Ok, so I'm a house-husband, a stay-at-home Dad, a domestic engineer, call it what you will. Having stopped work in 2003 I've claimed no unemployment benefits or JSA at all, although I did get Child Tax Credits (CTC) and Family Allowance. I like to think that I've not been a drain on the country's finances, I've not been a dole-scrounger, I've not shirked my responsibilities to family or to society. We've traded my income for a strong, stable and caring family situation and it's worked - our kids are bright, well-supported educationally and otherwise, and more-or-less "well-adjusted".
I was subscribed to the Home Responsibilities Protection (HRP) Scheme which meant that Class 3 NI contributions (NICs) were paid while I was in receipt of Child Benefit for a child under the age of 16. This scheme (not a benefit) ran from 6th April 1978 to 5th April 2010, and when it stopped nobody told me, no letter was forthcoming.
In April 2010 HRP was replaced by a new scheme of National Insurance Credits. According to that scheme, I was credited weekly with Class 3 NICs because we were receiving Child Benefit for a child under the age of 12. It was a significant change, and nobody told us of this either.
Our youngest turned 12 in March of this year. My Class 3 NICs credits stopped immediately - again, nobody told us of this either.
Meanwhile, in blissful ignorance, I'd assumed that it was situation normal, NICs credits being paid due to the HRP Scheme. Nobody had told me otherwise.
Then I received notification that the CTCs had been stopped at the end of the 2010-2011 tax year, mainly due to the lowering of the qualification figure. With the downturn in the economy we expected to lose something, most folks have lost or will lose, we didn't expect to escape the wide-bladed axe. Note, however, that it took just three weeks to be told by letter that the CTCs had stopped.
I went online today to check the CTC qualification figures, it turns out that our income is actually just below the cut-off so I phoned them to get things sorted, it looks like they may have to reinstate the payments, albeit at a reduced level.
Then, by chance and idle curiosity, I happened to browse to the page concerning HRP... I followed it to the details about the new scheme... from the info there it didn't take a genius to deduce that my NICs credits would have been stopped, but I needed to be certain and wanted to know why I'd not been informed of the changes.
I've been on the blower to the NI peeps. Turns out that I'm two weeks shy of a full year of NICs for 2010-2011, and there are no NIC credits for the current tax year. Apparently, I need to send them some cheques...
Furthermore, when I asked for a check of previous years, they said that there's a gap of nearly three whole years (2003-2006) when there were no NICs credits despite the HRP system being in force. I think that they'll be getting an appeal instead of a cheque for that.
I asked the NI person why I'd had no notification of the cessation of credits in March, and got told that there's a pecking-order for folk being informed about gaps in their NICs:
- First in line are folk that are in employment, their employers get kept up to date on an ongoing basis
- Next are folk who have lost their jobs, they get informed as part of the application processes for JSA and other benefits
When I got the answer to the original question, bearing in mind that my circumstances are different to the aforementioned "classes", I was gob-smacked to find that they work two tax-years in arrears and that I would have had to wait until at least THE SECOND HALF OF THE 2012-2013 TAX YEAR, by which time I'd be in arrears by over £900 at current rates. Moreover, they can't explain why, despite their two-year arrears process, I've never been told about the "error" that created the 2003-2006 NICs gap. It's a bloody good job I phoned when I did, I reckon somebody needs an arse-kicking!
Now I'm told that I can have my NICs credited weekly from now onwards if I go on the dole - if I claim JSA I can get NICs credits but I won't get the actual JSA itself because during the previous six years I've not made any Class 1 NICs. So that's a great incentive to get back to work, eh?
There's something awry with a system that doesn't keep you informed about an increasing shortfall and which will allow you credits only if you claim a benefit that you can't actually have and don't really want.
I've come to the conclusion that the system's shite, not because it doesn't give me what I'm entitled to, but because it doesn't keep me informed.
Tip of the day: Don't rely on the NI peeps keeping you informed - phone them and ask them to check your contributions record - you may be in for a nasty shock! Find the contact number here.