may be required to attend an appointment to prove their identity. After someone submits their online application, they are sent an email with their application reference number. This will set out whether they need to provide more proof of their identity. HMRC advise that it can take up to 4 weeks for someone to get their NINO after they have proven their identity.

Can someone start work before they receive a NINO?

Yes. This is a question that MPs have often asked in the context of delays to the NINO application process through the Covid-19 pandemic. The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, a charity that publishes a lot of guidance for taxpayers on lower incomes, advises “you can still start work in the UK without a NINO provided you can prove your right to work in the UK. If you are able to apply for a NINO, you should tell your employer that you have applied for one and then give it to them when you have received it.”

It is important to emphasise that a NINO is not proof of identity, and should not be relied on by employers as proof that someone has the right to work in the UK.

If someone has lost their NINO, how can they find it?

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

HMRC has guidance about what to do if those documents are not available. Individuals can ring the NINO helpline, or send in a written request. In answering a request, HMRC will only confirm someone’s NINO in writing, and will not give it over the phone.

Further information

This page quotes information provided for Great Britain. The requirements to apply for a NINO, and the process for doing so, are similar in Northern Ireland. Full details are published by NIDirect

A Commons Library briefing provides further details on the way that NINOs are allocated, their function as part of the National Insurance system, and past reforms to the application process for those requiring a NINO for employment purposes.

A second Commons Library briefing gives details of the main rates and thresholds for income tax, NICs, and other direct taxes for 2023/24.

This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.