National Insurance – A Quick Guide

At McDade Roberts we have a dedicated payroll department who take away payroll headaches for our clients. One are that clients who do payroll themselves can find confusing is National Insurance. Read our blog below to find out what you need to know.

National insurance contributions (NICs) are essentially a tax on earned income. The NICs regime divides income into different classes: Class 1 contributions are payable on earnings from employment, while the profits of the self-employed are liable to Class 2 and 4 contributions.

Employees NICs

Employees are liable to pay Class 1 NICs on their earnings. In addition a further secondary contribution is due from the employer.

For 2020/21 employee contributions are only due when earnings exceed a 'primary threshold' of £183 per week (£166 per week for 2019/20). The amount payable is 12% of the earnings above £183 up to earnings of £962 a week, the Upper Earnings Limit (UEL). In addition there is a further 2% charge on weekly earnings above the UEL. Secondary contributions are due from the employer of 13.8% of earnings above the 'secondary threshold' of £169 per week. There is no upper limit on the employer's payments.

Employer NICs for the Under 21s

The rate of employer NICs for those under the age of 21 is reduced from 13.8% to 0%. For the 0% rate to apply the employee will need to be under 21 when the earnings are paid.

This exemption will not apply to earnings above the Upper Secondary Threshold (UST) in a pay period. The UST is set at the same amount as the UEL, which is the amount at which employees' NICs fall from 12% to 2%. The weekly UST is £962 for 2020/21. Employers will be liable to 13.8% NICs beyond this limit. The employee will still be liable to pay employee NICs.

NICs for Apprentices Under 25

Employer NICs are also reduced to 0% for apprentices under 25 who earn less than the UST which is £962 per week and £50,000 per annum for 2020/21. Employers are liable to 13.8% NICs on pay above the UST. Employee NICs are payable as normal.

Benefits in Kind

Employers providing benefits such as company cars for employees have a further NICs liability under Class 1A. Contributions are payable on the amount charged to income tax as a taxable benefit. Most benefits are subject to employer's NICs. The current rate of Class 1A is the same as the employer's secondary contribution rate of 13.8% for benefits provided.

The Self-Employed

NICs are due from the self-employed as follows:

  • flat rate contribution (Class 2)
  • variable amount based on the taxable profits of the business (Class 4).

The liability to pay Class 2 NICs arises at the end of each year, and is generally collected as part of the final self assessment payment.

The amount of Class 2 NICs due is calculated based on the number of weeks of self-employment in the year and calculated at a rate of £3.05 per week for 2020/21.

Self employed individuals with profits below the Small Profits Threshold of £6,475 for 2020/21 are not liable to Class 2 NICs but have the option to pay Class 2 NICs voluntarily at the end of the year so that they may protect their benefit rights.

Class 4

For 2020/21 Class 4 is payable at 9% on profits between £9,500 and £50,000. In addition there is a further 2% on profits above £50,000.

Class 3 Voluntary Contributions

Flat rate voluntary contributions are payable under Class 3 of £15.30 per week for 2020/21. They give an entitlement to basic retirement pension and may be paid by someone not liable for other contributions in order to maintain a full NICs record.

National Insurance - Employment Allowance

The Employment Allowance is available to many employers and can be offset against their employer Class 1 NICs liability. The amount of the Employment Allowance is currently £4,000.

Companies where the director is the sole employee earning above the UST are no longer able to claim the Employment Allowance.

There are other exceptions for employer Class 1 liabilities including liabilities arising from:

  • a person who is employed (wholly or partly) for purposes connected with the employer's personal, family or household affairs. However, the allowance may be available for those employing care and support workers.
  • the carrying out of functions either wholly or mainly of a public nature (unless charitable status applies), for example NHS services and General Practitioner services
  • employer contributions deemed to arise under IR35 for personal service companies.

Changes from 6 April 2020

  • the Employment Allowance is restricted to those employers whose employers' NIC bill is below £100,000 in the previous tax year
  • the maximum Employment Allowance is increased from £3,000 to £4,000
  • the Employment Allowance will operate as de minimis State Aid.

Time of Payment of Contributions

Class 1 contributions are payable at the same time as PAYE ie monthly. Class 1A contributions are not due until 19 July (22nd for cleared electronic payment) after the tax year in which the benefits were provided. It is therefore important to distinguish between earnings and benefits.


Class 1 earnings will not always be the same as those for income tax. Earnings for NI purposes include:

  • salaries and wages
  • bonuses, commissions and fees
  • holiday pay
  • certain termination payments.

Problems may be encountered in relation to the treatment of:

  • expense payments

Expense payments will generally be outside the scope of NI where they are specific payments in relation to identifiable business expenses. However NI is payable on round sum allowances.

In general benefits are not liable to Class 1 NICs. There are however some important exceptions including:

  • most vouchers
  • stocks and shares
  • other assets which can be readily converted into cash
  • the payment of an employee's liability by an employer.


Directors are employees and must pay Class 1 NICs. However directorships can give rise to specific NICs problems. For example:

  • directors may have more than one directorship
  • fees and bonuses are subject to NICs when they are voted or paid whichever is the earlier
  • directors' loan accounts where overdrawn can give rise to a NICs liability.


HMRC carries out compliance visits in an attempt to identify and collect arrears of NICs. It may ask to see the records supporting any payments made.

HMRC has the power to collect any additional NICs that may be due for both current and prior years. Any arrears may be subject to interest and penalties. Please contact us for advice on NICs compliance and ways to minimise the effect of an HMRC visit.

How McDade Roberts Can Help

Whether you are an employer or employee, employed or self-employed, awareness of NICs matters is vital. HMRC has wide enforcement powers and anti-avoidance legislation available. We would be delighted to advise on any compliance matters relevant to your own circumstances so please contact us for a free initial chat.