Claim your state pension right away – the step everyone must take to ensure payout at 66

State Pension: Expert outlines criteria to qualify

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You have to cut through one piece of red tape first, otherwise you could find yourself hanging around getting nothing. Many people do not realise this, and risk ending up with a gap between stopping work and drawing their State Pension.

The State Pension isn’t paid automatically, warns Stephen Lowe, director at retirement specialist Just Group.

“Reaching State Pension age is a watershed moment but the income won’t start to flow immediately. You need to claim it.”

No later than two months before you reach retirement age, the Pension Service should write to you, explaining what happens next.

Lowe says: “So make sure you know your State Pension age and when to expect that information. If you don’t get it, then contact the Pension Service.”

You can call the Pension Service on 0800 731 7898, or write if you prefer. Find out more at Gov.uk’s Contact the Pension Service pages.

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You won’t get your State Pension unless you actively claim it (Image: Getty)

When the Pension Service contacts you, it will send an ‘invitation code’ for you to activate your State Pension claim. “If you don’t get this you can request one online,” Lowe says. 

He adds that once you have got the code the fastest way to claim your State Pension is online or by phone.

“But first, gather your National Insurance number and some other proofs of identity, which are listed on the Get your State Pension website.” 

You may also need to supply the date of your most recent marriage, civil partnership or divorce, and the dates of any time spent living or working abroad.

You will need details the bank or building society you want the money paid into.

If you don’t reply, the Pension Service will act as if you have decided to delay taking your State Pension, and won’t pay out until you take action.

READ MORE: Voluntary state pension NI top-ups offer ‘astonishing’ 850% return

Lowe says that once you have claimed your State Pension, it is usually paid every four weeks. It counts as income for other benefits and tax purposes.

Don’t panic if you have forgotten or mislaid your State Pension invitation, you shouldn’t lose any money as a result.

“So long as you claim within 12 months of reaching State Pension Age, you can ask for backdated payments to when your entitlement started,” Lowe adds.

You are not obliged to draw your State Pension at age 66, you could choose to delay taking it, and claim more income later. This is known as State Pension deferral.

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It is worth starting your State Pension planning early (Image: Getty)

How much State Pension you get depends on the amount of qualifying National Insurance contribution you made during your working lifetime. To qualify for the maximum new State Pension, paid to those retiring after April 5, 2016, you need 35 years.

It is worth finding out how much State Pension you are likely to get, well in advance, Lowe advises. You can do this by applying for your State Pension forecast online.

If this shows you are heading for a shortfall, you can make up the gap by making extra qualifying National Insurance contributions.

You can do this either by claiming National Insurance credits, or if you do not qualify for those, by making voluntary Class 3 NI contributions.

Lowe says that ideally, everyone would start planning for retirement early on, so they would know in their 50s when they can afford to step back from work.

“There is a huge amount of information available or regulated advice for those seeking personalised recommendations. Retirement decisions really matter, it’s better to be in control rather than hope for the best,” he says.

Harry Byrne

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