Your National Insurance Number – it’s important

Published by: Sinéad Mangan-Mc Hale

Published on: 8 Apr, 2021

If you work in the UK, you need a National Insurance (NI) number, but don’t be fooled by agencies that charge you for processing your application. Learn the correct route. 

Moving to a new country can be very challenging, dealing not only with the emotional distress at leaving family and friends behind, but also managing a range of necessary practical and legal requirements. If this is your first time in the UK , if English is not your first language or if you are yet unable to speak or read English, the whole process can seem very frightening and overwhelming.

Upon arrival, one of the most daunting aspects is establishing ourselves officially in our new country and that often involves dealing with a lot of paperwork and form filling. It is tempting to rush through the various processes without taking the proper time to research the best route. But, as an experienced hand at registering myself and my family in various countries, all with different requirements, I advise caution, and lots of patience; things take time, and never more so than during these COVID times.

Take for example obtaining a National Insurance number. National Insurance, often abbreviated to NI, is money paid by employers, employees and those self-employed, to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The NI number is a nine-digit reference consisting of any two letters, followed by six numbers and ending in another letter e.g., XY 123456 T, and it is unique to you.

Having an NI is necessary if you plan to

  • work
  • claim benefits or
  • apply for a student loan

UK citizens receive their NI number automatically as soon as they turn 16. But for those newly arrived in the UK to live and work, it’s something we need to apply for. And given that approximately 50% of EU migrants and 25% of non-EU migrants come to the UK for work, understanding the NI process is important.

But be careful of companies that charge for the service of processing your NI number application and there are many out there. When we don’t know the process, many of us turn to the internet for help and that is where we often get caught out. Google has its own advertising platform that places paid adverts in response to keywords used in a new internet search and therefore they are the sites that appear at the top of the page – encouraging us to click on them first. This is where you will find companies offering to obtain your NI number on your behalf for a fee and at first glance, it may seem the only option available. In fact, when I search “how do I get a national insurance number in the UK’, the first three sites that appear are adverts for companies offering to get a UK National Insurance number, and it is approximately half-way down the page before I come across the UK government site. While these companies are not illegal, they do not appear to make it clear to users that NI numbers can be obtained free of charge by migrants going directly to the Gov.UK site and completing the application themselves. You can identify Google Ads as they have ‘Ad’ in bold before the link; obvious once you know what those letters mean.

It is not complicated to apply for your NI number but be aware, there are various forms of identification required to process your application and you should call the National Insurance number application line for England, Scotland and Wales on Telephone: 0800 141 2075  to discuss your application.  If you are residing in Northern Ireland, there is a different process but follow the link on the Gov.UK site.

The process can be slow and it can take up to 16 weeks to receive your NI number, however, if you are legally entitled to work in the UK, you can start work before your NI arrives. Your NI number will arrive by post and I highly recommend that you keep this letter safe as you can use it as official proof of your address if you need to set up a bank account. Some banks will accept a copy of the original letter but some may demand to see the original so make sure you have it to hand and always make sure they take a copy and you keep the original for any future use.

And the good news; your NI number remains yours for life, even if you leave the UK and return years later. Having returned to the UK after a period of over 20 years, our original NI numbers are still valid and active.

Taking your time and doing the process yourself can save you a considerable amount of money, particularly if you are applying on behalf of yourself and other family members. Use the various helplines available and if possible, take copies of all your applications and official documentation papers before you submit them.

Applying and obtaining your NI number is one of the first milestones in establishing yourself in your new life in the UK. So, once you have done this part, the rest will start to fall into place.

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