⚠️ We are working hard to ensure this guidance is up to date. However, you should bear in mind that things may change as the government respond to the ongoing situation.

Coronavirus: problems getting a National Insurance number

Updated on 4 October 2021

Coronavirus guidance

Due to the pandemic, some people have been unable to apply for a National Insurance number. On this page, we explain what this means for those starting work or claiming benefits in the UK.

Illustration of a man and woman next to a clipboard about National Insurance

What is a National Insurance number and why do I need it?

A National Insurance number is used to uniquely identify you in the UK’s social security system.

You need a National Insurance number if you interact with the UK’s social security system in some way. For example, you may be liable to pay National Insurance contributions, or you may be credited with them, or you wish to pay them voluntarily. You also need a National Insurance number if you claim tax credits or welfare benefits, such as universal credit.

The payment of National Insurance is important for entitlement to certain welfare benefits, such as the state pension. The National Insurance that you pay, or that is credited to you, needs to be recognised so that your entitlement to these benefits can be properly worked out.

We provide lots more information in our guidance What is National Insurance?.

How do I apply for a National Insurance number?

If you were included in a child benefit claim, then you should have been issued with a National Insurance number automatically shortly before your 16th birthday. If you can’t find it, or if you have lost it, see our guidance.

Otherwise, if you need a National Insurance number and you do not have one already, you will need to apply for one.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, from March 2020 government staff were not able to carry out the necessary face-to-face “evidence of identity” interview. This meant it was not possible to complete most National Insurance number applications.

The Department for Work and Pensions then restarted applications for certain individuals whose identity had already been confirmed by another government department (such as those who had entered the UK on a visa). However, this did not apply for EU nationals who had moved to the UK under freedom of movement prior to 31 December 2020, because they did not need a visa to enter the UK.

We understand that alternative identity verification solutions have been tested for some groups, including EU nationals with settled or pre-settled status. But certain groups will still need to wait until it is possible to have a face-to-face interview.

We recommend that you follow the guidance on the GOV.UK National Insurance number application page to find out what is necessary in your particular case.

Can I still start work without a National Insurance number?

Yes.

We have heard that some employers are advising that they cannot employ individuals or pay them until they have a National Insurance number. This is not correct. As we explain in our guidance, provided you can prove that you have the right to work in the UK, you can start work. There is no deadline by which you must have a National Insurance number after starting work.

You should tell your employer that you are unable to apply for one because of the current circumstances. You should apply for a National insurance number as soon as you are able to do so.

You should also complete the Starter Checklist so that your employer can add you onto the payroll. You should leave the National Insurance number box blank.

It is important to complete the Starter Checklist correctly (with or without a National Insurance number!) – we explain more about completing the Starter Checklist and the amount of tax you will pay as a consequence here.

The employer should still deduct tax and National Insurance from you (if you are liable) and they can make the necessary payroll submissions without providing a National Insurance number to HMRC. If necessary, you can refer your employer to GOV.UK guidance on the matter, which clearly states that the National Insurance number is only required if known.

Once you have a National Insurance number, you should provide it to your employer as soon as possible. Your employer will send this to HMRC via their payroll submissions.

HMRC should then be able to match up the tax and National Insurance contributions that you have already paid via the payroll with your new National Insurance number.

Can I register with HMRC as self-employed without a National Insurance number?

The first thing is to establish that you are actually self-employed, as opposed to being employed. You cannot just decide that you want to be self-employed, it depends on your individual circumstances and is a question of fact.

Secondly, you need to check if you must register for Self Assessment to allow you to submit a tax return and tell HMRC about your self-employed income. You also need to check the deadline for registering.

Under what circumstances do I need to register for Self Assessment due to self-employment?

Self-employed people who have gross trading income for the tax year in excess of the trading allowance (currently £1,000) must register to file a Self Assessment tax return if HMRC have not already issued one. If you have gross trading income up to the trading allowance then you may still want to complete a Self Assessment tax return. For example, you have made trading losses or want to pay voluntary Class 2 National Insurance contributions.

You may have to register for Self Assessment for reasons other than your self-employment.

