How do I get a National Insurance number?

Updated on 6 April 2022

Migrants

One of the most important things you need to do on arrival in the UK for the first time is to obtain a National Insurance number (NINO), if you want to work or claim benefits.

Illustration of two people next to a clipboard with the words National Insurance Number

What is a National Insurance number?

A National Insurance number (NINO) is used to uniquely identify you in the UK system. It also ensures that the National Insurance contributions (NIC) or taxes you pay are properly recorded on your HMRC record. There is more general information about NINOs in the tax basics section. Having a NINO does not mean that you have the right to work in the UK, so you should expect your employer to carry out checks to ensure that you have the right to work in the UK – they face sanctions if they do not.

A NINO beginning with the letters ‘TN’ is a temporary (TN) NINO – you may have one of these if you have worked in the UK in the past. TN numbers are not permitted to be used anymore and will not be accepted by HMRC.

Expatriate employees (that is, those seconded into the UK from an overseas employer) may be issued with numbers in the format 67 F5 76 88 to act as a reference for their record with HMRC.

Where do I get a National Insurance number from?

In England, Scotland and Wales the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) issues NINOs. For individuals who live in Northern Ireland, the Department for Social Development (DSD) issues them.

For details of how to apply for a National Insurance number, please see GOV.UK. It is now possible to apply and verify your identity online. You may be required to attend an interview if you are unable to prove your identity online or by post.

HMRC states that it can take up to 16 weeks to issue a National Insurance number after you have proved your identity. If you have not heard about your NINO after 16 weeks, then you should phone the relevant HMRC ‘Get help with your application’ 0800 helpline number to check on the progress of your application.

Do I need a National Insurance number to work in the UK?

In general, you should apply for a National Insurance number if you plan to work. This is so that the National Insurance and tax you may be liable to pay on your earnings can be recognised with HMRC. This is important, for example, if you later need to claim benefits which rely on National Insurance having been paid.

However, you do not need to have a National Insurance number before you start work.

Employed

You can still start employed work in the UK without a National Insurance number provided you can prove your right to work in the UK. You should tell your employer that you have applied for one and then give it to them when you have received it. There is no time limit.

You should also complete the Starter Checklist so that your employer can add you onto the payroll. If you do not have a NINO, you should leave the NINO box blank. It is important to complete the Starter Checklist correctly.

Once you have your NINO, you should give this to your employer as soon as possible. Your employer will send this to HMRC via their payroll submission. HMRC should then be able to match up the tax and NIC that you have already paid via the payroll with your new NINO.

Self-employed

If you are self-employed, you will usually need to register to file a Self Assessment tax return (through which you pay your tax and National Insurance) by 5 October following the tax year in which you start your start self-employment. For example, if you start your self-employment in 2022/23 tax year, you will need to register by 5 October 2023. You will be asked to provide a National Insurance number when you register.

It is important to make sure that you are genuinely self-employed – you or your engager can’t just decide that you are self-employed as it depends on your individual circumstances and is a question of fact. If you are genuinely self-employed, you can find more information on your tax and NIC obligations here.

Usually, if you start self-employment you would need to complete form CWF1. However, if you don’t have a National Insurance number by this point because of a delay in processing your application, it is still possible to register for Self Assessment by completing form SA1 (instead of form CWF1) and explaining why you do not yet have a National Insurance number in the relevant box. Once you have a National Insurance number, you should notify HMRC separately on 0300 200 3500 of any liability to Class 2 National Insurance. If you do 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.

If you live in Northern Ireland, you can find further information from NIDirect as well as the telephone number of the National Insurance number application helpline (Northern Ireland).

Can I claim benefits without a National Insurance number?

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) allocates National Insurance numbers for benefits purposes if you do not already have one. 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.

What is a National Insurance interview?

You may need a face-to-face appointment (interview) as part of your application. The interview will usually be one-to-one (unless, for example, an interpreter is required) and the purpose is to find out why you need a NINO and whether you can be given one. DWP will also need to confirm your identity and this part of the interview (sometimes called the ‘evidence of identity interview’) may be needed by HMRC for benefits such as tax credits and child benefit.

The interviewer will ask you questions about your background and circumstances and ask to see all your official documents, including your passport and any other proof of identity documents, such as national identity card, residence permit, birth certificate, driving licence, marriage or civil partnership certificate. You should take the original documents with you to the interview.

Jobcentre Plus will write to you following the interview to let you know whether your application was successful. If it was successful, they will send a NINO to you. It is important to keep the letter as a reminder of the number as plastic NINO cards are no longer issued.

Who needs to know my National Insurance number?

There is a list of people who may need to know your NINO in the tax basics section.

It is important not to give your NINO to anyone who does not need to know it. You should treat your NINO as confidential.

What do I do if I lose or forget my National Insurance number?

There is information on what you should do if you lose or forget your NINO in the tax basics section.

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