Guide to National Insurance Contributions (NICs) for small business owners

National Insurance is a deduction from earnings, set up originally to fund various State benefits such as the NHS, the State pension and other welfare-related schemes.

In reality, it is just another tax. In fact, as standard income tax rates have remained constant for many years, NI rates have soared.

In this guide we look at how National Insurance works, and what your National Insurance Contributions (NICs) will be as a small business owner.

Overview of the different National Insurance types

Class 1 NIC

Paid by employees and employers. These are calculated as a percentage of your wages, up to an upper earnings limit.

This is the most common NIC type. The primary contribution is paid by the employee, the secondary by the employer.

Class 1A or 1B NIC

A ‘special rate’ paid by your employer if you get certain benefits with your job, such as a company car.

The amount you need to pay is worked out on the value of taxable benefits you have received during the tax year. It is payable in the July after the end of the tax year.

Class 2 NIC

A compulsory rate paid by the self-employed. You are exempt if your earnings are below a certain limit.

The government announced in the 2016 Budget that Class 2 NICs would be abolished in April 2018 with, Chancellor George Osborne saying it would bring, “a simpler tax system and a tax cut of over £130 for each of Britain’s 3 million strong army of self-employed.” However, this decision was subsequently reversed.

With the massive deficit caused by the COVID-19 crisis, it seems likely that the current Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, may once again be tempted to raise NIC rates of the self employed.

Class 3 NIC

Voluntary Contributions. You can pay these to help fill gaps in your national insurance contribution record. HMRC may get in touch with you to suggest to top up your contributions.

Class 4 NIC

You may have to pay Class 4 contributions if you are self-employed and your profits are over a certain amount each year (see below for details).

NICs for sole traders (self-employed)

Sole traders pay income tax on their business profits (as self-employed individuals). In addition to income tax, self employed workers are liable to pay National Insurance Contributions (NIC’s).

  • Sole traders pay Class 2 and Class 4 NIC’s and are required to pay contributions from the first day of self-employment.
  • NIC’s are deducted from your gross earnings, assuming the figures are above the lower earnings threshold.
  • Individuals who run a business via a partnership arrangement are taxed in the same way as sole traders.
  • Class 2 National Insurance Contributions are £3.05 per week for the current tax year (2021/22), and are paid by anyone earning £6,515 or more through self-employment during the tax year.
  • Class 4 National Insurance Contributions are paid on profits you make as a self employed person.
  • The Class 4 NI rate for the 2021/22 tax year is 9% on all earnings between £9,568 and £50,270, and 2% on any earnings above £50,270.

You can view the full current NI rates and allowances on the GOV.UK website here.

NICs for Limited Company Directors

Unlike sole traders, for tax purposes, if you are a director of a limited company, you are an ’employee’ of the company. You are therefore liable to pay Class 1 NIC’s on your earnings. The limited company is also liable to pay Class 1 NIC’s as your ’employer’.

  • Employees (Primary Class 1 Contribution) pay 12% on earnings between £184 and £967 per week (£9,568 and £50,270 per year), and 2% above £967 per week for the 2021/22 tax year.
  • Employers (Secondary Class 1 Contribution) pay 13.8% on earnings above £170 per week (£8,840 per year) in 2021/22.
  • You may be able to pay quarterly if you usually owe HMRC less than £1,500 every month. Contact HMRC’s payment enquiry helpline to request this.
  • Limited Company directors and other employees may also have to pay Class 1A NIC’s for ‘benefits in kind’ such as a company car. Your accountant will declare such benefits each year on your P11D form.

For more details you can read HMRC’s Guide to NI for Company Directors.

Last updated: 17th April, 2021

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