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Before 1977, married women were able to elect to pay reduced National Insurance contributions in return for not accruing entitlement to contributory benefits such as the state pension in their own right. Instead, they would be able to claim a state pension at 60% of the basic rate on the basis of their husband’s contributions when both had reached State Pension age. The option to pay reduced rate contributions was removed for marriages on or after 6 April 1977, but women who had already married were given the option of retaining it. However, some women who had paid reduced contributions were later shocked to find they had accrued low state pension entitlements, arguing that the position had not been clear to them. In response to debates on the issue, government ministers have tended to argue that information to explain the implications was made available to women both at the time the election was made and in subsequent information campaigns.

The current Government legislated in the Pensions Act 2014 to introduce a single-tier State Pension for future pensioners from April 2016. The intention is that people should qualify for the single-tier pension on the basis of their own contribution record, so the current rules allowing individuals to derive entitlement on the basis their (former) spouse or civil partner’s contributions will end. There will be specific transitional protection arrangements for women with a reduced rate election in the past 35 years. However, concerns have been raised about a small group of women, not covered by these arrangements, who did not build up their own NI record and had a legitimate expectation that they would be able to rely on their husband’s contributions.

This note outlines the way in which married women can build entitlement to the State Pension and the circumstances in which they may be able to draw on the contributions of a spouse, or former spouse. It looks at the option until 1977 for married women to pay reduced rate National Insurance Contributions, and the effect of this.

The contribution conditions for the state pension are covered in more detail in Library Note SN 3111 Pension contribution conditions. The rules on inheriting the Additional Pension (SERPS or S2P) entitlement of a former spouse are covered in SN 706 Inherited SERPS.

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