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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.

Individuals making an application for a NINO may be required to attend an interview at a JobCentre Plus office to explain why they need a NINO and to confirm their identity. During 2020 these face-to-face interviews were suspended due to Covid-19, although HMRC’s guidance has underlined that applicants waiting to receive a NINO may still take up employment provided they can prove they can work in the UK, and can still apply for benefits or a student loan.0F[1]

Last autumn the Government 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.”1F[2] On 1 March this year DWP Minister Guy Opperman said, “In January, we gained Government Digital Service approval as a result we were no longer required to limit the number of applicants we can serve, although we do not have an identity solution for all potential applicants yet. Our current plan is that by the end of March 2021 we will be able to offer a service to all applicants who do not require their identity to be verified face to face.”2F[3] On 20 April the Minister confirmed that “the National Insurance Number Service is now available to all applicants living in England and Wales and, in line with Scottish Government guidelines, will be available, in Scotland, from week commencing 26th April when our face to face service resumes.”3F[4]

HMRC’s current guidance underlines that if someone has a biometric residence permit (BRP), they may have a NINO already. If so, it will be printed on the back of their BRP. If someone needs to make a NINO application to apply for benefits or a student loan, they may apply as part of their application. This guidance goes on to note that once applicants have proven their identity, “it can take up to 16 weeks to get your National Insurance number.”4F[5]

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.5F[6]  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.6F[7] 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.7F[8]

This note discusses the process by which NINOs are allocated and the impact that Covid-19 has had on this procedure, before discussing the background to the introduction of the ‘Right to Work’ test for individuals requiring a NINO for employment purposes.

Notes 

[1]   HMRC, Apply for a National Insurance number, retrieved 19 July 2021

[2]   PQ HL8489, 2 October 2020

[3]   PQ157313, 1 March 2021

[4]   PQ181336, 20 April 2021

[5]   HMRC, Apply for a National Insurance number, retrieved 19 July 2021. See also, PQ17703, 25 June 2021

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

[7]   HC Deb 18 July 2006 c20WS

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


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