When do I need to register for Self Assessment?

You do not need to register to file a Self Assessment tax return until 5 October following the end of the tax year in which you start self-employment. We provide more information at How do I register for tax and National Insurance? in our Self-employment section.

Therefore, if you only started self-employment in the current tax year (ending 5 April 2022), then you do not need to register until 5 October 2022. Similarly, if you started self-employment in the tax year ending 5 April 2021, then you do not need to register until 5 October 2021. In these circumstances, you should wait until you are able to obtain a National Insurance number before you register for Self Assessment and file form CWF1.

If you must register for Self Assessment because you started self-employment earlier than 6 April 2020, you should have already done so by 5 October 2020, assuming you first became self-employed during the tax year 2019/20. If this applies to you and you haven’t already registered, you should do so as soon as possible. You may face penalties for either the late payment of tax or the failure to notify.

Finally, if you are satisfied you are actually self-employed and you have confirmed you do need to register as self-employed then you will need to complete the right form. Registering with HMRC as self-employed actually means two separate things:

1. Registering for Self Assessment.

2. Registering as liable for Class 2 National Insurance contributions.

Usually, if you start self-employment you would complete both registrations at the same time using form CWF1: “Self Assessment and National Insurance contributions registration” (partners in a partnership should instead complete form SA401).

However, it is not possible to register as liable for Class 2 National Insurance contributions, and therefore to submit a form CWF1, without a National Insurance number. Confusingly, the “National Insurance contributions registration” referred to in the CWF1 title is not a registration for a National Insurance number, it is a registration for being liable to Class 2 National Insurance contributions.

Even if you cannot submit form CWF1, because you do not have a national insurance number, it does not change the fact that you still have certain statutory deadlines to meet in relation to Self Assessment. Therefore, if you need to register for Self Assessment to meet these deadlines and you do not have a national insurance number you should complete form SA1 instead of form CWF1 if all the following apply:

  • you are self-employed in a given tax year (2019/20 or earlier);
  • you have gross trading income in excess of the trading allowance for that tax year (or you have trading income up to £1,000 but it is beneficial to complete a tax return);
  • HMRC have not already issued you with a tax return for that year;
  • you do not have a National Insurance number and you are unable to apply for one because of the current restrictions;
  • you have not yet registered for Self Assessment.

We have been advised that the section on your National Insurance number should be completed as follows:

Image of HMRC's Self Assessment form with LITRG guidance included

Once HMRC process the form, they should issue you with a 10-digit Unique Taxpayer Reference and a notice to file a Self Assessment tax return for the year, which should be filed three months from the date of issue. However, as we mention above, the 5 October 2020 deadline for registering in respect of 2019/20 has now passed, so penalties may be applicable for the failure to notify. As tax and Class 2/4 National Insurance contributions for 2019/20 were due for payment by 31 January 2021, you may face late payment penalties.

⚠️ Warning: if your profits for the year exceed the Small Profits Threshold (£6,365 for 2019/20) then you are liable to pay Class 2 National Insurance contributions for each week of self-employment. If you filed a form SA1 instead of form CWF1, then you need to notify HMRC separately on 0300 200 3500 of your liability to Class 2 National Insurance as soon as you have your National Insurance number. If not, then HMRC’s systems may reject the Class 2 National Insurance paid as part of your Self Assessment liability, which in turn could affect your eligibility for welfare benefits and future state pension.

Can I claim benefits without a National Insurance number?

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has confirmed to us that the allocation of National Insurance numbers for benefits purposes is still possible. If you make a claim for benefits and you do not currently have a National Insurance number, our understanding is that this will trigger a National Insurance application. If the application cannot be completed, then the benefit can still be awarded, provided the DWP can verify your identity.

Can I apply for a student loan without a National Insurance number?

You must usually provide your National Insurance number when you apply for a student loan. The only exception is if you are an EU student, where you do not have to provide a National Insurance number if you do not have one.

You can find more information on GOV.UK.

When will I be able to apply for a National Insurance number?

If you are not currently able to proceed with your application, we suggest that you bookmark the relevant page on GOV.UK and check it regularly for updates.

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