Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Tuesday, 26 October 2010 12:16 UK

Q&A: Basic state pension

A pensioner
The state pension increases in line with prices

As part of its understanding pensions series, the BBC News website provides an introduction to the basic state pension.

What is the basic state pension?

The basic state pension is paid to men at 65.

It was paid to women at 60 but since April 2010 has been undergoing a process of equalisation.

So women's state pension age (SPA) is being gradually increased so that it too will reach 65, by November 2018.

Then, both men and women will see their SPA rise gradually to 66 by April 2020.

How much is it worth?

The full weekly rates are (year to April 2011):

  • Single person: £97.65

This is payable to women and women who fulfil the National Insurance (NI) contribution requirements.

A married couple may therefore receive a maximum of £195.30 a week.

However there is also a so-called couple's pension of £156.15.

This is available when one person has paid their full NI contributions and their spouse has not paid enough, or possibly none at all, to get a pension in their own right.

In that case they can get £58.50, which is based on their spouse's full NI contributions, in addition to their spouse's own pension of £97.65.

Will I get the full basic state pension?

Not necessarily.

What you get will depend on your National Insurance (NI) contributions.

Your pension depends on how long you have worked for and the number of "qualifying years" you have.

From April 2010, you will need 30 qualifying years for a full basic State Pension.

The contribution record of people who have been unable to work due to unemployment, sickness or caring responsibilities, may be protected by credits or "home responsibilities protection".

After 6 April 2010, home responsibilities protection was replaced with National Insurance credits.

Years of home responsibilities protection built up before 6 April 2010 will count as qualifying years of National Insurance credits.

What happens if I have not made enough contributions?

If you have not paid sufficient contributions you will get a partial pension.

Once you have built up a single qualifying year you qualify for at least some basic State Pension

People aged 80 and over, in England, Scotland and Wales, are eligible for the Over 80 pension.

They can be paid £58.50 a week if they do not get the basic State Pension at all, or if it pays them less than £58.50 a week.

What about the earnings link?

A link between state pensions and earnings was introduced by Barbara Castle in 1974.

This ensured that state pensions kept up with the rate at which salaries were rising.

However, it was scrapped six years later by Margaret Thatcher.

The coalition government has now put in place a new policy, the so-called "triple lock".

From April 2011 the basic state pension will rise each year in line with average earnings, prices or 2.5%; whichever is the greater.

In April 2011 the relevant measure of price inflation will be the retail prices index but in subsequent years it will be the consumer prices index.

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