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Each person’s entitlement to contributory benefit, based on their record of paying National Insurance contributions (NICs) on their earnings or profits, is tracked by their own National Insurance number (NINO).  Most people are automatically given a number as they approach age 16.  Anyone who is resident or present in Great Britain and over 16, who is employed or self-employed or who wishes to pay voluntary (Class 3) NICs, and who is not already in possession of a NINO, is required to make an application for one.  HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) publish guidance on Gov.uk for individuals making a NINO application, as well as for those who need find their NINO.

It is important to note 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.

Usually those making an application for a NINO will be required to attend an interview at a JobCentre Plus office to explain why they need a NINO and to confirm their identity. Due to Covid-19 these face-to-face interviews have been suspended, although HMRC’s guidance states that applicants who have yet to obtain a NINO can still take up employment provided they can prove they can work in the UK, and can still apply for benefits or a student loan.[1] The Government has announced plans to set up a digital solution to “reduce the length of the NINO interview and … enable the reinstatement of a shortened face-to-face service.”[2] In answer to a recent PQ DWP Minister Mims Davies said, “DWP aims to reduce the reliance on a single Identity Verification Service by Quarter 2 in 2021. Part of this work is to introduce a new flexible reusable online service which will meet the needs of a wider range of customers that is not possible using a single solution.”[3]

In its report on immigration control published in July 2006, the Home Affairs Committee expressed concerns that in some cases NINOs had been issued to individuals without a check on the applicant’s immigration status or their right to work or to benefits.[4]  At this time the Government announced changes both in the administrative arrangements for allocating NINOs and in the statutory requirements placed on individuals to apply for a NINO, so as to prevent illegal workers being allocated a number.[5] Regulations to give effect to these changes were introduced in November that year. As a consequence, individuals who wish to apply for a NINO because they have started work must present specific evidence that they have the right to work in this country.[6]

Notes : 

[1]     HMRC, Apply for a National Insurance number, retrieved 9 November 2020

[2]     PQ HL8489, 2 October 2020

[3]     PQ109436, 6 November 2020

[4]     Fifth report: Immigration Control, HC 775, 23 July 2006 para 462

[5]     HC Deb 18 July 2006 c20WS

[6]     SI 2006/2897, as amended by SI 2008/223


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