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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 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 prove their identity. During 2020 these face-to-face interviews were suspended due to Covid-19, although HMRC’s guidance underlines 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.

In autumn 2020 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. On 1 March 2021 DWP Minister Guy Opperman stated that the Government’s plan was to offer an online service to all applicants who did not require identity to be verified face to face. On 20 April 2021, the Minister confirmed that the National Insurance Number Service was now available in England and Wales, and would be available in Scotland the following week.

HMRC’s guidance notes 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. The guidance goes on to note that once applicants have proven their identity, it can take up to 4 weeks for someone to receive their NINO.

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. 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. Regulations to give effect to these changes were introduced in November that year (SI 2006/2897, as amended by SI 2008/223). 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.

This Commons Library briefing 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.

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