British Expat in the USA: UK State Pension 1
by Richard Taylor on Feb 17, 2021
Reading Time: c.7 mins (Updated February 2021)
We are often find that British expats are surprised to discover they still qualify for a State Pension (SP) in the UK. If you worked in the UK for at least 10 years (and paid National Insurance contributions during that time) then you will qualify for the SP, in most cases even if you “opted out” as part of your workplace pension.
I am going to address the “new State Pension” which applies to men born after 06/04/1951 and women born after 06/04/1953 and I will lay out some of the main points in a simple and easy to read to format. For those born before these dates then the basic State Pension applies to you and that is slightly different.
The full UK SP is currently £175.20 per week (in 2021), which works out as £9,110 per annum. I doubt it’s going to change your life, but it’s some beer tokens at the very least. To achieve the full UK SP you will need 35 qualifying years. These years usually come from years worked in the UK, but you can make voluntary National Insurance contributions to “buy” additional years (this will be the topic of my next blog).
If you have less than 35 years, but more than 10 years, then you will qualify for a proportional benefit. For example, if you have 15 years qualifying contributions then you will qualify for 15/35 x £175.20 = £75.08 per week. You can usually get a UK SP forecast in about 5 minutes online – more on this later.
The age from which you can claim your UK SP is 65-68 and this is under review and, I expect, will continue to be pushed higher. If you were born after 5 April 1978 then your UK SP age is 68. You can quickly and easily confirm your personal UK SP age here: https://www.gov.uk/state-pension-age
Your UK SP entitlement will increase with inflation between now and when you start taking benefits and, assuming you reside in the US and continue to do so, your UK SP will continue to increase with inflation. The US has a Bilateral/Reciprocal Agreement with the UK, but several countries do not, so if you are reading this from another country then you need to investigate further.
You must be within 4 months of your UK SP age to claim your State Pension (i.e. you cannot apply for it to start until then). You can have it paid every 4 or 13 weeks and you can have it paid into a non-UK account. However, you need an IBAN code and as far as I am aware US bank accounts do not have IBAN codes. However, HMRC's website make it clear that they do facilitate payment to the US, so I am sure this us surmountable.
You can defer your UK SP by simply not claiming it. It will increase by 1% for every 9 weeks you defer it (which equates to 5.8% for every year you defer). The extra amount is paid with your regular SP when you do claim it and both elements will increase with CPI (consumer price index).
Some things to be aware of and some useful links:
If you have less than 30 years paying into the US Social Security system, then your US Social Security retirement benefit will be cut when you become eligible for your UK SP under something called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). This takes many expats by surprise. We have blogged about it previously: https://www.taylortaylorusa.com/blog-01/social-security-windfall-elimination-provision-wep
The UK SP is usually paid out gross, although it is taxable income (whether you live in the UK or the US). If you do not have a current UK tax code then HMRC may decide to emergency tax non-residents. You may be able to avoid this by procuring an NT tax code, but full disclosure I am not sure if you are even given an option to provide a tax code when you claim your UK SP. We have blogged about requesting a NT tax code previously: https://www.taylortaylorusa.com/blog-01/avoid-emergency-uk-tax-nt-tax-code
Here is the government’s informational site on the new State Pension (it’s actually pretty good and intuitive): https://www.gov.uk/new-state-pension
Here’s how to get a UK SP forecast: https://www.gov.uk/check-state-pension
Check you National Insurance contributions record here: https://www.gov.uk/check-national-insurance-record
If you "opted out" when you were a member of UK company pension scheme then you may find that your contribution record does not match your accrued pension. This is because the shortfall will effectively be paid by the company pension scheme. You may be able to catch up and remove or reduce the shortfall.
We have a client who had a full record (i.e. 35 "full" years contributions) and yet his accrued pension wasn't the maximum. When we queried this we were told that it was a result of having contracted out earlier in his career and that he could make it up to the maximum by paying several move years of class 2 contributions (see our blog on this topic).
You will need your National Insurance Number. If you don’t know yours, here’s how you can request it: https://www.gov.uk/lost-national-insurance-number
Here’s how to claim your UK SP if you are retiring outside the US: https://www.gov.uk/state-pension-if-you-retire-abroad
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