Did you know that the rules that apply to under 21s national insurance are slightly different than for the majority of employees? In this article we set out to give you some background to the subject of national insurance in general, and then explain more about under 21s national insurance to help you understand why they are treated slightly differently.
Understanding the very basics of national insurance
National Insurance is the money paid to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) by employees, employers and the self-employed. While most employees won’t feel particularly delighted to see all of the deductions listed on their payslips each week or month, the origins of national insurance actually stemmed from efforts to protect people from hardship; today’s national insurance contributions (NICs) are used to fund things like the state pension and allowances such as jobseeker’s allowance, maternity allowance and bereavement support payment.
The National Insurance Act 1911 underpins today’s system; in 1975 NICs started to be calculated according to the level of earnings an individual received and they were collected via the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system, along with the employee’s income tax. These days, all contributions are submitted electronically to HMRC via the employer’s real time submissions with the payment then made later.
Different categories of people pay different classes of national insurance contributions. NI classes are determined by the employment status of an individual, their earning levels and their continuous NI record. Class 1 national insurance is made up of two different elements. The first is the employee’s contribution, which is taken from their pay and the second is the employer’s contribution – which as the name suggests is made directly by the employer. Both are paid only once an employee’s earnings reach a particular threshold. The primary threshold is the threshold at which employees start paying contributions. The secondary threshold is the threshold at which employers start paying NI contributions.
Self-employed individuals pay two classes of national insurance: class 2 which is a flat weekly rate plus class 4 which is calculated as a percentage of their profits. Class 1 and class 2 NI contributions entitle individuals to receive certain state benefits, notably the state pension – although people who haven’t made sufficient contributions will not be entitled to get the full pension.
What about under 21s national insurance?
Going back a few years there was a change in the law. From the 6th April 2015 employers no longer had to pay class 1 secondary national insurance contributions on earnings up to the upper secondary threshold (UST) for any employees under 21 years old. The change in the law means that employers do not pay any secondary contributions for under 21s with earnings between the secondary threshold, currently set at a monthly figure of £737, and the UST which is currently set at a monthly figure of £4,189. Beyond the upper secondary threshold, Class 1 secondary NICs will apply. More details on the latest thresholds can be found here.
The zero rate doesn’t apply to Class 1A (employer-only contributions payable on most benefits in kind) or Class 1B (employer-only contributions payable on items included within a PAYE settlement agreement) NICs.
The payroll system you are using should be set up to automatically deduct the right amount of national insurance from the employee and this will be based on their tax code and category letter. Most employees will be category A but the majority of under 21s fall into category M (you will find more details on categories here). This information should also be shown on the employee’s payslip. It is important to be aware of the category letter for employees, as this will affect the national insurance contributions. If you bring someone into your company who is between the ages of 16 and 20, double check that the correct national insurance category is being applied to ensure you are continually complying with all of your legal requirements.
Creating opportunities for younger employees
The change in the law in 2015 created an important benefit for employers; employees aged between 16 and 20 do still need to pay their NI contributions. But even though it’s the employers who have enjoyed the direct financial impact from the abolition of this particular taxation, it was always intended that there would be indirect benefits to the employees themselves thanks to the fact that it was expected to encourage more businesses to recruit and give opportunities to under 21 year olds.
This is something that’s become particularly relevant now as a consequence of the pandemic. Figures suggest that it is younger workers who have been particularly badly affected by it – ONS figures from March last year revealed that almost two thirds of people who had lost their jobs during the pandemic in the UK were under 25. As well as having the direct hit of job losses, under 21s have suffered due to the impact of the pandemic on access to opportunities after leaving education and looking to start out in their career.
And there is also the disadvantage of having missed out on the work experience they might otherwise have expected to receive. As life hopefully returns to normal, the specific rules around under 21s national insurance will at least give employers a financial incentive to consider taking on more inexperienced employees and help to make investing in their development potentially more attractive.
Let us help you manage your payroll
While we have given a very basic overview of national insurance and specifically under-21s national insurance in this article, it is a vast and often confusing area. In fact, the management of payroll as a whole is a complex and time-consuming activity. So why not consider outsourcing your payroll to us? As payroll experts, CPS has been supporting clients for over 20 years with all aspects of their payroll management. If you would like to learn more and arrange to see a demonstration of our payroll software, then please do contact us.